8 ways to capture an 8 second attention span

The latest batch of students in University are part of Generation Z. They’ve been surrounded by technology their entire lives, and as such are complete digital natives, capable of continually multitasking and effortlessly scanning through large amounts of information. However, with a lifetime of instantly accessible and easily digestible data comes a relatively short attention span. Generally, you have around eight seconds to effectively communicate your subject, give them a reason to care about it, and grab their attention. It’s not easy, so read on for eight techniques that will help you grab and hold their attention in a higher education environment…

1. Get them involved

Generation Z likes to get hands on and be directly involved in the learning experience. Creating situations where they can observe and interact with their peers and lecturers, as well as come to collaborative conclusions by comparing viewpoints, brings the very best out of the students, who often learn best when actively engaged. Social media can play a big role in collaborative learning too, allowing students to work as a team, as well as access, share, and explore concepts in an easily digestible and instantaneous manner.

2. Make it immersive

As they’ve grown up surrounded by it, Generation Z are natives to digital technology and probably know it better than their lecturers do. Make use of this technology to effectively enable students from the outset. By including the mobile devices practically every student possesses, you transform the university from a location to an experience. Generation Z have grown up with the Internet as a constant influence—they don’t remember a time before it—meaning that access to information is the foundation of their upbringing and technology is the norm. It should be considered an integral part of the learning process. However, there is a difference between making technology integral to the learning process and using it for the sake of it. It should help enable your students and encourage interaction with the content. It shouldn’t be a barrier, it should allow students to access the learning experience from other locations and at other times, rather than the be-all and end-all.

3. Keep it familiar

When using technology, it’s best to try and focus on the platforms and apps that students already use. Rather than presenting proprietary software they’re forced to learn, use things like Skype, WhatsApp, or Office365 to support learning with tools that bring remote seminar rooms together and increase student freedom into the main lecture hall. On average, Generation Z members own five or more devices each. Nearly four in five show signs of emotional distress when kept away from their devices*, so make use of a ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) program to keep them happy and comfortable, allowing them to focus on the content, not the means of delivery. *Source: StudentCom

4. Let them pick the time and place

Flexible learning and independence are key to Generation Z. So make use of massive, open online courses (MOOCs), which allow them to explore the subject matter in an order that suits them, at times and locations convenient to them. Use lecture capture software to create learning materials that provide students with the ability to learn or re-visit from anywhere, allowing them to graze on content and choose their own approach. By empowering them to take responsibility for their own progress, you’ll find they’re far more engaged, focused on the process of learning, and motivated to succeed.

5. Make it visual

By bringing video, images, and social media into the learning environment, you’ll capture their attention more easily. Visual learning methods get the message across in a way that attracts and engages students quickly, as it’s a much more natural and familiar way of gathering and processing information for this generation. A visually rich learning experience keeps students alert, interested, and receptive to exploring new ideas and concepts.

6. Let them multitask

Short attention spans can be refreshed with a change of task. Make use of newer, more immediate forms of engagement and switch between tasks to keep students motivated, while preventing boredom. Generation Z has grown up in a world of background noise and multiple screens, so paying simultaneous attention to a wide range of stimuli comes naturally to them.

7. Prepare them for working life

Generation Z are willing to work hard to get what they want from life. This means they will look to create opportunities for advancement in the working world, so teach them skills that will support them throughout their professional lives. Foster collaboration, innovation, and debate by introducing learning tasks that have a real-world purpose and encourage problem solving. These skills are harder to define and difficult to measure, so use them to underpin learning and encourage students to pick up new skills that will help set them on a good path for the rest of their lives.

 8. Construct dialogue, don’t talk at them

Generation Z, like other generations, benefits from being fully engaged in the learning process. However, they prefer taking an active role, so encourage debate and conversation, rather than presenting to a silent lecture theater. Using debate is an effective way of increasing interest levels from students, as well as allowing teachers to get to know their students. Encourage this method further with technology that not only provides attention-grabbing content, but also allows students to join and add to the conversation. Of course, every student is different, but the generation currently in university is the first to have never known life without broadband Internet. By playing to their technological strengths, you’ll help them develop, and benefit from better grades in the process.

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