Binge Watcher or Goldfish: Compliance Training in an Era of Changing Attention Spans

The more things change, the more things stay the same. As compliance matures as an industry, we sometimes forget the foundational best-practices that our programs are built upon. Every last Friday of the month, we revisit some of our most educational posts from the past. We think you’ll find they are just as relevant today.

Originally published July 2017

An attention span is a fickle friend. A great one to have, but oh so hard to keep. This is especially true when we consider the attention spans of those who make up your workforce – from Boomers to Generation Z.

Concerns over diminishing attention spans add a unique layer to the mantra, “doing more with less.” According to our 2017 Ethics & Compliance Training Benchmark Report, this is a persistent challenge for training programs – to cover more risk area, offer more courses, reach more employees, all with less or static budgets and resources (2018 Report). However, if we look at it through the lens of modern learners, we’re also talking about more impact with less attention.

The Latest Data: 2018 Ethics & Compliance Training Benchmark Report

One study claimed that attention spans have dropped to just eight seconds. But don’t worry, that is only one second less than the perspicacious goldfish

What exactly is the state of attention spans? One study released a couple years ago, and shared everywhere from Time Magazine to the New York Times, claimed that attention spans have dropped to just eight seconds. But don’t worry, that is only one second less than the perspicacious goldfish. Hubspot says many website visitors spend less than 15 seconds on a site before they bounce (leave before doing anything else on the site). And even the NBA is evaluating the possibility of reducing the length of games to maximize engagement. As NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says, “Obviously people, particularly millennials, have increasingly short attention spans, so it’s something as a business we need to pay attention to…”

So the attention span is all but gone and we should just give up before we are distracted by the next shiny thing that catches our eye, right? Well, not exactly. How does this all fit in with a little phenomenon taking place called “binge watching”? Binge watching, as defined by Deloitte, is watching three or more episodes of a television show in one viewing session. For millennials and Gen Z, they are typically watching “an average of six episodes, or five hours of content, in a single setting.” That sounds like quite the attention span.

In addition to binging video content, millennials are spending over six hours a week on social media – and they are not even the top users. Gen X spends the most time on social, behaving more stereotypically millennial than their successors. This reinforces the idea that information consumption is not a matter of generational preferences, it’s a matter of how an individual, regardless of age, engages with content.

Read More: 6 Steps for Improving Ethics & Compliance Training for the Millennial-type Learner

So what then? We can either pay attention for under eight seconds or for over five hours, but the time in between is touch and go?

According to Dr. Gemma Briggs, a psychology lecturer at the Open University, attention span “is very much task-dependent. How much attention we apply to a task will vary depending on what the task demand is." Furthermore, "How we apply our attention to different tasks depends very much about what the individual brings to that situation.”

So there is hope. Our goal is not to develop employee training to fit into diminishing attention spans, it’s to develop training content and strategies that evoke the level of attention necessary for concepts to be effectively absorbed by a viewer. This is the same age-old challenge faced by every marketer, advertiser and content creator that seeks consumer attention. In this case, our consumers are our employees. And like true content creators, we must provide employees with an experience, not just a play button.

Training that Captures Attention

The Definitive Guide to Ethics & Compliance Training states that the most advanced training programs in the field include “a sophisticated multiyear training plan that covers a variety of topics assigned to specific audiences based on need and risk profile.” Mature programs also include a mix of “live and e-learning, short- and long-form courses and a variety of engaging formats, and a disciplined approach to reporting and measuring training effectiveness that focuses on training outcomes.”

Download Definitive Guide: Ethics & Compliance Training

Attention spans aren’t going away. They are changing, as are the approaches to capturing them.

To add to the good news, many organizations are working to make their training programs more sophisticated, more engaging, more relevant to learners of all preferences and attention spans. The 2017 NAVEX Global Ethics & Compliance Training Benchmark Report finds that “Mature and Advanced programs are more likely to include enhancements such as micro-learning (26% and 29%, respectively), social learning (24% and 40%), and gamification (14% and 26%) in their learning programs” and that they see stronger performance and outcomes by doing so (2018 Report).  

Attention spans aren’t going away. They are changing, as are the approaches to capturing them. It behooves every training program manager to understand these changes and embrace them. Employees may never eschew sleep to “watch next episode” of ethics and compliance training, but adapting training content and delivery to meet the needs of modern learners will ensure that it is at least watched in a way that has a lasting impact on future employee behavior. 

Chat with a solutions expert to learn how you can take your compliance program to the next level of maturity.

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