Can I borrow your attention?

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Can I borrow your attention for a minute? I want you to think about something. How many times a day do you become distracted. A quick scroll through Facebook? A hasty reply to an email? A five minute day dream out of the window? Or something as futile as checking the weather? Distractions surround us — you know it yourself, when your attention begins to wander, anything can be a distraction — like a flighty butterfly, your attention is flitting about all over the place, and even that blank wall in front of you starts to become interesting…

Losing focus was actually key to our survival

But we are not completely to blame. In fact, our short attention span may be partially an evolutionary adaptation, designed to be stimulation-hungry in order to quickly respond to changes in our external environment. However, modern technology has dialled up this evolutionary response. Where before the most exciting distraction may have been the view window, now we have a barrage of stimuli thrown at us every minute in the form of news, emails, social media, texts, phone calls — and I’m sure you can name a lot more.  In fact, 50% of people surveyed say they can’t stop checking their phones when they should be focussing on other things, despite their best efforts.

With all of these external stimuli demanding our focus, it can often feel like there is a “fight for attention”. How do we decide which ones to dedicate our focus too? In fact, this pretty much sums it up — our attention is designed to assess these millions of stimuli, and tune out those that are not relevant in the moment. The problem arises when your brain decides to tune in to Instagram and tune out of that meeting….

So how can our learning compete in the fight for attention?

Well, according to Dr Gemma Briggs, a psychology Lecturer at the Open University, the idea of an “average” attention span is actually pretty meaningless. She emphasizes that attention span very much is task-dependant, and on top of that is also dependant on the individual. This is where it is key to maintain attention, we need to adapt our tasks to capture people’s attention. But this is just the start. Once we have our learner’s attention, what do we do with it? In the fight for attention, every minute you have your audience’s attention is hard-earned. But being engaged doesn’t always mean we are learning. As well as holding focus, we also need to deliver impactful learning.

Here are 4 things we do at VTT to capture (and hold) our learner’s attention

1. Cameras on

You wouldn’t be checking your phone whilst having a conversation with someone you are stood next to. But when our cameras are turned off, we might not think twice about having a quick scroll.  Having camera’s on encourages us to remain focused. Not only that but reading other’s body language and facial expressions makes for much more engaging and meaningful interactions than simply staring at a screen.

2. Meaningful questions

Just because people are talking doesn’t mean they’re learning. Often, we might place a lot of emphasis on asking questions to promote interaction, and whilst this may create a lot of dialogue, it can be superficial. In our training sessions, when we ask questions, we like to think carefully about what can engage learner’s cognition and deepen their thinking. Engagement doesn’t just come from talking — an engaged brain makes for much more meaningful learning.

3. Make interactions meaningful

Teams and zoom have so many great features that boost interactivity — it can be tempting to want to use them all! But simply adding these into meetings or training sessions might mean people are engaged — but are they learning? Use these tools with a purpose — are they enhancing the learning transfer and adding value to the session?

4. Keep it relevant

We like to keep our training super-focused. Purpose, purpose, purpose is our motto! Every single part of a learning experience should be there for a reason — focused on moving the participants towards their learning outcomes. This can mean being ruthless with content. When content isn’t relevant to them, participant’s minds can start to wander — and we lose their attention.

The fight for attention will always be present, after all — it is part of what we do to survive. But with some quick adjustments we can not only hold our learner’s attention but use it to create long lasting and impactful learning.

If you’re reading this, we’ve managed to win over that fight for attention — at least for the few minutes it took you to read this. But one final question. How many times did your attention wander before reaching the end of this blog?

Want to learn more?

Why not take a look at our virtual train the trainer programmes.

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