Pay Attention! Effective Techniques for Improving Focus and Attention in Adult Learning and E-learning
Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of the bestseller Emotional Intelligence, has just written a book called Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. Goleman calls “attention” a “little-noticed and underrated mental asset,” which is essential to success in work, play, relationships, and self-awareness. In fact, according to some studies cited in Goleman's book, the ability to focus, more than IQ or social background, is the key to performance and success.
How can you help learners focus in a workplace dominated by email, IM, texts, and tweets? Here are 5 techniques from my experience that I think you will find helpful.
5 Effective Techniques for Improving Focus and Attention in Adult Learning and E-learning
- Keep learning short
Reality is, you may only be able to get 15 minutes of someone's focused attention, particularly for e-learning. So, make the most of it and design your e-learning on that basis. For instance, chunk your e-learning content into small “nano-learnings” on specific topics of 5 to 10 minutes in length. If you do have a longer e-learning, you can and should still chunk up the content into manageable segments and allow “bookmarking” so learners can complete the e-learning over several sessions.
- Connect learning to the work
People pay attention to what they need. So the ideal is to allow learners to access learning on demand at the point of need. This may mean embedding nano-learnings (again, e-learning in shorter chunks) into the workflow. Or it could be offering a searchable learning portal of on-demand knowledge content—like articles, white papers, case studies, or other relevant material—that people can leverage for their own work.
- Create a learning-friendly workplace
Don't chain people to their desks to take e-learning. If people have laptops, let them find a comfortable spot where they can plug in and focus—an empty conference room, a stairwell, wherever. It really doesn't matter, as long as they can concentrate on the e-learning and won't disturb others.
If people do have to take e-learning at their desks, make it a “learning zone.” I've seen some companies provide learners with yellow barrier tape emblazoned with the words "Do not disturb. Learning in progress.” Learners put the barrier tape across the entrance to their cubicle or office to avoid unwanted interruptions.
Finally, provide learners with a set of best practices, such as putting a time block on the calendar for the e-learning, logging out of email, or putting IM in “Do not disturb” mode. These tactics help learners get into the mental space to focus. Having these as stated company best practices also signals to learners that sometimes it's OK not to be immediately responsive to colleagues or customers.
- Reward those who pay attention
We all know what happens at the beginning of a classroom training event. The facilitator asks everyone to close their laptops and turn off their cell phones. That lasts for about 30 minutes. Instead of the stick, why not the carrot? Turn paying attention into a game. Offer a prize for the person who stays off email and phone the longest. You can start small (e.g., everyone who stays off email and phone for the next hour wins a tchotchke). Then, as people get used to the idea, extend the duration and up the prize.
- Measure the effectiveness of attention-increasing techniques
While these ideas have broad application to many learner populations, what works with your particular audience, within your culture and environment, will be unique to your organization. Track and measure which methods are most effective, using available and appropriate tools (e.g., observing and sharing with colleagues, participant surveys, LMS reports). Make the techniques that show the most promise part of your best practices.
Are you still with me? Good. Remember, ultimately increasing focus and attention is about improving performance and business results. It’s also about teaching skills people can transfer off the job to improve their lives. So, pay attention!
Interested in learning more about nano-learning, and how short e-learning can be part of a mobile learning strategy? Check out SweetRush’s interactive infographic, Your Mobile Learning Strategy: Top 5 Things You Need to Know.
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Cindy McCabe brings a unique combination of high-level strategy, tactical hands-on development, and exceptional creativity to her dual roles as senior gamification/instructional designer and senior account/program manager for SweetRush. With a law degree and a master’s degree in instructional technology, she has expertise in learning games and simulations, multimedia, marketing communications, and instructor-led training, as well as large-scale program management and SAP implementation. For more insightful articles on gamification and learning design, see Cindy’s blog at SweetRush.comWebsite: www.sweetrush.com