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3 Practical Ways to Capture Your Learners' Attention

😱 Do you want to capture your learners’ attention? 

🤩 If you are anything like us, you do!

You create a solution to make a difference and contribute to your business goal but will your learners pay attention to it? If not, you cannot expect them to change their behaviour. This means that you do not meet your goal.

So, how can we better understand the attention of our learners and use what we know to engage them? 

The theory of selective attention can be particularly useful in this space. 

We are often bombarded with stimuli. Text messages, cars speeding by, birds chirping, multiple conversations happening around us, advertisements and heaps of other things occurring at the same time. For example, the webpage we used to learn about selective attention features five advertisements, flashing and moving around as we try to digest the information on the screen. There is stimuli everywhere! Not to mention our internal thoughts and self-talk. How we manage to focus on anything is surprising in itself but we do. In varying degrees of efficiency, we have the ability to focus on what is important to us while blocking out other distractions (McLeod, 2018). 

For example, if your friend is telling you a story at a crowded restaurant, it is likely that you are blocking out multiple other conversations, music and cutlery clinking. You somehow manage to focus on your friend's story and do your best to dim down the rest. 

Now think about your learning solutions. 

Do your learners experience distractions? Do they put effort into focusing on your solution and dimming down the rest? 

“In psychology, selective attention is a process whereby the brain selectively filters out large amounts of sensory information in order to focus on just one message. This allows the person to concentrate on the important information while ignoring the irrelevant stuff.” (What is Psychology?, n.d.) 

Your learning solution needs to be the important information that this quote talks about. Let us look at how you can make this happen. 

1. Help your learner understand the why 

“Selective attention is (at least) a two-step process, whereby your brain takes in all of the information it sees and hears and sends it to a filtering system, which then identifies which stimuli are most important.” (Horne, 2020). 

You want your learner to decide that your learning solution is important. To do this, they need to understand how it will add value to their lives. 

👇🏻 Practical actions: 

  1. Read this blog, ‘Explain the Why and Increase Motivation’ (Belvista Studios, 2018a). 
  2. Discover what is important to your learners and relate this to your project goal. For example, if you are creating a learning experience on time management, help your learners understand how time management will positively impact their lives. For example, ‘Do you want to leave work on time, spend more time with your family and friends and lower your stress levels?’ If you do not know what is important to your learners, conduct human-centred design activities to find out, like personas (Belvista Studios, 2020a) or user interviews (Belvista Studios, 2020b). 
2. Consider your learners’ environment

Imagine that you are watching Hannah’s favourite movie, ‘The Grinch’. The motivation is there and you are laughing away as the Grinch rolls down the garbage shoot. Someone enters the room, says “hello” and starts to tell you about their day. This is likely to take away some of your attention from the movie (unless you blatantly ignore them and potentially cause some relational problems...). Despite your desire and motivation to watch the movie, your environment took away your attention.

The same goes for your learners. What is happening in their environment that could impact their attention? 

👇🏻 Practical actions: 

  • When you are designing a learning solution consider your learners’ day to day environment. For example, if they work in a customer service team and constantly have phones to answer, it is unlikely that you will keep their attention for an hour long eLearning module. Instead, seek to understand when they have down time and create a solution that fits into this time. For example, you might create a tip sheet that sits beside their computer. 
3. Create an element of surprise

It is human instinct to divert our attention to what is surprising or out of the ordinary. For example, if you heard rustling in the grass, your attention would be diverted from your friend’s story. If you saw a person dressed as a gorilla wearing a pink shirt walking through the shopping centre, you are likely to look. 

👇🏻 Practical actions: 

  • Add an element of humour to your learning solution (ensure that the humour aligns with your audience group). 
  • Have you ever been listening to a speaker and as soon as they started telling a story, you felt your attention being captured? Storytelling is powerful and as humans we crave a good story! Why not transform your learning solution into a value-add story? Read our blog, ‘The Power of Storytelling in eLearning’ (Belvista Studios, 2018b) to find out more. 
  • Reveal surprising statistics relevant to your goal. For example, our team has created a solution for healthcare businesses and we included the below statistic. 
"In high-income countries, it is estimated that one in every 10 patients is harmed while receiving hospital care. The harm can be caused by a range of adverse events, with nearly 50% of them being preventable." (World Health Organisation, 2019). 

That is it for this blog on 3 Practical Ways to Capture Your Learners' Attention. 

💬 Share in the comments, how you capture the attention of your learners.

If you liked this blog, you will love our creator hub. There are heaps of resources for instructional designers and learning and development practitioners that you will find valuable, including many resources that help you achieve the strategies in this blog.

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Belvista Studios. (2018a). Explain the Why and Increase Motivation. Retrieved from

Belvista Studios. (2018b). The Power of Storytelling in eLearning. Retrieved from

Belvista Studios. (2020a). How to Create a Persona | How to Become an Instructional Designer [Video File]. Retrieved from

Belvista Studios. (2020b). How to Conduct User Interviews | How to Become an Instructional Designer [Video File]. Retrieved from

Horne, C. (2020). What Is Selective Attention? Psychology Explains How It Works. Retrieved from

McLeod. (2018). Theories of Selective Attention. Retrieved from

What is Psychology? (n.d.). What is Selective Attention? Definition, Theory and Example. Retrieved from

World Health Organisation. (2019). Patient Safety. Retrieved from

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