A study by Microsoft revealed the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to a mere 8 seconds today. Goldfish, on the other hand, have an average attention span of 9 seconds—granted goldfish don’t have to contend with phones, email and countless other distractions. This decrease in attention span means businesses need to be more innovative than ever to capture attention long enough to get their messages across.
If a person’s attention is successfully captured before those 8 seconds pass, then there’s an additional opportunity to continue holding their attention. Research has shown the average adult can focus on a single activity for about 20 minutes. Within that time, there are a number of different strategies that can be used to sustain an audience’s attention.
When it comes to training, information can be divided into small portions, often referred to as microlearning. These short bursts help sustain the audience’s attention so they can better absorb information without missing anything due to distraction.
In training, as well as sales, gamification has been shown to be effective. Using game mechanics, you can motivate audiences toward desired actions through competition, achievement and status. Gamification can provide the motivation people need to maintain their focus on a topic.
Another way to sustain attention in training is through collaboration and knowledge sharing. Having learners spend time working together, sharing ideas and best practices, and helping each other solve challenges is a highly effective way of sustaining attention. This learning method can be used in addition to a traditional one-way method of delivering information.
The decrease in attention span is primarily attributed to the digital age. The greatest temptation is within arm’s reach at all times—our phones. Texts, social media, apps and games are all distractions. One way to avoid these digital distractions is to build technology breaks into learning programs that allow learners to check their phones, respond to texts, etc.
Maintaining attention is not only important for training, but also for the work we do when we’re alone. According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, a disruption as short as 2.8 seconds doubles your chance of making an error. Distractions take mental energy that would normally be reserved for the task at hand. Once the distraction is over, it’s necessary to reset and try to pick up where you left off.
As attention spans shorten, it becomes increasingly important to use creative methods for capturing and maintaining focus. It must be a top priority whether you’re training employees, explaining how to use a new product or feature to customers or sitting in your office trying to accurately complete a task.