Attention spans are shrinking, a fact everyone is undoubtedly aware of, engraved in our minds even further with headlines like “You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish.” The idea that our attention spans are shortening is often posed as a damaging change to the way humans learn. But what do we have to fear? Are attention spans actually getting smaller? And if so, how can we ever expect to learn and retain meaningful information?
A 2015 Microsoft study found that since the onset of the mobile revolution, around the year 2000, the average attention span dropped from about 12 seconds to eight seconds. This should not surprise anyone. The growing ubiquity of the internet and social dependency on mobile devices means we receive information quickly and constantly. More importantly, we expect to receive information quickly and constantly.
We have the ability to send and receive text messages within seconds. Breaking news alerts ping directly to our cell phones. We can live stream, video chat, or simply call any person at any time. But a smaller attention span does not mean we have a worse attention span. While the amount of time in which we focus is smaller, it is simply a side effect of how we are evolving. Humans no longer focus on a single matter for a long time because they no longer need the extra time. In fact, one of the most significant byproducts is that the modern human’s ability to multitask is far better than our ancestors.
To draw a comparison to another human evolution, let us consider wisdom teeth. Human beings evolved past the need to use their wisdom teeth over 10,000 years ago. Because of this, we have learned to adapt and developed ways to care for or remove our wisdom teeth.
Now imagine your dentist starts thinking of ways you can exclusively use your wisdom teeth while ignoring the rest of them. Why would you find ways to utilize your wisdom teeth when your mouth has evolved to chew your food properly and efficiently?
The issue at hand is not how we can fix shrinking attention spans, but instead, how we can change the way information is shared and received.
The modern person is constantly flooded with information from multiple channels and devices. This can be overwhelming, but one benefit of advancing technology is that we now have the ability to be highly selective about the information we absorb. It is the reason why we may struggle to focus during a long business meeting but can easily binge-watch a television series for multiple hours.
We have the luxury of choosing what we devote our attention to, which means now more than ever, we must devote time to changing how important information is communicated.
Boston Digital reports that video is the most effective  channel to drive engagement and create memorable experiences. Viewers retain 95% of a message when it is communicated in a video, compared to 10% when read in text. Visual content delivered in adaptable time formats is why eLearning will continue to become more prevalent in education and training. Why is eLearning so effective for short attention spans? There are 4 main reasons why online learning is useful as the human consciousness evolves:
Microlearning is a method of learning where information is presented in “bite-sized” segments. Most microlearning modules present learning objectives in 2-10 minute portions. Microlearning can take various forms, from short and simple text to videos and snippets of audio.
Although many online learning platforms present information in longer formats, like an hour-long webinar, the versatility of the internet  allows users to break any digital format into smaller pieces.
2. Focused Topics
A shorter attention span means humans are more selective of how they spend their focus. The internet is saturated with information, from basic general topics to highly niche subjects. The plethora of information is shockingly helpful for our evolving attention spans. The more options we are presented, the more we can pick and choose what information we focus on.
Materials on the internet, generally speaking, remain on the internet. This offers a level of flexibility  for learners that in-person seminars cannot offer. eLearning allows people to create their own schedule and learn at their own pace. Creating a custom learning schedule provides the opportunity to sit down at a time and place that is optimal for each learner.
In a traditional instructor-student learning environment, the student has little control over the topic covered and the way information is presented. Online learning allows learners to choose specific subjects and formats to study. The ability to personalize learning empowers people to take action with their own education. Learners can access specific content they need, learn it in real time, and put it to practice immediately.
So where do we go from here?
- The human attention span is getting smaller, but it is simply a byproduct of evolution.
- The modern learner expects to absorb information quickly and in shorter formats than before.
- eLearning is highly flexible and provides a level of personalization traditional forms of education cannot.
There must be a societal change when it comes to sharing information. Instead of trying to reverse the shrinking attention span, try adapting to our new and evolved way of learning.
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