Statistically speaking, it’s unlikely you’ll finish reading this article. It’s even unlikely that you’ve read this far, as research shows that 55% of people spend less than 15 seconds on a page. Pair that with an opening word like “statistically,” and, well, good luck.
But that’s okay, because stats like this teach those of us in human resources or training and development about how people consume information in realistic terms, rather than the blindly optimistic terms we’d generally prefer.
We have short attention spans — deal with it
Why is it so hard for people to learn by simply reading articles, manuals and slide presentations today? A recent study by Microsoft proclaims that the human attention span has reached an all-time low — just eight seconds, or shorter than the attention span of a goldfish. Even though this statistic is a point of some debate, engaged attention spans do seem to be growing shorter as our interaction with technology expands. And it’s not just millennials — it’s everybody.
Regardless of the exact number, it often feels like it’s not enough seconds to pack in substantive, effective training. And you know it’s not about sneaking content into a sliver of time, but rather it’s about holding someone’s limited attention long enough so that they absorb the information.
That is, the content must be engaging, not just short.
And it needs to leverage new technologies, but not depend on them. Because the latest alternate or virtual reality technology will never make up for lousy content.
At the end of the day, the question for us in the learning space is always the same: how can we make training content that doesn’t lead people to check their smartphones every 30 seconds?
Learning is a two-way street
Training content needs to work harder than ever before to engage modern learners. Even learners who have a vested interest in absorbing the information require more than just text.
The best learning isn’t a one-way experience. It's a bidirectional, interactive experience.
Now, these buzzwords–interactive and experience–have a lot of flash, but what do they mean to you and your goal of motivating employees to engage and complete important training?
Beyond buzzwords–the curious case of Apple marketing
Let’s face it, training content is usually boring or in the very least uninteresting compared to real life; so how do we make it enjoyable for users? For one, we can learn from others’ successes and take our cues from marketing.
Take Apple’s ability to excite people to learn about their new products. Learning about laptop features is fundamentally boring, but Apple taps people’s intrinsic motivation to master their new device through brand engagement and a compelling UX.
In doing so, Apple immerses people in a fun, interactive experience and, subsequently, they have millions — even those who don’t own a MacBook — clambering to educate themselves.
So, what can marketing teach us about learning?
That sounds a lot like an onboarding scenario gone right: like Apple users, new hires have a vested interest in learning the materials. So why aren’t companies harnessing the power of their brand internally and building engaging training experiences? It sounds easy enough, but what does that actually mean?
Let’s break it down to some actionable insights:
1. Cut, cut, cut… and cut some more
Advertisers have long been constrained by time and space, whether it’s a 30-second TV spot or tiny banner ad. Packing persuasive content into small formats takes thoughtful revision and design.
In training, we think every last piece of information is important. When we present that to distracted learners, however, nothing becomes important. Marketing pros know that key messages get lost as eyes glaze over. When developing training content, imagine you’re writing an ad spot: be concise and maximize the impact of your words.
2. Create micro-sessions
In the spirit of being constrained by time and space, present your lessons in modular bursts that can be taken whenever and wherever. Learners don’t usually have time to spend large blocks of time chipping away at massive training modules. Plus it’s more intrinsically satisfying to see many 100% completions than 24% one day, 33% the next, and so on.
3. While you’re at it, make it mobile
People today touch their mobile devices thousands of times per day and engaged time on mobile devices is about 30% greater than on desktop. So, why not tap into that as marketers have already? Let your team learn while waiting for the train or whenever they have downtime. Think about those moments when they turn to Monument Valley or Angry Birds or just obsessively check their email.
Experts say that meeting learners halfway, on their own devices, is vital to the success of modern learning. Give them a chance to engage casually, and you’ll be amazed at how much they retain.
4. Engage and delight through interactions
Interactivity is the intersection of fun and hands-on engagement. It’s the place where you, as a content developer, capture your learner’s attention by creating a dialogue with it, then carry that dialogue through the learning experience.
Marketing teams use this dialogue to change their target’s behavior, to get their product into the target’s head and hands. In learning, that product is your training content, and interactivity joins learners with the material in a meaningful way. It taps into extrinsic motivation, like the need to learn onboarding materials for professional success, and engages the learner’s intrinsic motivators, like curiosity and problem-solving.
When an audience feels involved, whether it’s as the object of a new product or new knowledge and skills, their behavior changes to align with it.
Think outside the org chart
If you’ve read this far, congratulations! It seems like you’re curious about how thinking like a marketing pro can improve your content.
Here’s something you can try
Next time you need to come up with some training content, run it by your marketing team and see how they would develop the training. After all, it’s their job to influence people, and what is learning if not a form of substantive influence.
Don’t let your org chart hold you back! You might be surprised at how different, innovative and disruptive their approach is to conventional, boring training.
Illustration by Kyle Davila, Senior Art Director at Mindspace.