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  • Writer's pictureZubia Mughal

The Receding Attention Spans of Humans and what can IDs’ do about it?

Alright! That sounds like the title of my next book. But seriously, isn’t that the issue nowadays? Take, for instance, this very article. Haven’t you scrolled down already, estimating the size of this article? Ok, if you didn’t, then you definitely are wondering whether this is another “rambling” or something truly worth your time. I don’t blame you. It's all of us. We have lost the patience, the tolerance, and the empathy to read and absorb and assimilate gracefully. I repeat, gracefully. We either scan, skim or sift. Isn’t that so? And if this attitude is with the general news or entertainment content, how do we deal with learning and managing knowledge?

Learning showcased so carefully by instructional designers and eLearning developers in the eLearning environment cannot continue to be the same. We have heard of “bite-sized” learning. And of course, microlearning – but those terms are sadly obsolete. We now need “learning nibbles”! The crazy pace of technology has truly spoilt and desensitized the human mind. Not only do we grasp a lot of information from multiple stimuli, we are also able to fathom and sum things up for value. Our minds have hastened the processing in both the short-term memory and long-term memory in efforts to match with the speed of the computer! That in true essence is a classic example of brain plasticity. The mind tries to adapt to its external environment…

In other words, we have much-reduced attention spans than what we had five years ago. This is a loud and clear signal for interaction designers, instruction designers, and web interface developers. What can we do to meet up with the receding human attention span?

Design learning materials differently. Here are some important design elements to integrate into your instruction design storyboard:

1. The 7 _+ 2 Rule: For some strange, strange reason, we are unable to focus on bullet points after the seventh or the ninth point! We read with zeal and zest the first seven points. And then we think of multitasking. Before we hit the eighth line, we are already checking out what’s happening in the room around us! Sounds familiar, isn’t it? What can you do about this? Follow the 7_+ (plus, minus) 2 rule. Try to place only 7 to 9 bulleted text on one slide. If in doubt about the size, follow your hunches! Spread the content across multiple slides.

2. Relate with the story: Okay, the seven to nine lines of text from above won’t guarantee your learner's attention. But adding a storyline in the background will! Examples of simple storylines: Have two avatars talk to each other, commenting on the bullet points. Have an image that tells a story. Have an interaction that explains the bullet points further (through images, audio, video, etc).

3. Active Verbs: Adding active verbs is similar to the “call to action” button we see on so many interfaces. Take, for example, YouTube. How many times have we been compelled to subscribe to a channel? Too many! The subscribe icon outside the interface is not the real hero here. It’s the “subscribe now to get notifications” message displayed after the key message of the video. Add a button to your eLearning interface that says “test this theory” or “prove it” or “click for image” or “learn more” etc. Active verbs like these are great attention grabbers.

4. Center important information: Another funny habit of the human mind is that we read the information located in the center of the slide or screen more readily. A great way to use this habit to our advantage is to place screen/slide headings towards the center of the page (not conventionally in the top left corner!). Placing headings towards the center of the page hooks the reader’s attention and encourages them to read the rest of the page.

So, this was my take on solutions to the receding attention spans of learners. How do you combat this issue in your instruction design? Do share. I would love to learn from you!

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Amisse Jamal
Amisse Jamal

Thanks for the interesting article. Our company is constantly improving the software to facilitate the work of the personnel department.

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