Can I just get your attention…

January 13, 2010

The BBC News reports on research which states

University students have average attention spans of just 10 minutes


They will only pay attention to something for just ten minutes?


Sorry, what a load of cobblers.

The average length of time a student could concentrate for in lectures was 10 minutes, according to the survey carried last month. And a third blamed lack of sleep and being overworked for this.

No students don’t have ten minute attention spans, it’s just that lectures only hold their attention for ten minutes. That is a very different thing.

If students can spend four hours playing World of Warcraft, what does that say about attention spans?

If students can watch an entire episode of Heroes or sit through the 162 minutes of Avatar, what does that say about attention spans?

Yes there are bound to be students out there that only have ten minute attention spans, however the problem that the research has identified is that the traditional university lecture can only hold the attention span of students for just ten minutes.

The problem with this research and the “findings” is that rather than face the actual problem of boring or unengaging lectures, we try and solve the problem of inattentive students or just start doing ten minute lectures and complain about “dumbing down”.

To be honest I don’t think this is anything new and not exclusive to university students.

At the recent Handheld Learning Conference last year in October I remember Tweeting how with one of the keynote speakers I had stopped listening within ten minutes. Now I think I do have quite a long attention span, but in this instance I didn’t. It’s more often not the person who has the short attention span, but how the content grabs the attention of the person listening. With other keynotes at the conference I was there listening all the way through.

Maybe universities need to stop thinking about student attention spans and start thinking about how they can engage their students to ensure that they engage with the lecture or sessions for how long it takes. Making it engaging (though this doesn’t always mean interactive) and interesting so that it holds the attention of learners for more than ten minutes.

Still with me… or did I lose your attention!