It seems the average human attention span has taken a nosedive since the beginning of the 21st century.
A recent Canadian study suggested that we can’t give any topic our undivided attention for more than 8 seconds.
Worryingly, that makes us less focused than your average goldfish. Many commentators blame the rise of social media for this scatterbrain syndrome; in the same way that the availability of multiple TV channels encourages constant surfing, the avalanche of communication tools on smartphones and tablets offers too many temptations for us to stay faithful for long.
On the plus side, rapid-fire use of multiple media is making us far more effective multi-taskers. The ability to act quickly and compartmentalise that action is valuable and practical, so it’s unjust to say we’re dumbing down. We’re shifting priorities and becoming “blink and you’ll miss it” activity jugglers.
This shift impacts on the way each one of us communicates. For learning and development professionals, the impact is striking.
If it’s your job to share a learning culture, to impart a company’s ethics as well as its nuts and bolts procedures, then you have a wide range of tools available. And it pays to respect the preferences of the learner.
We can start by respecting their choice of communication device. Smartphones have overtaken laptops as the preferred device for online activity. One third of us now use our phones to surf, against 30% who use laptops.
We should also respect their choice of learning pattern. The “eight seconds” generation may well prefer to take quick, easily digestible bites of a subject, particularly if they are learning via mobile.
And of course we should respect their choice of language. And yes, that means their native language. When we reach out to learners in Brazil, Japan or Russia, we need content that’s tailored technically and culturally.
Of Brazil’s current population of 202 million, 1 in 4 are smartphone users. As that proportion continues to rise, and more and more working people make the leap not only to smartphone usage but smartphone dependence, the question of how to engage their interest as learners becomes more pressing.
You have eight seconds to impress Gabriela in Sao Paulo. Or Haruto in Tokyo, or Alina in St Petersburg.
What’s your plan? Do your learners want to read? Or do they want to listen and watch?
Creating short, snappy videos that can be viewed on a smartphone at any time may appeal to them far more directly than text. And when you do need to introduce the written word…
Highlighted or italicised text
and different colours to signify different learning points
…may all help to get your message across.
But beware of cultural insensitivity. A colour that signifies optimism in one culture may signal bereavement in another. An informal conversational style that scores points in one society may be seen as shockingly disrespectful in the next. And the training language itself needs to be assessed for suitability. Acronyms are an obvious non-starter for translation purposes, with no possibility of localising them and retaining the sense and spirit of the original name.
If you tailor your content to learner needs, make it accessible from the device of their choice and localise it effectively for different languages and cultures, you can create a learning experience that adds lasting value for individuals, businesses and entire communities.
So get ready for action. You have eight seconds to impress Gabriela.