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Is attention span the last of the accessibility boxes to be ticked?

Clock icon 3 minutes reading time

As a designer, I am always mindful when creating eLearning that if I’m bored, it’s definitely boring someone else too.

There’s much talk about attention spans getting shorter, but personally, I find mine varies. If it’s a subject I’m really interested in, I can sit for hours. I will be the last person in the room. If it involves a mega-tonne of reading about a subject I don’t care about – I simply will not be there in spirit. I suspect I am not alone.

That’s why, lately, I have become more interested in micro and passive learning – the method of providing short, focused pieces of content which people can engage with in a flexible way. During the lockdown, I did a couple of courses where all I had to was download a series of short demonstrations. It was great because; there was nothing to read!

It struck me then that the learners attention span is the last of the accessibility boxes, and that nobody is ticking it.

What to consider when designing e-learning

When you are creating eLearning, it’s helpful to remember that there’s probably at least one person who doesn’t want to do your course (whaaaat???), and as more companies are taking a flexible approach to learning, there’s a chance people are squeezing this into little pockets of available time. That’s where micro learning really comes into its own.

However, it’s not only variable attention spans you need to consider, there’s also time constraints, interest levels, learning ability, technical accessibility, and the learner’s immediate environment. Let’s be honest, reading text on screen is all very well, but it’s not always practical. Accessibility is a concern not only for dyslexic learners and those with sight problems, but the average Joe too - sometimes its unpleasant to navigate tiny buttons on a small handheld device. This is where more visual forms of e-learning can work really well.

One size doesn’t fit all

Clients commonly request that their lengthy course is made more entertaining by making it more ‘interactive’ - adding gamification or creating an app. This can be effective - but can take a lot of money and development time to produce. At CDS DS, we like to analyse the best ways of presenting information so you can be sure to get the best from your L&D budget. Yes, a game might work well for some of the content, but other areas might perform better as a webinar, or a video?

Double screening

Its common now for people to even be learning whilst they are doing something else. Watching a documentary whilst browsing on a tablet, streaming YouTube tutorials whilst working. Keeping people’s attention on a piece of training can be difficult, and it often feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to absorb information unless it’s on our own terms. That’s why we build eLearning that considers these factors.

Audio learning

Podcasts are huge. You can listen to them while commuting, jogging, decorating, cooking dinner… the scope is endless. Podcasts are a sadly overlooked in eLearning, however they are cheaper than film to produce, can be recorded and edited more easily and your listeners can be absorbing information whilst they are passive or active.


An explainer is a very short film or animation that summarises the most important aspects of ‘a thing’. If you youtubed ‘coronavirus’, you will probably have watched an explainer. Often the narration is sped up, to cram in the most dialogue possible within two minutes. This is the future. It’s horrible, but it’s true – platforms like Pinterest and TikTok are defined by microvideos, where the viewer can watch something being demonstrated in fast forward with subtitles.

Interactive vs Engaging

As humans, we are hardwired to want to know the end of a story, and this is where audio or visual storytelling excels. A learner can be interacting or become more engaged if we create learning in a way that has a ‘hook’ or makes you want to know what happens next - it’s because of this rule that we have ‘clickbait’.

Other ways to engage learners are to put them in a position where they are investigating or going on a journey to collect things. This instigates competition, internal competition and also, if you really want to get into that world; the ‘comments’ community (a whole other post!).

I think we all secretly hope the world of ‘Click Next’ learning will wither and die and be replaced with short and sweet explainers, podcasts or other short chunks of visual or audio learning. Whether mandatory or optional, training and learning will be with us throughout our lives and our careers, so it makes sense for this to be done in ways which achieve the best outcomes. When you give people flexibility – where, when, how they learn, and how long for – you give them autonomy and make their learning journeys individual to them. Attention span might be the last of the accessibility boxes to be ticked, but with micro learning, it could very well be the easiest.