Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sacrificing Comprehension On The Altar of Ephemera?

The average attention span in 2001 was 12 seconds; in 2013 it
was 8  seconds; a goldfish’s attention span is 9 seconds.
So often we come across abbreviated lists of behaviours that are designed to “shortcut” the process of learning. We understand that learning is a process of transformation that demands we apply time and effort to modify behaviours, thoughts and actions. Why then do we deliver learning in facile lists distilled down to the simplest steps or in classrooms and workshops?

 Are we sacrificing comprehension on the altar of ephemera or are we boring a new generation tasked with learning to adopt to a technology based culture?  Do we truly understand the nature of learning as a society or have we been duped by a culture steeped in the glorification of youth and its ability to adapt to technology.   

We appear to be moving from a culture of thoughtful attention to one of distracted focus. For example, in the sixties, movies scenes held a viewer’s attention of about 20 seconds, today that has shrunk to about 2 – 3 seconds. The average attention span in 2001 was 12 seconds; in 2013 it was 8 seconds; a goldfish’s attention span is 9 seconds. Today 51% of millennials prefer video to text.  In 2013 adults aged 50 to 64 upped their consumption of online video from 11 minutes a day to 19 minutes a day. This year it is predicted we will consume more than 15 hours a day of media.

I believe that there is a sweet spot in the learning process that responds to shorter attention spans while providing the information in a way; at a time, and in in a format that is easily consumed by a more media savvy younger generation of learners.

As developers and designers of learning programs particularly in the areas of eLearning and blended learning we are constantly faced with the challenge of addressing shortened attention spans and alternative learning scenarios as dictated by the largest group of learners, young people (which we would identify as 18 – 34). Although the case for shortened attention spans would dictate a change in learning strategies training decision makers, in their wisdom, continue to rely primarily on a traditional “bums in seats” strategy for learning.

Consider this; in the US business spend over 160 billion is spent annually on training, 80% is forgotten in 30 days and 90% within one year. The average time to create 1 hour of classroom learning is estimated at between 43 and 185 hours. The average time an employee trains in a year is 30 hours and fewer than 15% apply what they have learned.   The 90/20/8 rule tells us that in the first 8 minutes of learning we are at our peek energy level, after 20 minute our neurons experience a noticeable drop in activity and after 60 to 120 minutes our alertness completely collapses.

 While short lists, tips, guidelines and tricks provide some easily digestible information, we almost always treat this information as disposable. It offers no means of truly comprehending the ideas and offers little in terms of depth of knowledge. On the other end of the spectrum, traditional learning doesn’t work either. We believe that shorter intervals of eLearning respond to the need for multiple streams of information, a preference for high stimulation and lower tolerance for boredom.

References: Hayles, University of California; USC Marshall School of Business, ScienceDaily; Levels Beyond, Direct Marketing News; National Center for Biotechnology Information, The Associated
Press; Cross-Platform Report, Nielsen Q2 2104; Harris Survey, Grovo 2014; Human Capital Trends Switzerland 2014, Deloitte; National Sleep Foundation, BusinessWeek; American
Dietetic Association; McKinsey, BusinessWeek; Skills Soft; The Association forTalent Development; Via Learning Solutions; Wall Street Journal; Pike, Creative Training;
Techniques Handbook; Goldstein, Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience; Bailey, Mindgym; Jimenez, “3 minute learning”; eLearning Infographics, Mobile Learning Generation

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