Shiny Object Syndrome: Overcoming the Training Attention Span Deficit


It’s hard to focus these days, isn’t it? We spend our days moving from screen to screen, eyes passing over a barrage of apps and alerts and texts and video calls, doing our best to ignore the lure of social media. You have every intention of buckling down and concentrating on just one thing at a time, but technology just makes multitasking so darned easy, doesn’t it? And if you can get two things done at the same time, that’s a good thing, right?

The problem is, our brain really isn’t wired to handle all of this so, while you might complete two tasks at the same time, you won’t complete them as well as if you just focused on one at a time. (Think texting and driving … bad idea.) Not to mention our work suffers when we’re getting news alerts and social media comments that compete for our attention.

Even when we think we’re doing two things at once, we’re really doing three, four or five.

Learning retention was a challenge before the added distractions, let alone now. Unless you have a photographic memory, divided attention makes learning very difficult. What’s the best way to cut through the noise and make training stick with today’s learners? Let’s discuss.

Just How Bad Is It and Why?

Let’s not sugarcoat it. It’s not pretty. Consider the following:

  • “In 2000, the average American attention span was 12 seconds. In 2013, it was 8.” For reference, the attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds. (
  • It turns out, when we think we’re multitasking, we’re really not. We’re actually just “rapidly toggling between tasks.” (New York Times)
  • “Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, found that a typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between each interruption, while it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption.” (New York Times) We have interruptions piling on top of one another, effectively creating a mental traffic jam.
  • A study conducted at Carnegie Mellon found “the distraction of an interruption, combined with the brain drain of preparing for that interruption, made participants 20 percent dumber. That’s enough to turn a B-minus student (80 percent) into a failure (62 percent).” (New York Times) Think about that the next time your teenager asks for an iPhone! 
  • The same study found at first, distraction does make us less apt to retain information and far less able to focus on a single task. The bright side, however, is that the study also suggests that we’re largely aware of this issue, and can learn to adapt to this new environment, taking back some of the brain power that’s been taken from us.

Technology is to blame and it’s not going away. In fact, it will only infiltrate our lives further. We can’t expect human behavior, or the environment in which we live and work, to change much, either. The population is growing each year with people who have never lived in a world without the Internet and immediate access to information and communication. Further, “the current generation of internet consumers live in a world of ‘instant gratification and quick fixes’ which leads to a ‘loss of patience and a lack of deep thinking,’” (The Guardian)

How Has Training Been Impacted?

What does all of this mean for training? Well, it means our job isn’t necessarily harder, rather, we need to approach training a completely different way. It needs to be delivered in a way that jives with our new multi-screen, alert-heavy lives and instant-gratification expectations.

It means that one-off and/or classroom style training does not work. It’s not effective. Learners will walk away from that having gotten very little out of it, and you’ll see little-to-no behavioral change as a result of the hours invested in training.

Don’t waste valuable time with outdated methods. This is where eLearning can help.

Use eLearning for Low-Attention Learning

eLearning methodologies can swiftly adapt to the changing technological—and, as a result, human behavioral—landscape. What started out as training videos accessible on a computer has evolved into a seamless, nimble and incredibly effective medium for growing employee knowledge throughout an organization.

Here are just a few reasons how eLearning is rising to the occasion to combat Shiny Object Syndrome:

  • We can condense lengthy training courses into a matter of minutes.
  • Learning campaigns follow up with text and email reminders delivered in the formats we’ve become most accustomed to.
  • We’re able to equip employees with on-the-job performance support materials that are interactive and guide the employee through whatever task they are performing at a particular moment.
  • Online knowledge and file sharing powers collaborative learning within teams.
  • An eLearning infrastructure enables the delivery of just-in-time learning. Rather than expecting an employee to remember everything they might possibly need to know after one, crammed class, we can offer learning content at the exact time it’s needed.
  • The best eLearning is mobile-optimized, so that it can be accessed anytime, from any device.

We can’t sit around and hope that audiences will outgrow their distracted nature. Instead, we need to adapt to the new environment. How has eLearning helped your organization deliver effective training? Leave us a comment below.

If you're interested, check out ExpandShare's eLearning Services to see how your program can be an epic success.


Will Holland