The elearning attention span: How long should your project be?

We’ve looked at the cost of learning time, and now we are turning to the optimal length of a piece of elearning. Should it be short and sweet, or in-depth and involved? Of course it depends on the type of content, context and audience. However, there are some rules of thumb you can apply to help assess what could have the biggest impact.

elearning-attention-span

Our analysis of over 65,000 pieces of digital learning in Elucidat reveals an average session time of 15 minutes.

Session time is the actual amount of time spent on a website or piece of elearning. In terms of the web, 15 minutes is a LONG time – typically, visitors to a website spend about 2 minutes on it before moving on.  

So, what’s keeping people interested for 6.5x longer?

Why elearning session time matters

Ensuring that your project is the right length for your audience will mean that:

  • You get more “completions”
  • Your audience remains engaged and is more likely to come back for more
  • Your elearning can be completed in one session and then put into practice immediately

So, how can you retain people’s attention and compete with other forms of digital content?

15 minutes is okay… if your audience has the time

Interestingly, a session of 15 minutes conforms to the TED Talk format, which stipulates that no presentation should be any longer than 18 minutes. TED curator Chris Anderson once said: “Eighteen minutes is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention.” Eighteen minutes is also something that can be squeezed into a coffee break, or on the commute.

If we look at other types of online content, we can see that average session time can vary dramatically, depending on the type of content, competition and audience appetite.

user-engagement

Engagement with different types of content:

  • Video (3 mins) – Studies of YouTube content show that drop-off rates are more likely to start happening after three minutes.
  • Ecommerce (2 mins) – Ecommerce websites need to act quickly to sell to their visitors. Have you ever thought of your elearning in the same way?
  • Blogs (> 6 mins) – Popular blogs use less than 1,000 words to deliver content that is useful and more likely to be shared in communities.
  • Podcasts (15-18 mins) – Podcasts are great for people on the move and are commonly accessed on mobile devices. Have you considered using this window of opportunity?
  • TED Talks (>18 mins) – TED Talks appeal to the maximum attention span of their audiences, which is deemed to be 18 minutes maximum.

When it comes to elearning, we think that some of these audience behaviors map onto the different types of learning content you might be creating:

micro-learning

If you are creating shorter chunks of content, think about the call to action. What do you want the person to do next, and how does that relate to other experiences that will help to embed their understanding further?

3 tips for increasing seat time for your learning

Unless you’re producing onthejob resources that are meant to be used as short support articles, how can you drive-up the engagement factor and keep learners attention longer? Here are some quick tips…

1. Try a longer title!

The title of a blog article or Twitter feed is hugely important for drawing in audiences to online content. Research by Steve Rayson at BuzzSumo  indicates that the most popular articles on Facebook have titles between 12 – 18 words in length. That might go against what we might expect, but when you consider that titles are used as links, then it makes sense that people tend to follow the links that are clear about their topic, purpose and benefit.

headline-engagement

Why not apply the same logic to elearning, to draw people in and get them focused on the topic? If a person understands what’s in it for them, they are more likely to be in the right mindset to get more from it.

So, instead of “Cyber Security,” it could be something like “Phishing attacks are on the increase: learn how to keep us safe.” 

2. Use personalization to keep it relevant

What could be more frustrating than being asked to learn something you already know or do? Online content that isn’t relevant doesn’t get shared or used as much, and is less likely to make a difference to performance. Get around that by designing your content in a way that responds to the individual learner and delivers content that is relevant and useful.

Companies invest lots of money in creating websites that understand the profile of their website visitor, so the content and layout can be tailored to their needs.

It’s also possible to do this in elearning, through clever use of diagnostics and branching to ensure that people get the support they need. Go further and use rules and scoring mechanisms to create adaptive learning experiences and tailored toolkits – where content adjusts within a given topic depending on how someone interacts or responds as they work through it.

user-interaction

3. Remember: Less is more!

Does session time = learning time?

If your content contains anything that is surplus to requirements, always leave it out.

The U.S. businessman Phil Crosby once said, “No one can remember more than three points.That same principle applies to elearning.

How much can a person take in with 1, 5, or 15 minutes, which they can go away and apply? The more you try to cram in, the less likely it is that the points you are making will stick. So, focus on the key points and do everything you can to make them memorable and actionable. Be sure to ask:

  • What one thing could they do better right now?
  • What one thing will make a person perform better in their role?
Practical Exercise: How to get SME’s to focus on the critical content

I always use a focussing exercise when working with subject matter experts (SMEs) to help them think carefully about the audience they are communicating with. Here’s how it works:

  • Ask them to imagine they are addressing a room full of people
  • Describe  the people in the room using the typical learner profile for their programme – really try to bring them to life as much as possible.
  • Ask the SME to imagine they have 5 minutes to speak to their audience  about their area of expertise and to focus on the key points they would want their audience to take away. They must use words and phrases and tell a story that the audience will understand and resonate with.

This technique works a treat.

What can you do next?

To make elearning that sticks, you really need to think about delivering it in a way that is appropriate to your audience demands. Don’t try and fit too much in, though; going over 15 minutes could start to stretch the attention span of your audience, no matter how engaged you think they might be.

Try:

  • Setting a target up front for the optimum length, ideally less than 18 minutes per session
  • Using titles with 12 – 18 words
  • Making sure that any video content is under 3 minutes
  • Remembering less is more! Avoid cramming in too much. Focus on up to 3 key points you want someone to take away, and make these as concise as possible
  • Personalizing the experience. Use branching to filter out content that certain individuals may not need

Using data analytics to monitor how long people are spending in your content each session. If it’s less than the total length you’ve made, are they coming back again later? Is there a certain page where they’re dropping off? If some content is grabbing their attention more than others, is that a natural cut-off point?

Resources:

This blog is part of our Insights series.

Since Elucidat launched in 2014, it has reached 3 million learners in over 40 languages, with 64,483 pieces of elearning. This means we have collected a lot of data!

We are on a mission to promote learning design techniques and processes that work. In this series of articles, we will share insights into the data we have collected and reflect on what this might mean for effective digital learning strategies. 

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