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  • More than 80 speakers

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How to keep learners' focus in a modern world full of distractions

12 Dec 2016

Recently published research about modern learners, inspired this brief article about dealing with the needs of the modern and “millennial” learner. As eLearning becomes more prevalent in the work place, and mobile learning on smartphones is a common strategy, training activity comes up against the reality of the modern learner.

The modern learner's world is fast moving, highly connected, mobile and full of distractions. According to Bersin research, in a typical work week employees only have 1% of their time for training. In “Meet the Modern Learner” Bersin presents us with more shocking facts:
  • The majority of modern learners won’t  watch a video lasting more than 4 minutes
  • Today’s Learners go away from their task to the internet  an average of 27 times a day (compared to 5 times 15 years ago)
  • Modern Learners will click away in between 5 and 10 seconds if your page does not hold their attention 
  • People unlock their smartphones up to 9 times an hour.
  • Modern workers are interrupted every 5 minutes, on average, often by work applications and collaborative tools

Also, according to the Towards Maturity survey, 2/3 of organizations expect their employees to interact with online learning resources on a daily/weekly basis.

 Modern Learners don’t function well in classrooms

Digital distraction on the rise in classrooms, which is another reason to move your learning over  to the modern mobile learning model for modern learners. If you can’t beat them, join them!

Acceptance of digital devices in the classroom (schools, universities and adult education and training) has grown at the cost of student distraction. In a January 2016, the Journal of Media Education study published a US survey of 675 students in 26 states. They found that students check their phones and other digital devices in class more than 11 times a day on average.

(Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-01-digital-distraction-class.html#jCp)

The UNL study conducted in 2015, asked students what they were doing with their mobile devices during class time:

On a typical student day, how often do you use a digital device during class for non-classroom related activities such as texting, talking on a smartphone, emailing, surfing the Web, tweeting or other social networking?

  • More than 10 times:  34%
  • 1-10 times: 63%
  • Never: 3%

If you use a digital device during class for non-class purposes, please describe all those purposes:

  • Texting:  87%
  • Checking the time: 75%
  • Email: 76%
  • Social networking: 70%
  • Web surfing: 42%
  • Games: 10%

This data underlines two factors that Learning and development professionals must address:

  • Modern learners prefer to learn on a mobile device
  • Modern learners have a very short attention span


A few words of advice for the learning and development specialists facing modern learners:

  • Use micro-learning - cut lessons online into small chunks that require no more than 4 or 5 minutes of attention
  • Create a silent working space in your office - to minimise interruptions and distractions for learners and allow them to maximise retention.
  • Establish training times during the week for your employees that represent more than 1% of their time. Remember that employees want to learn and keep up to date.
  • Make it mobile - smartphones have overtaken computers. Modern learners expect to find answers to their problems on their phones. 30% of employees do the majority of their work away from office, and 20% are subcontractors. 
  • Make it interactive - make sure that the learning module often requires the learner's interaction (ideally every 5 seconds)- like practice and tests.
  • Make it pertinent - Organise your content, keep it up to date and rid it of non pertinent or outdated content. 
  • Make sure your LMS is fit for this usage: it should provide a high impact, micro-learning. (according to the D2L Corporation 2015 report, 64% of learners find access to learning from their mobile devices essential/very useful).

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