Sunday, October 18, 2009

Attention Span of e-Learning Participants - It Depends

alarm clockWhat is the attention span of participants taking a self paced e-learning course? A lot of different numbers have been thrown around out there. In my opinion, the attention span for an e-learning participant depends on many different factors, which I will list here:


  • Is the working environment conducive for learning online? Time given away from daily responsibilities to take the course, a location without distractions , etc.

  • Do they have a preference for learning online?

  • Are they encouraged by supervisors to complete courses? An optimum situation is not only where supervisors encourage participation, but where they also  discuss the course with staff (what was learned, how they will apply the new skills or knowledge, etc.).


  • Is the content relevant to the learner and their job?

  • Is the content engaging and have an appropriate level of interactivity?

  • Is the content succinct?

Navigation and orientation

  • Does the course allow user control?  Adults like to direct their own learning.

  • Is there an ease of navigation? Difficult or confusing navigation is discouraging and certainly does not increase attention span.

  • Does the learner know where they are in the course at all times (orientation)?

When all elements are in place, I believe course participants' attention span is 30 minutes maximum. It has been my experience that longer courses, even with all of the above elements, do not maintain participants' attention. Courses I have developed that fall below this 30 minute threshold have higher completion rates and time spent in the courses are more reflective of the estimated course completion times.  I cannot say the same for my hour long courses.

Here are links to what others have said about this topic:

Sailing by the Sound blog


Clark Aldrich

I Came, I Saw, I Learned...

Please feel free to share your opinion on the attention span of e-learning participants and what factors may affect it.


  1. Kia ora e Jeff.

    You are right. I think a lot depends on the learning support the learner receives, from all quarters. There are many factors involved and it's not all to do with the 'work environment' or the so-called elearning environment either.

    Catchya later

  2. Kia ora Ken,

    Thanks for the link to the post on elearner motivation and support and the comment. The best supervisors I have encountered are very supportive of their staffs' learning and development. And they always get rewarded by having far more efficient and effective staff.


  3. With various different elements contributing to specific individual I think their attention span can vary from day to day. However, I absolutely agree in regards to courses spanning over a half hour tend to lose the full attention of the students. A component that is VERY valuable in e-learning courses that span over a half hour is the pause button. Many courses now have more applications that are focused on what appeals to the student, and for some individuals they have constant interuptions and need that pause button to come back later and pick up where they left off. A resource to check out is It enables flexibility with students busy schedules as they continue to pursue a higher education.


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