Killian & Company have a fascinating opinion piece about the public's attention span and what it means to marketers which I think can also hold true for training and development individual. The article, The Post-Literate Era: Planning Around Short Attention Spans, when viewed in the perspective of learning initiatives would seem to argue against the lengthy (read 60 minutes or more) elearning initiative.
Brand holders need to be aware of the implications of this phenomenon, including such practical applications as starting a White Paper with a paragraph that consists of one short simple declarative sentence. Welcome to the Post-Literate Era – a period which began decades ago but which has gained momentum in the 21st century. The evidence is everywhere: we can even draw the graph of sustained attention, from a 19th-century reader willing to read David Copperfield over several weeks, to long-copy magazine ads of our grandparents' generation, to today's web pages that are given 4.5 seconds to show themselves relevant.
As an avid reader my initial response is to rail against this apparent turn of events, but, being a reader, I continued on from the initial proposition and found some guidance, guidance that had been fermenting in my brain already.
In today's age learning content can no longer be just facts on a page. They must be engaging which requires strong storytelling. Now this is nothing new and I've heard it said before the advent of shorter attention spans that successful learning events need to engage the learner, but I think this concept has often been given lip service while the focus of most learning is on how to save dollars by using software that will allow rapid development of e-learning courseware by the subject matter experts who know their materials. Unfortunately the subject matter expert may not be the best story teller.
Nobility, elected officials, and celebrities know that while they may be good at what they do, they may not be the best at telling their own stories. So they hire writers to tell their stories for them. Likewise the training industry sprang up to tell the stories of subject matter experts. I think as an industry we need to reflect on how we tell these stories and remodel them to reflect how society wants to absorb these stories.
Hour-long clicking of Next buttons to read course content and maybe see an animation or two will no longer work. We have to streamline presentations to be absorbed in smaller chunks and can be developed and delivered in multiple means: on-line courseware chunked into small (10 screens and no more) sections that can stand on their own; audio podcasts using narration developed for the courseware; transcripts of the podcasts for reading; online forums in which people can discuss the matter with one another.
It's a new age and we need to start thinking in terms of how our customers want to consume our product rather than force customers to try and swallow what we produce.