You probably won’t get to the end of this article if the research about our shrinking human attention span being 8 seconds, has any substance, in fact I’ve already lost you…but my goldfish is still tuned in because it apparently has an attention span of 9 seconds.

What a load of cod!

This claim about attention span, which can be found in “reputable” publications across the internet, is vague, and unsupported by metrics. It appeared in a a 2015 report by the Consumer Insights team of Microsoft Canada, who surveyed 2,000 Canadians and also studied the brain activity of 112 people as they carried out various tasks.

The claim about our shrinking attention spans – did not actually come from Microsoft’s research. It appears in the report, with reference to another source found on Statistic Brain, a site that states “we pride ourselves on providing impartial, broadly aggregated, and reputable data sets on current and historic statistics”.
Stating information as fact when it has no actual factual basis is dangerous. It leads to a world where we are able to say whatever we like without being required to back it up.

It also creates a belief that leads to low quality work, based on the disrespectful view that learners have the attention span of a fish there is a danger of producing shallow content rather than designing content that grabs their prolonged attention.

Going Fishing

As a learning designer I need to deliver the right amount of information at the right time. If there was any truth in the 8 second attention span I might believe that I need to deliver within 8 seconds to prevent learners fishing in another pond. My content therefore would become shorter and lack Shrinking Human Attention Spanengagement leading to less interaction and encouraging an even shorter attention span. People hire me to develop competence and learners decide very quickly whether the content that I present them with is going to do that. That’s not because their attention spans are shorter, its because they have been fishing in shallow ponds exposed to snackable bite sized learning that doesn’t deliver and their well honed rubbish detectors are screaming get me out of here!

Is my attention span shrinking?

While many people think attention spans are shrinking, they are in face evolving. the myriad of content we face each day is forcing us to become more selective about what we devote our attention to — and new research contained in the 2018 state of attention report from Prezi backs this up. A great read if you as a creator of content, wants to know what you can do to produce learning assets that drive engagement.

Defending the Fish

You might think that scientific data regarding fish attention spans is really hard to come by but there is a huge body of research that has been completed by fish behavioural biologists on “Fish Cognition” which has discovered many aspects of how fish are smart including; memory, learning, social interaction and cooperation
Check out the e-learning presentation which was designed to overturn the prevailing view that fish lack the machinery for smartness, having poor learning capacity and a very short memory span

A little extra reading for learning designers