Many of our Fortune 500 clients have come to embrace a new form of learning and training for their employees. The new modes of training have become a necessity for a variety of reasons, the most compelling of which is evidence that the North American attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015. For those of you who are statistical geeks, those data represent statistical significance. A diminishing attention span in adults, and, particularly, young adults is the result of a number of things, including: 1) the way in which we have conducted educational processes in the last two decades – Johnny hasn’t been required to stay in his seat and “attend” – without practice at “attending” (that is, ,paying attention, Johnny gradually loses the ability to do so; 2) the external stimuli in our educational and work environments is too great to induce the individual child or adult to “attend” with concentration – In contrast, watch a very young child in a laboratory setting (where there are no external stimuli) interact with a favorite toy – the child will stay focused for long periods of time, “attending” to his task of concentrating – thus, most children are born with the ability to concentrate, but are dissuaded from the practice by the things that our culture and environment throws at them; and 3) as a society, we’ve been sold on the practice of “multi-tasking” – splitting our attention among several tasks simultaneously. Recent research in this area has shown that, when multi-tasking, each of the tasks is performed less-well and with less efficiency, than would have been the case if concentrated on and performed singly and independently.
So what does all of this mean for those of us in business settings who wish to provide employees with additional in-house training/education? At this juncture, it appears that we will be swimming upstream if we try to induce our employees to sit for concentrated periods and . . . well, concentrate on what is being presented. Instead, what is being attempted by many companies at the present time is to introduce “micro-learning” – based on the “soundbite” idea that all politicians are so familiar with, micro learning puts information out in small bites of video/interactive form that can take less than 5 minutes to complete. These micro lessons are generally made available in an on-demand format, so that employees can access at their convenience. Microlearning encourages learning through spaced repetition – which is actually more effective from a didactic standpoint than presenting a wealth of information in mind-numbing format. If there’s a silver lining to this current dilemma of presenting learning opportunities to employees, maybe it is that we will at long last get rid of the jerk who comes with 500 power point slides and proceeds to read every one of them to his audience! in the past decade at least, we have good data to support the fact that no real learning was taking place in the “training sessions” that companies have characteristically provided by the bucket-fuls for their employees, spending truck loads of money to do so. My company has never engaged in the “training” of our clients’ employees, believing that the practice was counterintuitive – and we have steadfastly refused any request to conduct “training” sessions. Our view is and always has been that employees learn by doing and by being engaged in the information transmission, not by sitting on their duffs for endless hours.
So, maybe there is some advantage to employees’ loss of concentration span – this circumstance will possibly force better ways of imparting information!
Happy St. Pat’s – time to have a beer and contemplate it all!

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