You’ve heard it before. It’s something repeated so often that many of us simply accept it as fact. But is it true? Are our attention spans really getting shorter?
The truth is more complicated than you might suppose. As leaders in the e-learning and event spaces, we recognize the importance of getting to the bottom of this. Because even if there’s only a sliver of truth to it, shrinking attention spans have massive implications for your learning and development initiatives.
People learn, and people forget. Sometimes, forgetting can seem inevitable.
Think back to when you were in school. You stayed up all night cramming for an assessment, only to forget all the information you worked so hard to retain a few days later.
Forgetting so quickly sometimes stems from poor study practices. When you cram before a quiz, you use your short-term memory. If you study more judiciously for days and weeks in advance, you’ll retain the material for longer. But, without intervention, even long-term memory eventually fades.
In psychology, this is known as the forgetting curve. Understanding this phenomenon is crucial to crafting memorable e-learning courseware. Here’s what you need to know.
A growing consensus suggests that microlearning will be the future of L&D. Tailor-made for millennials and Generation Z, this new philosophy of education seems set to dominate the world of online learning.
We have easier access to information than ever before. 2021 seems like a learner’s paradise. But there’s a dark side to all of this: your e-learning content faces stiff competition.
The lure of your LMS needs to be more enticing than Netflix, social media, and mobile games. Microlearning can be part of the solution.
You can probably guess what microlearning is from the name: learning delivered in bite-sized bits. But size is subjective. So how long should microlearning be?
Microlearning Gets Macro Results
But first, we’ll give you a micro crash course on microlearning.
Microlearning is more of a philosophy than something you can point to. The foundation of this philosophy is that, rather than emphasizing long-form learning content, you should use plenty of short materials, too.
Microlearning can take nearly any form. It could be a podcast, and infographic, a quiz, or a video. Just keep it short.
Keep in mind that macrolearning still matters. Short learning materials don’t count as microlearning if they exist in a vacuum. Longer learning opportunities need to exist, too. But microlearning can work toward those macro goals.
Here are some microlearning examples to get your gears turning:
Brief, informational writing (think blog posts and handouts)
For the purposes of this blog, we’ll refer primarily to the runtime of audio and video, which is far-and-away the favorite microlearning format. But the philosophy we’ll share today can apply to any learning material.
The Ideal Microlearning Length
Now, onto the question at hand: how long should microlearning be?
Historically, education has been dominated by roughly hour-long sessions. These alone won’t cut it in the digital age.
Think back to the last event you attended. Were you able to give speakers your full, undivided attention for the duration of their talks?
No matter how interesting the content, attention ebbs and flows. It’s only human. We’ve become accustomed to a fast paced, constant flow of information. We should deliver learning in brief bursts, too, if it should have any chance at keeping up.
So what’s the ideal microlearning length? Here’s our rule of thumb: 10 minutes or less.
Every rule of thumb has its limits, and this one does too. There can definitely be exceptions (more on that later).
Our Rationale Behind the Ideal Microlearning Length
A search on the web for the average human attention span will yield shockingly disparate results.
There is a persistent myth that the millennial attention span is no longer than that of a goldfish, or around 8 seconds. Writers all over the internet have parroted this claim.
Don’t believe it. This idea does a disservice to your learners (and probably goldfish, too). Experts have debunked this claim over and over again.
Others have suggested that somewhere closer to 15 minutes is more accurate. Yet this compelling article from the American Physiological Society shows that even these more generous claims were dredged up from murky data.
Ultimately, attention span is hard to measure. It exists on a spectrum, so often there is no black and white distinction between “paying attention” and “not paying attention.” You can never pinpoint the precise moment when attention declines.
Still, there is overwhelming evidence that consumers have come to prefer shorter content. You might think that the most downloaded app of 2020 was Zoom. In fact, it was TikTok.
Millions of people across the world sunk countless hours into an app that specialized in videos under 60 seconds in length (they’ve since boosted the cap to 3 minutes).
TikTok is for entertainment, not education. But its wild popularity has big implications for e-learning.
