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Fighting Distraction: 4 Tips on Keeping Employees' Attention During Training

For workplace trainings to benefit employees’ future performance, the material must be effectively learned in the first place. But learning requires something that is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain these days… attention. We live in a world that is full of distractions. Employees are faced with the constant buzzing of notifications and emails – not to mention the nagging thoughts of all the tasks that need to get checked off their to-do list – which can make it a major challenge to keep them focused and engaged during workplace trainings. Below are some evidence-based tips for how to capture and maintain their attention.

1. Replicate the work environment

It’s difficult for employees to pay attention to training if they can’t easily see the value that it will add to their own work. Creating a training context that closely matches what will be required of them on the job can help employees recognize the relevance of the training material, which ultimately boosts engagement. For example, if you are conducting a training for a new software or system, try having the trainees practice navigating the system on their own computer, rather than watch you demonstrate how to use it. This activity demands their attention and gives them the chance to learn and practice the material in a realistic setting. Simply lecturing about skills that could be used in a hypothetical situation doesn’t quite have the same effect.

2. Space out learning material

To improve employees’ concentration during longer training sessions, break it up into shorter modules. Attention spans are short these days and taking breaks between learning new material will lead to better retention in the long run. Interspersing practice activities throughout the training session is a great way to create productive spacing between modules. With shorter segments that require focused attention, employees are better able to recognize when the most critical information is being delivered, as opposed to getting lost and distracted in a sea of information.

3. Provide feedback on progress

Feedback is an effective motivation tool in most workplace settings and trainings are no exception. Providing specific feedback on how an employee’s learning is progressing throughout training can quickly regain their attention and re-focus their energy, especially following practice activities. Given that the point of training is to learn something new and improve upon that skill, feedback should be provided in a way that encourages continued engagement with the training material. It doesn’t need to be formal or neatly summarized at the end of the session, but it can be used as an ongoing point of discussion and reflection.

4. Change the pace

If you feel like your trainees are losing focus, get them moving and engaging with their peers. Activities throughout trainings should be varied both in terms of the format (i.e., role play, quizzes, discussions) and the interactive component. Some can be with the whole group, others with small groups or partners, and maybe a few that require moving around the room. Physically and socially changing up the space can help re-engage your audience, so it doesn’t hurt to have an interactive activity up your sleeve for when you need to get a distracted group back on track.

Closing Thoughts

Focused attention may feel like a given when it comes to adult learners, but it’s just as easily lost as it is gained. Fortunately, when training is designed intentionally to maintain engagement and foster deep learning, employees are better equipped to use their newly acquired knowledge and skills in their day-to-day work activities. If you’d like to learn more about best practices for training, or want to explore the variety of trainings we offer to fit your organizational needs, contact us here!

Source: Kraiger, K., & Mattingly, V. P. (2017). Cognitive and Neural Foundations of Learning. The Cambridge Handbook of Workplace Training and Employee Development, 11.

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