Engaging Learners and Attention Span

Instructional Design

To learn, students have to interact with the course material, explains Anne M. Beninghof in the session “Caffeinated Training Design: An Engagement-Centered Process”—and she points to research to back this assertion. In her session, she offers several methods for high engagement in various training courses, whether virtual or in person.

Beninghof calls these methods “add-ins”—similar to the vanilla or caramel flavoring that you may add to your coffee or tea to make it enticing and memorable. Although with engaging learning, learners don’t need the caffeine.

One add-in is grabbing and sustaining learner attention. Doing activities that capture individual attention manipulates the release of dopamine, which keeps learners persevering. One method for doing so is through word puzzles.

One example is Guess the word, a variation of 4 Pics 1 Word. The facilitator shows four pictures that all have one thing in common; it’s up to learners to determine that one word, which ties into learning—such as teaming or engagement.

A second add-in is including elements in your training course that nurture brain safety. Not all learners enjoy the noise that can be part of animated training. For introverts, Beninghof suggests facilitators incorporate time for silent writing—that is, for reflection. She further advises that facilitators let learners know in advance whether they’ll be asked to share their answers following the exercise.

Other add-in methods include activating and connecting knowledge, which can include doodling while listening; tapping into emotion and purpose; facilitating curiosity; and developing multisensory experiences.