In 2000, around the time the mobile revolution was taking off, the average human attention span was 12 seconds, according to a report from Microsoft. By 2015, with smart phones about to outnumber the planet’s human occupants, the average attention span was just eight seconds. Even the average goldfish supposedly has a longer attention span and manages to focus on whatever catches its interest for nine whole seconds.
We are all clearly distracted by the sheer volume of content that we can access on mobile devices at any time of day or night. As more and more distracting content becomes available, attention spans can only become shorter.
But it’s not only our ability to concentrate on anything for long stretches of time that is in decline. The shelf life of skills is also shrinking as artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies create demand for new skills.
For learning and development professionals, these trends mean that speed is, more than ever, of the essence. As a recent article(1) put it: “The key trends for 2018 reflect the challenge and opportunity for training professionals to develop learning experiences that enable learners to reach proficiency in the shortest amount of time.”
So how can L&D teams rise to this challenge and engage distracted, time poor learners? Research(2) by Raytheon Professional Services (RPS) provides compelling evidence that micro-learning is a big part of the solution.
Micro-learning delivers content in “bite-sized” chunks that can be easily digested even by learners with the shortest attention spans. Short learning nuggets engage learners by giving them the exact information they need when they need it, and enables them to learn on the go. The RPS research shows that this way of learning improves focus and supports long-term retention by a massive 80%.
Employees, who by one estimate(3) currently spend less than 25 minutes a week learning, appear to appreciate these advantages. More than half (58%) of those surveyed by Raytheon Professional Services said they would spend more time learning if content were broken up into shorter modules.
An additional benefit for organisations is that micro-learning modules can be produced at short notice. This allows learning to keep up with the speed of change and ensures that organisations don’t waste precious resources developing know-how and skills that no longer support business objectives.
Tailoring content to individual needs
Micro-learning is also easier to tailor to the needs of individual learners and their organisations than conventional learning. Instead of offering everyone in a team the same learning content, a portfolio of micro-learning modules assembled for a particular learner will build on that person’s existing knowledge and skills. This approach has been shown to help learners pro-actively apply what they have learnt to their jobs.
But organisations need to think carefully about how they use micro-learning. “Both our research and our direct experience of working with clients suggest that micro-learning should not be used as a stand-alone learning vehicle,” says Mark Oliver, Managing Director EMEA, Raytheon Professional Services.
“Micro-learning is most likely to bring about real behavioural change if it is used to supplement and reinforce learning that has been delivered in other ways. We know that 90% of learning is forgotten after the first week if it’s not reinforced, so it’s important to use tools that help employees retain what they have learnt. Micro-learning is one of the most effective of these tools.” Micro-learning, in other words, can be a game-changer – but only if it’s done right.