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[Infographic] Pay Attention! Adult Learners Need Engaging Course Design

  1. Pen Brian Alexander and Brianne Sandorf
  2. Calendar August 3, 2017

Maintaining focus in the workplace has been a constant hotbed of discussion over the last decade across all professions. Each year, more and more research is released proclaiming the rapid decline of our attention span throughout the workday.

While the jury is still out on whether goldfish maintain better focus than adult humans, one thing is quite clear, the way we pay attention and process information has undergone a major shift. This shift can be primarily attributed to the advancements made in technology, from social media to digital devices, items commonly accessible to the average adult in the workplace.

With the everyday tasks of most career professionals lasting well beyond a few seconds, companies must now find ways to not only keep their workforce engaged, but cater to this changing landscape of short attention spans.

This informative infographic shares what affects the attention span of adult learners and how thoughtful course design can be a powerful tool in meeting the needs of how today’s learners focus best.

Infographic - Pay Attention-Adult Learners Need Engaging Course Design -- Allen Communication

How is your company helping its adult learners to stay focused in the workplace?

For the past few years, researchers have said that human adult attention spans have dropped from 12 to 8 seconds. That’s an attention span supposedly smaller than that of a goldfish! Others say that while an adult’s attention span actually lasts around 20 minutes, their attention has to captured within 8 seconds. Either way, it’s clear that technology has changed the way our brains process information.

Adults now tend to…

  • Multitask and multiscreen
  • Frontload with high bursts of immediate attention
  • Have lower tolerance for tedious or boring content

This is problematic since many tasks require long-term sustained attention – especially in the workplace. 

What affects the tendency to pay attention in the workplace? 

  • Lengths of time worker are expected to be engaged
  • Level of interest in the task
    • 2015 study shows that 45% of workers are bored at work
  • Technology dependency and addiction
    • Facebook, phones, etc: 34% of workers use Facebook for non-work purposes

What helps adults pay attention in the workplace? 

  • Listen to music you love
  • Limit distractions
  • Make a list of your tasks in order of priority
  • Practice mindfulness and meditate
  • Take a 15-minute break every 2 hours

How course design can address changes in how adults pay attention:

  • Job aids and resource libraries (at-need, on-the-job learning rather than compulsory irrelevant, dense content)
  • De-clutter your course (delete extra graphics, audio, text, etc.)
  • Put something compelling in the first 8 seconds (to grab attention)
  • Use a storytelling narrative (increases interest) 
  • Variety in activities (switch/add stimuli)
  • Microlearning (break it down)


(1) The great goldfish attention span myth – and why it’s killing content marketing

(2) The Key to Overcoming Minuscule Attention Spans When Training Employees

(3) The Eight-Second Attention Span

(4) Attention Span in The Work Place

(5) Are millennials’ short attention spans the best thing ever?

(6) Pew Research Center – Social Media and the Workplace

(7) GetVoip – Survey: Almost Half of the US Workforce is Bored At Their Jobs

(8) Time – Losing Focus? Studies Say Meditation May Help

(9) Key Tips for Working with Short Attention Spans

(10) informED – The Science of Attention

Comments 3

  1. I would have to disagree with your “declutter the course, removing “extra” graphics, video. In fact, we are seeing folks go straight to a video and ignore everything else. We now have three adult generations in play who have all been entirely socialized as “screen beanies” – when they see a screen, a whole array of expectations are engaged. When we just have boring, boring, text, then they are….bored and switch off. I am all for minimalist approaches that are not visually overloaded or too too much, but defining what are “extras” for adult learners coming to a class with a variety of previous work experiences and knowledge bases, it is difficult to define – what is extra. For one student, they might watch three-four or however many videos you post; another student with greater starting knowledge may only need one. Same with the graphics – pictures are instantly uploaded brain wise – picture tells a 1,000 words. Pictures are used to “declutter” text.

    1. That’s a good point. I think the distinction here is the word “extra.” While it’s usually better to have more videos and graphics and less text, here at AllenComm we’ve found it’s not good to have video or graphics just for the sake of having video or graphics. We don’t want to overload a course with unnecessary stock images or gratuitous video when it doesn’t serve an instructional purpose. When there are too many images or video, what was once engaging becomes irritating and disengaging. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

  2. The great work by Ruth Clark has shown that video and graphics are great; video and graphics that don’t directly support the material is distracting and gets in the way of learning. There’s nothing wrong with white space on your page. In fact, research has shown that white space is good at helping learners focus on what’s important. Getting rid of things that don’t move your course forward is really important.

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