Posted on: May 30, 2024
Author: Steph Jackman
Short Attention Spans and Long-Term Retention: The Evolution of Learning in the Digital Space image

In the not-so-distant past, traditional in-person learning remained the gold standard because it was the only standard. In this model, learners sit in physical classrooms with an instructor who imparts knowledge through lectures.

Traditional education institutions use this model for good reason – the interactive and hands-on nature of in-person learning is highly effective. With "shoulder-to-shoulder" instruction, the content can be personalized, and the instructor can gauge first-hand if the concepts are being understood and retained.

Traditional learning, however, is not optimized for continuing education. Universities tend to focus on preparing learners for their first job rather than helping them stay up-to-date with industry advancements or upskilling. As a result, continuing education providers must offer a superior learning experience for adults to keep them competitive throughout their careers, solidifying learning as a life-long habit.

Enter Online Learning

Online learning emerged to provide more continuing education options to a greater number of people. Now learning could be completed from anywhere, and the learner and instructor no longer needed to be in the same room.

In-person training, while highly personalizable (not customizable), is challenging to scale and standardize. Conversely, online learning can be scaled and standardized to a broad audience. With fewer scheduling and geographic constraints, online learning opens opportunities to more learners, but it still fails to provide personalized learning tailored to individual needs. Online learning also requires a significant investment of time to watch pre-recorded or live lectures, disrupting the learner’s work schedule and potentially causing productivity and profitability losses.

The Rise of LMS

While online training solves the issue of physical proximity, learning management systems (LMS) are designed to add interactivity and flexibility to the online learning experience. With an LMS, learners view pre-recorded courses that may include videos, text, and audio, as well as interactive elements, like puzzles or quizzes, that can be completed at their convenience.

Unlike in-person and online learning, an LMS is personalizable, scalable, and standardizable; the problem is pacing.

The human brain is simply not wired to receive large dumps of information in a single setting. In fact, studies have found that within 24 hours, we forget an average of 70% of new information, and within a week, we forget about 90%. This “forgetting curve” is alarming to employers who pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for seminars, webinars, and learning management systems each year.

Microlearning Takes the Stage

Microlearning is personalizable, scalable, standardizable, AND engaging. This type of learning enjoys high levels of success because it satisfies the two demands of long-term retention: rest and refresh. Breaks between learning sessions give the brain the opportunity to replay the learned activity at a lightning-fast pace, cementing it into long-term memory.

The bite-sized chunks of content found in microlearning make it easy for learners to consume new concepts and continually refresh what they learn, minimizing worker disruption and preserving productivity.

Microlearning apps, typically made available to employees on their personal or employer-issued mobile devices, give learners a more intimate and accessible experience with content. Unfortunately, most microlearning apps are simply LMS software retrofitted for a small screen on a mobile device, often resulting in a frustrating user experience.

The New Gold Standard: Video-based Microlearning

Research shows humans have an 8.25-second attention span and prefer short content. Interestingly, when viewing a video, our attention span increases significantly from 8.25 seconds to 120 seconds. Why are videos so much more engaging than text?

Studies have found that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster. Visuals also generate stronger emotional reactions than text. These emotions help viewers engage with the content and create bonded memories, boosting long-term retention. Unsurprisingly, learners retain 80% of what they see and only 20% of what they read.

With video-based microlearning platforms, users receive daily videos, usually lasting between 2-10 minutes, on their mobile devices. These brief and engaging videos focus on two to three concepts compiled into playlists that make up a course. Short quizzes reinforce knowledge, while gamification and badges boost long-term retention from 21% to 95% after 31 days.

Video-based microlearning is less likely to disrupt the learners' focus or momentum in the workplace. With an in-app library at their fingertips, learners can access a quick refresher on content or easily find answers to questions anytime, anywhere.

Micro-Credentialing is the Future

While video-based microlearning significantly boosts long-term retention, digital badging provides a meaningful way to recognize accomplishments and lends authenticity and credibility, ensuring learners have the proficiency that a digital badge asserts they have.

Micro-credentialing through open digital badging has the potential to change regulatory requirements for learners, education providers, and employers. Video-based microlearning provides a clear path forward to meet this goal.

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