Humans now have a shorter attention span than goldfish.

In 2015, there was a study conducted by Microsoft on the human attention span. The study showed that the average attention span of 12 seconds had slowly been declining down to 8 seconds since 2000. In comparison, scientists have studied goldfish in the past to have 9-second attention spans.

Addressing Shorter Attention Spans

So lazy this new generation of people, yeah? Not even willing or able to learn new things because of their short attention spans. Not so fast there. With the ability to have a higher attention span for a longer period of time declining, the ability to multitask is on the incline. The ability to learn by doing is also on the incline. People can actually learn things faster than ever before, they just have to be taught in the right way.

Retention rate vs. degree of participation

*Chart Comes From Society of Human Resource Management

The graph above is from another recent study that compared types of learning and how they correlated with the retention rates. End story – the higher degree of participation, the higher the retention rate. Goodbye to lectures and readings (as I type up an article that I expect you to read and retain the information from), and hello to discussion groups and practice.

Discussion groups and practice sound great and all for retention purposes, but if the average human’s attention span is becoming shorter and shorter how can we get people to care enough to engage in discussion groups or practice?

To answer that question, let’s ask another: What is the one thing that seems to grasp a person’s attention for 24+ hours?


Motivating The New Generation Of Digital Marketers

How are games (specifically video games) able to forgo the evolution of the human brain that all the scientific data is showing us technology is causing? People can no longer do the same thing for 8+ hours, right? The human mind is no longer capable of working an 8+ hour day because of the much shorter attention spans, correct? So, why is that not also true for games?

Games bring motivational elements to the table that most environments do not bring, including:

  • Visible, quick advancement in levels
  • The ability to see current status and tasks completion needed to move up in status
  • The autonomy to move at your own pace
  • Direct rewards for solving problems

Leveling up, moving up a leaderboard, seeing a level completion percentage, and being able to do this all at your own pace gives the brain satisfaction that other environments do not bring.

From there what does common sense tell us to do? Use these methods to assure employee motivation through the training process. Create checkpoints, to-do lists, and levels in your training program that employees can pace themselves. Creating charts that show what percentage of each level is complete as employees go through their training is extremely important to create motivation. The chart below is an example:

Classes of tasks

Bringing Structure To The Training

Autonomy vs. structure seems to be a back-and-forth construct that quite a few companies have when developing a training process. But why not both? The three words to focus on that help to create both in the training process are guidance, motivation, and awareness.


Guidance can be timeline based, expectations based, or project specific based. Within your training process you need to draw lines as to what is expected of your trainees. Are there time tables or is the training process self-paced? How will the process of checking things off their list be dealt with? How will they go about doing and learning about the projects they have on their to-do lists?

Using a reverse classroom structure can sometimes help with giving employees guidance and training while allowing them to work with autonomy. In this structure the training would be done via videos and the classroom setting would be more for discussion groups and direct help with projects.


Pride. This has been the word that has stuck in my head in terms of what is the number one reason an employee is motivated. Through studies done by Erik Gonzalez-Mule, it was learned that while farmers are the happiest group of workers, manufacturers are on the lower end of the scale. Seems to be two jobs that are fairly similar in that they require a lot of physical labor. But the big difference was pride. Finding drivers of motivation to create pride in your trainees will allow for the training process to be better for everyone involved. Some sort of motivation factor should be included in your training structure.


This is the biggest part of having a structure in place where supervisors or senior employees are confident in a trainees work and eventually a trainees self-awareness of their own work. This is typically the hardest balance to hit when dealing with new employees, autonomy vs. awareness. A time-based or expectations-based structure helps to avoid the Dunning-Kruger effect (which I recently learned more about from Jeff Allen, president at Hanapin Marketing)….wait, was he trying to tell me something?

The Dunning-Kruger effect of cognitive bias is where someone who does not understand a topic cannot accurately evaluate their abilities on the topic, and therefore they would move forward in a process quicker than someone who may actually have the knowledge to move forward. This is what a structure helps to avoid and why structured autonomy helps to bring full awareness of a trainee’s learning process to the supervisors and to the trainee themselves.

Key Takeaways

It was probably tough to read through the entire article since your attention span is more than likely shorter than a goldfish’s. (Is goldfish’s proper grammar? Let me check that. What was I talking about again?…)

But please, take the following as the key takeaways on training the new generation of digital marketers:

  • Use practice and discussion as much as possible over lectures
  • Motivate employees with a game-like progress model throughout the training
  • Motivate employees by continuing to create a sense of pride
  • Create a program with structured autonomy to help create awareness of a trainee’s progress

These tactics should help to create a work atmosphere that new trainees appreciate. But be careful making work like a game as your employees might just get addicted to PPC.