“eLearning And Chill?” – How To Engage Modern Learners


In a world of smartphones, apps, gamers, and that dreaded term “Millennials”, how can Learning and Development keep up? With the average learner now having an attention span of eight seconds, the challenge is to find effective ways to be able to engage the audience. So, how can digital learning help solve this problem and engage modern learners?

Getting It Right: Ways To Engage Modern Learners 

Safe to say the Learning Technologies show in London at the start of the year was a resounding success; bigger and better than it’s ever been. I enjoyed many interesting conversations with learning professionals from all walks of life, and found it really insightful to hear about their successes and challenges in terms of digital learning. There seemed to be one common theme when it came to what learning practitioners and organizations are struggling with: How do you engage modern learners?

I would make one important distinction here. Often, people perceive the modern learners to be “Gen Y” or “Millennials” or, soon, “Gen Z”. And whilst this is obviously true, I think this segregation by age does not take into account the change in learning habits of those out with these generations.

Let’s face it, many of us listen to our music via Spotify. We get option paralysis at the Netflix selection screen. We get an Uber home after a night out. The way we interact with technology has changed and that applies to all of us.

It’s stating the obvious to say that learning is no longer restricted to the classroom, we all know that. What has perhaps been lost in translation is how we engage modern learners using digital learning. The dull "Click-to-next / Text-text-text-text / Image / Text-text" format just does not cut it.

If we’re going to get the most out of digital learning, we must accept the realities about the modern learner.

Shorter Attention Span

Recent research suggests that the average human attention span is now only 8 seconds, which would in theory mean you’ve stopped reading about 30 seconds ago (I hope I’m wrong!).

Let’s face it though: A Vine is 6 seconds, a Snapchat is 10 seconds, a Tweet is no more than 140 characters. The modern learner is used to a) communication and b) consuming media in a format that is short and snappy.

If you put this learner in a position where they then have to sit through a piece of eLearning, that is slide 1 of 10338292342, it’s not going to work. If you expect them to sit through hours of eLearning at in one sitting and to be engaged (and actually learn), it’s not going to work.

The shorter attention span of the modern learner provides us with an opportunity to create succinct punchy, effective content. And to break down larger learning outcomes into smaller, more manageable portions. And to ultimately deliver digital learning in a format this is already familiar to the modern user.

“If It’s Not On Instagram, It Didn’t Happen”

I’ve read articles which suggest that modern learners (Millennials in particular) are narcissistic and self-obsessed, the "selfie" generation. I think whilst there’s some truth in this, and behaviors have certainly changed, it is an overtly negative stance.

Okay, so we might all Instagram our breakfasts, share stacks of holiday pics, and tweet our every thought. But from a learning perspective, this is a win/win situation. People are more open to sharing their thoughts, hopes, fears, experiences than they ever have been. Not only are they open to sharing, they want to share, they want to be social.

We’re Past Being Mobile Ready, We’re Already Mobile

I regularly still see discussion around being ready for mobile or preparing for mobile, but the fact of the matter is we’re already there. And we’re only going to become "more mobile".

By 2020, there will be over 6.1 billion smartphone users worldwide, with 90% of those over the age of 6 owning a mobile device.

With flash no longer being supported, the traditional in browser model is already being superseded by cross-platform, mobile learning. By neglecting to develop for mobile, you are missing an opportunity to engage modern learners on the platform where they feel most at home.


Recently I’ve had the pleasure of running a number of workshops with some amazing clients and organizations who are looking at ways they can incorporate gamification into their learning function.

Gamification is a concept that has moved from the periphery into the mainstream, especially in the eLearning world. There is a continued increase in the number of organizations who are starting to view games-based learning as a serious, viable option. As a passionate gamer and learner, this is great to see.

By Nick Ramsay