The Science of Learning: How To Gain Your Employee’s Attention

science of learning

Employee attention: it’s the holy grail of any training program. But while shiny new methods and the latest tech aim to grab ahold of employee attention and drive engagement levels, the foundation still needs to be in place to make sure employees are really listening. Before you buy into new programs or the latest in training tech, make sure you always utilize the proven science of learning to make sure your learners are truly getting the most out of every moment. Here are 5 things you can do in order to get your employee’s attention:

1. Attention and Pose a Challenge

No learner wants to waste their time. The beginning of a training program is the perfect time to activate a learner’s prefrontal cortex. It’s the part of the brain responsible for executive function and decision making, so it’s the part of the brain that tells the learner whether or not the subject matter is important. The prefrontal cortex is best engaged when it detects information as relevant. In short, you need to tell learners why they should care from the start.

Once the learner’s attention has been piqued and the brain identifies the information as important, you need to keep that attention by posing a challenge. If the brain senses that subject matter is redundant or too easy, you’ll lose that hard-won concentration. So pose a question, create a challenge, or even deploy a pop quiz to highlight what a learner doesn’t know in order to further capture their attention and show them the why behind the training program.

2. Connect to Existing Knowledge

The science of learning tells us that the best way to engage learners is to create pathways of learning in their brains. New knowledge is great; new knowledge that is connected to a foundation of existing knowledge? That’s what turns an experience into a memory.

Brains are extremely efficient, especially when it comes to working memory. Working memory is your brain’s CPU and capacity to think and make decisions in the moment. But working memory must also discard unnecessary information to make room for more, which is why you might forget something that you only needed to know for a few short minutes. The only way to ensure that your learner’s working memory doesn’t discard something important is to convert it to long-term memory by making connections. This can be done through metaphor, review, or even teaching a subject to someone else.

When new knowledge is connected to existing knowledge, the neural pathways become strengthened and that information is converted from working to long-term memory. Learners are more likely to remember what they’ve learned, and, more importantly, are more likely to act.

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3. Make Them Care

If relevance is what piques a learner’s interest, empathy is what keeps them engaged. Learners need to see themselves in the material, which is why characters and storyline are so vital in capturing and keeping their attention.  Whether it’s poking fun at a common pain point or letting learners follow one character throughout the program, they need to form a bond and see how their roles can be improved through paying attention and applying what they learn.

4. Break It Up

The working memory only has so much capacity to pay attention. In fact, it’s been said that the human attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish—about eight seconds. When you consider the fact that many training courses are hours long, it’s clear that there’s a disconnect between the amount of information pushed out to learners and the capacity of the brain to receive and convert that information.

To keep attention, learning should always be broken up in a way that makes the most sense. Microlearning, or chopping information up into smaller, more digestible “bites,” works because learners can experience, convert, and remember information better. Consider it the “cramming” principle: When you study for a big test in one night, the moment you put your answers on paper, they’re gone. Now, contrast that to someone who learned and digested information little by little: they’ll do better on the test and they’ll actually remember that information later on. That’s the science of learning.

5. Space it Out

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that “breaking it up” and “spacing it out” are the same thing. While chopping learning into more digestible bites can help learners absorb more material over a prolonged period of time, it’s spacing that helps improve learner recall. To really drive attention, learners should have the change to remember and recall information three, six, nine months after training.

Too often training is treated like a one-time event when it should be an ongoing process focused on the science of learning. Whether you have a refresher course, give pop quizzes, or even have learners discuss concepts with their colleagues, the more chances they have to remember what they’ve learned, the stronger those neural connections become.

Don’t drop the ball on catching and keeping learner attention. It’s the single most important factor in how effective your training program will be. After all, you could have the most compelling data in the industry, but without employee attention, that information won’t make it past working memory. By utilizing the science of learning and working with the brain’s natural processes, you’ll score learners that are tuned in to where you need them to be.