eLearning Design for Short Attention Span and Overloaded Learners

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With the barrage of distractions thrown at these already-overloaded learners, we are faced with the challenge to help them focus on what is necessary, must-learn, what is of immediate relevance and content that is rapidly applicable to their jobs and tasks at hand. My goal here is to provide helpful tips to engage our learners’ attention and achieve our learning objectives.


Design for Short Attention Span Learners
Word Play Exercise (Fill in the Blanks)

(Click here to play the exercise)

Do learners have short attention span or are our learning programs too long that we lose our learners in the process?

At the eLearning Guild Learning Solutions Conference, March 23-25, 2011, I facilitated a breakfast session on “Design for Short Attention Span Learners.” It was refreshing to hear so many good ideas on how to help learners assimilate knowledge in spite of the distractions, mobility and rapid demand for learning.

These are the common themes.

1. Useful content immediately
Programs should be focused on must-learn and immediately-useful content. The ultimate goal of total content mastery can be learned while on the job.

2. Valuable content
Work with the SMEs to enlighten them that not all content is important. The designer should take on the challenge of highlighting what the SMEs consider as valuable aspects of the learning when presenting the program design.

3. Quick Search
Enable the program to provide a quick search, to allow learners to dive into the details of the lessons. This helps learners to study quick references and materials while on the job.

4. Small releases
Release small sections of the program progressively instead of attempting a big launch period after several months of work. Learners will definitely benefit from small lessons spread over several determined intervals instead of taking them through a huge chunk of learning data at one singular time.

5. Easy navigation
The navigation design should assist learners to access all available types of content at one glance or in a single site. For example, they can click on videos, audio, references, lessons, reviews, programs, lessons, modules, tests, etc. rather than keeping them hidden.

6. Indexing content
Prepare a good index list of topics that are linked to specific pages in the lessons or programs to facilitate rapid access for the learners.

7. Multi-format
Design programs so that some of the content are in simple formats like PDF, Word, PowerPoint and HTML with a good mix of the more complex formats (audio, video, image or Flash) resulting in an engaging, definitely interactive yet comprehensive, compact and not overly produced learning model.

8. SMS and Mobile
For new updates on the programs, use SMS, text messaging and mobile devices with links to the specific pages.

9. Synthesis
Always provide a short synthesis to inform learners about the gist of the content.

10. Bookmark and sharing
Learners can bookmark and share relevant pages to help other learners. Certain programs cannot be shared by just focusing on specific single pages. Learners have to read the whole lesson or module before they unearth useful content.

11. Unbundle authoring content
Consider authoring lessons and modules as separate or stand-alone units of programs rather than creating traditional closed and encapsulated courses developed by simply following the structures of authoring tools. They become a flexible and easily transferrable set of learning objects. Learners can then scan, view and select quickly from small lessons rather than large programs.

12. Simple time savers
Simple time savers are: 1) video and audio files that show how long they are; 2) a short introduction or synopsis before asking learners to read a long document.

13. Working competency versus full competency
Help SMEs and internal clients understand the difference between programs that help learners acquire vital and critical skills and knowledge immediately needed on the job (working competency) and those that they can master later (full competency). Sometimes, programs become excessively long and very boring because they force the learner to develop full competency even at the onset of the learning process.

14. Instant conversations
In many instances, learners simply need a person to call, chat or exchange emails with, to inquire, validate, or acquire more understanding. We often forget that the ability to have instant, quick and short talks makes a huge difference.

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Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”

One thought on “eLearning Design for Short Attention Span and Overloaded Learners

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