One of the greatest challenges to creating an effective training program is getting employees on board and engrossed in the material. This isn’t an easy task — especially if employees don’t have an interest in the material to begin with. Knowing the best strategies in light of declining attentions spans is a challenge that will affect Learning & Development Managers in the years to come as millennials increasingly enter the workforce.
What can be done to deliver training that maximizes performance and increases knowledge retention?
Knowing The Scope Of The Problem
In the book “The Essential 20: Twenty Components of an Excellent Health Care Team” by David Cornish and Diane Dukette give insight as to why this is becoming an increasing concern.
The intrinsically motivating attention span (involving something enjoyable) varies from 3 to 5 minutes in young children, to a maximum of about 20 minutes in adults. Nevertheless, the average movie lasts approximately two hours, and most adults can follow the plot with only minimal attention lapses. This means that adults can “reset” their attention span at 20 minute intervals, if they desire.
Further on, they state that the attention span of humans is much shorter than it used to be and is on the decline. In addition to they cite distraction, absent-mindedness, and multi-tasking as other factors that could affect the performance of a task.
While not listed in their book, impatience is also a factor that could affect performance. This is rooted in attention span but adds an additional emotional element. For instance, external pressures on an employee to complete the training program in a set amount of time will only cause them to be frustrated and impatient if the online training doesn’t meet their expectations.
In a world filled with media that caters to decreasing attention spans, getting a grip on the problem seems like an impossible task. We live in a world where “on-demand” entertainment is becoming the norm; where commercials are skipped by with the help of a PVR and where online communication has been distilled down to a 140 character limit through Twitter. It’s no wonder that getting the attention of employees and maximizing knowledge retention is harder than ever before. What can be done?
Think INSIDE the box
Shorter attention spans are an increasing reality in organizational training. It’s also a deeply rooted behavior that’s extremely difficult to change. Keep in mind that this a behavior that has been shaped by a lifetime of media consumption. From a training perspective, it is far easier to deliver training that works with these behaviors than against them. Increased performance is the end goal. Setting up roadblocks that inhibit results helps no one. Let’s examine some of the factors from The Essential 20 that affect task performance and see how they fit within the online training context.
As mentioned in the quote above, optimal attention spans in adults are around 20 minutes. The average length of time it takes to complete an online training module needs to reflect this. This is crucial information that any online training solutions developer needs to know. Producing a module that is too long can potentially lose the attention of employees.
Distraction is something that’s harder to control with as work environments can vary. One tactic is to schedule a time where large groups of employees take time out of their day to complete training without any distraction. While effective, taking large groups of employees away from potentially mission-critical work is not ideal. In this case the best course of action is to make it abundantly clear that in the course description the ideal conditions under which to take the training
The Essential 20 brings up an interesting point when it comes to multitasking as it relates to distraction. While the idea of multitasking may conjure the notion of increased productivity, there are actually losses when it comes to knowledge retention. They redefine it as “Continuous Partial Attention”.
“In this concept, people skim the surface of incoming data, pick out the relevant details, and move on to the next stream of incoming data. With this description of multitasking, one is paying attention, but only partially.”
With shorter attention spans, more distractions, and continuous partial attention all playing a part in how knowledge is retained, the challenge to create online training that generate performance results becomes more pronounced.
The problem with a lot of online training is that it teaches by “telling” as opposed to teaching by “doing”. This is an important distinction and can make the difference between an emotionally involved audience and one that is prone to distraction. Creating an online training program that optimizes knowledge retention is a two step process. It involves not only “Doing” but also reinforcement.
Within the context of online training, “doing” refers to creating relevant role-playing simulations within the course that are similar to the ones that employees encounter in their day-to-day work. By creating a situation in which the skills are to be used, it now involves critical thinking versus rote memorization in which to successfully navigate the scenario. To see how this could work in an office environment, try out our role-playing course demo.
The second critical step to increase knowledge retention is the reinforcement of knowledge after the training. While scenarios play an important role in the immediate knowledge retention, it’s the application of skills that makes the difference.
Knowledge reinforcement can be tackles a number of ways. Most often it is through the use of a blended learning program which combines the online training component with a coaching or mentoring component that follows.
With employee performance coming under increased scrutiny, you need to do whatever possible to make sure that employees are not only engaged with the knowledge but have the tools they need to use it immediately and in the months and years to come. Not only does this make the training investment sound, it can also prevent performance related issues down the line.
To learn more about how you can increase employee knowledge retention, download our free ebook How To Create Perfect Training Using Blended Training Techniques.