The attention span of a goldfish is longer than a human’s.

Seriously. The goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds, while humans only go to the limit of 8 seconds. Keep that in mind next time you create e-learning courses for kids. Each student in your class may just be like Dory from Finding Nemo:

Dory from "Finding Nemo" thinking: Today I learned about American Presidents. Wait! Who's this Abe guy? I hope he's not a fisherman.

But it’s not really their fault.

Why the short attention span?

First, blame evolution. Our ancestors had bigger attention spans because they had to work harder to get food, and be aware of all the possible predators that could kill them while doing that. Today, kids go to the fridge in the other room and mostly get scared by bugs. Who needs a long attention span for that?

However, our ancestors had very few distractions, while kids today are increasingly exposed to technology and mobile devices. In fact, the new generation is better at multitasking than ever. A study by Common Sense Media states that 63% of teachers say entertainment media has helped students hone their ability to find information quickly and efficiently, and 34% say it has helped students’ ability to multi-task effectively.

Then, blame this era of speed and information that we all live in. Everyone gets bombarded with sounds, colors, and information, “screaming” for our attention. Grown-ups have a hard time sorting through all of it. You can’t really expect kids to do the same.

However, they are better at this than we give them credit for. A study by technology giant Microsoft found that early adopters of technologies are better at identifying what they want / don’t want to engage with and need less to process and commit things to memory.

What can teachers do to fight the ever-shrinking attention span?

I have two words for you: micro-learning.

Micro-learning and the short attention span

While adopting a “micro teaching” approach may not solve all problems with unengaged students, creating micro online courses can lead to great results in terms of their engagement and retention rates.

Micro-learning goes hand in hand with the principle “If you can’t beat it, join it”. You can’t beat the shrinking attention span. So you need to adapt to it and deliver smaller chunks of learning content: shorter chapters, shorter quizzes, short games, short… everything!

Take a look at the main picture of this post. The one with the rice. Now imagine this: Each grain of rice is an idea that must be learned, a slide in a lesson. Each scoop of rice is a lesson, or a micro-module. All scoops with all the rice make up for the entire course.

Instead of feeding your students the whole pile of mixed rice, you need to gather all the information they have to absorb, sort it by as many categories as necessary, and break it into manageable modules.

Your students will be grateful for this. Micro-modules cater to the modern learner’s need of bite-sized information. It’s a need. It’s not like they don’t want to pay attention for hours on end (although some just don’t) — they can’t.

The amount of information in a lesson or course stays the same, but its delivery is different. Don’t worry if, instead of 12 slides, you get 16. But if a lesson is as big as 85 slides and you break it into 110, you might want to split it and make two or three micro-modules out of it.


Rome wasn’t built in a day and kids’ education isn’t built in a single course either. Step by step — better yet, small step by small step — you’ll get there.

Author: Livia M

Livia is a Blog Writer at NEO by CYPHER LEARNING. She writes about education technology for K-12 and higher ed, gamification, BYOD, as well as other e-learning related subjects.