Getting a learner’s attention is a holy grail among instructional designers and learning professionals. Attention, after all, is key to controlling the amount of time necessary to maintain information in “working memory.” In short, attention directs the outcome of learning.
Attention, however, isn’t as simple as you think it is. There are many factors that influence it; motivation and anxiety to name a few. There is, more importantly, a complex scientific process behind it. A part of the brain, for instance, focuses attention, it acts as a filter that sorts out important from unimportant information. It’s called the Reticular Activating System (RAS).
Here are some attention-specific guidelines to help you get started:
Rule #3: Understand that People Read Differently On Screen
Experts agree that we read differently on a computer screen. Many of them would even argue that we don’t read but scan. But let’s forget about verbs and talk about the how instead. How do people read on screen? The answer will guide you in planning the design. It will help you strategically place important elements on screen so that they get the most attention from learners.
In 2007, the Poynter Institute released the “Eyetracking the News” study. Its findings still apply today. It revealed, among others, that you can grab attention through navigational or directional tools, graphics or photos and headlines. But you can only do so in a fraction of a second to a few seconds. Why? Because people scan first before they decide to read. They look at the most important parts, check which is worth reading and then make a decision. Will they stay or switch off? Make it easier for learners to stay and focus. Here's how:
- Present an idea as simple as possible. It should be easily digestible or understandable.
- Start with the most important things first. Assume that your readers has less than five minutes.
- Break your content into small chunks. Don’t break just for the sake of “breaking.” Break for the sake of helping learners better understand your content.