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Grabbing the Learner’s Attention

How much time do you have to grab a learner’s attention? 20 seconds? 30 seconds? A minute? Would you be surprised to know it is 15 seconds? You might think focusing on the look of the course is superficial and a distraction from the instruction. But don’t make that mistake. You need to grab the learner’s attention and get them to focus on the content. Complementary visuals help you design a course that is visually appealing, instructionally sound and rich with content.

Oftentimes you get so focused on content, you forget about the visual design. Or you might not have the background in design to create courses differently from what you experienced when you were coming up the ranks.

So what can you do to create a course that grabs learners’ attention?


Use white space. Just as people feel the need to fill quiet in a conversation with talking, we often think we have to fill a training course chock full of content. The problem is that too much information on the page leads to cognitive overload. Using whitespace also forces you to look at your course structure, ensuring it’s organized clearly.

Use common conventions. Using standard conventions means you don’t have to create large amounts of directional text. For example, if there are arrows that point left and right, you don’t need to tell the learner to click next to continue. They already use next arrows in blogs, email and many other sites.


Stories are memorable. Stories stay with us, and by using them we can make the content fit within the context of “So why does this affect me?” Helping learners answer the question of why they need to learn the information is important to increase their motivation and retention.

Stories are motivating. Spouting a lot of policies and asking learners to memorize them is not as motivating as telling a story of an employee who broke compliance rules, and showing the consequences to themselves and the company.


Interactive content is a must. Gone are the days of presentation page after presentation page. Mix it up. There need to be different types of pages that require the learner to interact. Use of swaps, knowledge checks, drag-and-drops, matching, scenarios and simulations will engage learner interest and begin having them apply what they know.

Use games. Well placed, well scripted games make the information fun, and can teach as much as any other type of page. Also, consider your audience. If you have a competitive sales group, then a game that amps up the competition between them will be even more effective.

Think about video. There are some topics that are shown best by video. Modeling behavioral skills, especially nonverbal, are captured best with something visual.

That 15-second window is a precious resource. If you don’t catch your learners’ attention from the start, your course won’t be as effective as it should be. By incorporating a clean, interesting visual design from the start, your training will be more engaging and easier to understand. Don’t make your course harder than it needs to be. Combining instructional and visual design is the foundation of better learning.