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 are soon to make up 70 percent of our global workforce – Millennials, Nexters and Generation Z.
Concerns over diminishing attention spans add a unique layer to the mantra, “doing more with less.” According to our most latest Ethics & Compliance Training Benchmark Report, this is a persistent challenge for training programmes – to cover more risk area, offer more courses, reach more employees, all with less or static budgets and resources. However, if we look at it through the lens of millennial learners, we’re also talking about more impact with less attention.
Read more: 2018 Ethics & Compliance Training Benchmark Report
One study claimed that attention spans have dropped to just 8 seconds. But don't worry, that's only one second less than a 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 maximise 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 8 seconds or for over 5 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.