When determining how long microlearning should be, we settled on 10 minutes as a good goal to shoot for. This gives you enough time to get a whole lot of information across,
Not only does this break your learning materials into more convenient and digestible chunks for your learners, but it forces educators to think differently, too. Learning how to cut out the fluff and compress your message into a smaller timeframe is a useful exercise for all.
How Micro Is Too Micro?
Then there’s the follow-up question: how short is too short for microlearning?
Again, there are no hard and fast rules about what qualifies as microlearning and what doesn’t. But if we had to answer, we’d say that anything under 1 minute is unlikely to have substantial educational value for your learners.
That’s right—we’ve seen plenty of success with videos around 2 minutes in length. We use them ourselves. 120 seconds is probably longer than you give it credit for, and you can squeeze plenty of information in that timeframe.
A Better Rule of Thumb?
But there might be a better answer to this question: your microlearning content can be as short as you want it to be.
Like we mentioned earlier, microlearning is more of a mindset than anything else. The point is not to inflate your learning content when you’ve said what you want to say. You should always stop recording when you’ve made your point.
Remember that microlearning is more of a mindset than anything else. As you put together your learning portfolio, ask yourself:
Can I get this message across in a more succinct way?
Are there ample microlearning opportunities in my portfolio?
Learners crave diversity. Sprinkling elements of microlearning throughout your LMS will keep them learning their best.
Implement Microlearning with Elevate LMS
Our award-winning learning management system, Elevate, has all the tools you need to unleash the potential of microlearning. Mix and match the modules you need to create a diverse and engaging learning portfolio.
Your learners will get out of your Learning Management System (LMS) what they put into it. To make the most of any online learning platform, you need to engage learners virtually. LMS engagement initiatives will make the difference between an all-star elearning strategy and a middling one.
We want you to make the most of your learning management system. These proven learner engagement strategies will help you do exactly that.
We live in a world where most of us pay for our fair share of subscriptions. But we don’t always utilize the services we pay for as often as we should. Sometimes, you might even forget about them. Still, a simple email can call you right back.
You can use the site news tool in Elevate LMS to the same effect. Use it to remind learners of newly added content, upcoming events, as well as older content they might have missed. A well-written email will get your learners to engage with your LMS in no time.
As the old saying goes, variety is the spice of life. This applies as well to e-learning as it does to anything else.
Formal, curriculum-based learning has its place. But a complete education consists of more than just textbook and tests.
Diversify your learning portfolio as much as you can for better LMS engagement. Keep the learning experience from becoming mundane with the following educational tools:
Podcasts and other informal learning opportunities
When you incorporate this kind of variety into your LMS, you’ll realize it can even be just as easy engaging your learners online as in person.
If your learners can only access your LMS when they sit down in front of a computer, then learner engagement will suffer. But if they can access it from their cell phone? That’s a whole different story.
Ease of access will make a world of difference for your LMS engagement levels. We’ve made Elevate LMS mobile functional, so learners can squeeze in quick microlearning sessions on the go.
Speaking of convenience, you know what’s really inconvenient? Juggling countless different passwords. If simply signing into an LMS is an obstacle, engagement will decline.
We streamline this process by incorporating SSO, or single sign-on. This plays a small but significant role in our quest to engage learners virtually.
We believe that online learning experiences can be every bit as impactful as in-person ones. But we also recognize that a social component is essential for creating a more meaningful educational experience.
The more you look into how to engage learners virtually, the more you will realize that learning can’t exist without community.
Here’s the good news: online learning and community aren’t mutually exclusive. A good LMS will enable social, peer-to-peer learning.
Take the example of Elevate. Our learning management system offers forums and has an extensive integration with Higher Logic, an online community engagement platform. Let these social learning tools live at the center of your learner engagement strategy.
Engage Learners Virtually with Elevate LMS
Your organization’s education goals are bold. Elevate LMS can help you meet them. It contains all the tools you need to engage learners virtually and create a culture of learning.
Our award-winning online learning platform has helped hundreds of associations and nonprofits make their L&D aspirations a reality. Will yours be next?
When you’re ready to take your education strategy to new heights, get in touch with us. Reach out to Meghan Gowen at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more content like this, keep up with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.