Barbara Davis, in her book Tools for Teaching, states that”…student attention during lectures tend to wane after approximately 10 to 15 minutes after.” The same sentiment is shared by psychologist, Wilbert J.McKeachie, in Teaching Tips. Some argued that there are no sufficient evidence to back up this claim but from the current fast-paced world that we’re living in and with a whole new level of distractions, we can say that their claim has some merits to it. Personally, I agree with this observation that the attention span of adult learners is approximately between 15 to 20 minutes. While, College students have even shorter attention span with a maximum attention span of 10 minutes, according to a BBC article written by Hannah Richardson entitled
“ Students only have ’10-minute attention span’”. Since the average adult can only handle so much information with so many distractions from TV shows to smart phones, presenting a topic longer than necessary could have a definite impact on your learners.
Attention generally begins as a passive process—the brief unfocused reception of the multitude of molecules and rays that continually bombard our body’s specialized sensory receptors with information on the outside environment. This period of passive reception is important because it allows our brain to process as many stimuli as possible while it actively searches for anything that might require immediate attention.
But because our brain can’t process all this information, stable mechanisms limit input to narrow ranges that contain the potentially most useful information.(Sylwester,Cho,Dec.1992-Jan.1993″What Brain Research Says About Paying Attention”)
We can take for example the videos on TedTalks (or any other TikTok or YouTube). The average length of the videos are usually between 10 to 18 minutes and we can see that this broadcast platform is very successful with more than 18 million subscribers and with a combined viewing figure of more than 500 million. So, what is the reason behind it’s success? The success is on the way they present the talks. As what Ted curator, Chris Anderson pointed out, 18 minutes is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention.
Simultaneously, For e-learnings, the recommended length of the modules should be between 5 to 7 minutes. This is because learners attention span diminish and learners may not be able to complete the courses if it exceeds the average time. According to some set testing done by Philip Guo, supported by edX, an MIT and Harvard University created MOOC provider, the ideal length is 6 minutes or shorter as students watched most of the way through these short videos. In fact, the average engagement time of any video maxes out at 6 minutes, regardless of its length.
To ensure that the content or discussion would keep the students attention, here are some learning points to keep in mind when presenting your lesson:
1. Give an overview of the topic.
2.Highlight the key details and explain the concepts.
3.Summarize the concepts and provide the main idea of the lesson.
With this in mind, teachers need to ensure to deliver the topic in a way that they are able to get the message across to the learners while at the same time, hold their attention.
(Based on my own research, I would recommend that a class of 25-30 minutes is an ideal time for adult learners. 18 minutes spent on lecture and 7 minutes for modules)