Canada Association of Tourism Employees

High Causes Why You Break The Consideration Span Rule

The 8 Second Rule of Attention Spans: Why Your Online Training Course Might Not Work

We always said goldfish and elephants have brief memories. But goldfish will approach the jar during feeding times (or really anytime you walk by). They can eat themselves to death and seem to forget they have already eaten. And elephants mourn their dead, which says a lot about their memory. We are, however, limited to 8 seconds before we are distracted. It’s not just our genetic makeup, but technical distractions and emotional factors that steal our mental focus. Even the design of your online training course can test the attention span of employees. Here are 8 reasons your corporate eLearning course might break the 8-second attention span rule.

Is your online course a violation of the rules?

1. Large blocks of text

Good or bad, we’ve adapted to short blocks of text surrounded by ‘spaces’. Normal text messages (SMS) have 160 characters. Tweets were expanded from 140 characters to 280 characters. Screen formatting uses generous kerning to make text less stressful and easier to read. Also, reading from a screen requires more focus than reading a book, for example. For this reason, many scientists and researchers prefer to print out their documents for review. If you present online course content in large, wordy blocks, your learners in the company will be withdrawn from the traffic faster. Instead, limit the wording to short sentences and phrases. Follow the 8-second rule for the attention span and edit it recklessly by breaking long paragraphs into bite-sized checklists or adding sub-headings.

2. Long anecdotes

Context is important and case studies are essential to successful online training. However, think about the last conversation you had with a child under the age of five. They are enthusiastic and have a lot to tell you. And they’re probably cute enough that you’ll want to listen to them. But they boom and often lose their point of view. By the time you get to the end of your story – even if you haven’t been phased out – you are doomed. You can’t tell where you started or what your point was. Online training content often makes the same mistake. Your personal anecdote contains a lot of (necessary) details, but is presented in a boring way. Nobody wants to read (or listen to) three pages of backstory.

Mix it up instead. You can and should continue to include everything relevant. But choose it more carefully so as to be sure to adhere to it, paying attention to the attention span rule in the process. Then present it as a multimedia presentation. Insert some infographics, dramatize dialogue scenarios or shoot video profiles of the main actors. Use animated timing charts instead of narrative prose.

3. Lack of interactivity

Studies suggest that there are five different types of attention:

  • Focused, which means you react when you are touched or when you hear a loud sudden noise
  • Sustainable, meaning you can do continuous tasks
  • Selective, meaning the ability to maintain focus even with external distractions
  • Alternately, ie switch between tasks, e.g. B. transcribe
  • Shared, ie doing different tasks at the same time, e.g. speaking and walking

There is also external and internal attention. The problem with a lot of online training courses is that they spend too long on a single lesson. You could extend each class to thirty or forty minutes. As interesting as your online training content may be, your corporate learners are likely to turn themselves off at some point. It helps if your online training materials are interactive and actively involve them. Leave in the 8-second attention span rule, have it type as you study, choose multiple options, or play a game scene. Exercise of any kind will help maintain alertness and restore focus if it is lost.

4. Vernacular Woes

There are two vocabulary related puzzles that need to be considered. The first is that your online training course may not be in the staff’s native language. Which means their attention is likely to be falling because they just can’t understand what you’re saying. Or are unable to cater to the takeaways effectively. The second is to use passive vocabulary that makes them feel like an observer rather than a participant. Prefer verbs over adjectives and use the active language. You need to feel part of the action and get a sense of immediacy.

5. Oversized online training modules

Employees do not have the time or patience to complete an hour-long online compliance training course. Hence, oversized modules are one of the reasons your online training course violates the 8-second attention span rule. Switch between tasks in short steps. Create online training modules in five-minute sections, with each session containing a variety of content formats. It could contain infographics, short audio clips, and text. During those few minutes, your corporate student can switch between activities in bursts. This makes them more likely to keep what they learn. It also makes meetings more practical because they can be squeezed into your day.

6. Lack of visuals

If possible, replace words with images. After all, employees speak a thousand words, and you can still sneak text on charts and infographics. They have the added benefit of being easier to remember than sluggish words. Visuals also hold their attention long enough for them to actually absorb the information. For example, employees see a compelling picture that piques their interest. Barriers are broken down and boredom is warded off for a few seconds. According to the attention span rule, you will get a window in which you can get to the good things and explain the subject of the picture in more detail.

7. No context

Your online training course gives employees real benefits. But they don’t know what it is or how the training is translated. It’s all theory and not practice. Because of this, your online training course needs to explain the context and give employees the opportunity to apply what they have learned. Simulations, stories, real-world examples, and branching scenarios are great ways to cross interactivity off your list and put it all in context. Employees are more likely to give it their full time and attention if they can immediately see the benefit of actively participating.

8. Information overload

Employees begin the online training course with good intentions. They know that it will benefit them and that they can apply what they have learned in the workplace. The problem is, there is just too much information to soak up. Instead of narrowing it down to the main takeaways, you’ve added every minute detail. Neglecting the 8-second attention span often leads to cognitive overload. Just like you looked for long chunks of text, you should also check that every fact or idea has a place. Give them what they need to fill in the gaps without overwhelming their mental circuits.


Modern adults have limited attention spans. Some say it’s 8 seconds while others disprove it. In any case, it counteracts learning by forcing your learners in the company to concentrate for longer periods of time. Unfortunately, you may not realize that your lesson was going on too long. Here are some of the things to look out for. Bulky text, expanded representation, and chapters that take more than half an hour to complete violate the 8-second rule for the attention span. Instead, split text with images, mix media formats in your online training content, and target the different types of focus. This makes your online training course more effective overall.

You need to get their attention and capture the information. Download our eBook Breaking Into the Industry: Become an Instructional Designer and Master the LXD Basics to explore the essentials of design and kick off your ID career.

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