Leadership Professional Development

Eight Seconds and They’re Gone

professional development
Written by Lori Gracey

I thought that my children had short attention spans. But now I find out that it’s just as bad for us adults. How in the world can I hold my staff’s attention during professional development?

A new study released by Microsoft reveals that the average adult now has an attention span less than that of a goldfish: just eight seconds. That’s amazing, isn’t it? That means that, after only eight seconds, participants in your staff development session will be reaching for their mobile devices, checking email, viewing their social media feeds, and not paying any attention to you. How can you as a professional development provider compete? Here are some tips and tricks to help keep your staff engaged and learning.

Integrate emotionally-driven content. We listen much more when our emotions are involved. So be sure to tell a story about the content they are learning and make it personal, if you can. Use images and graphics on your slides that are powerful and convey a certain feeling. Don’t be afraid to share a problem you experienced while using the particular tool or skill you are teaching.

Stop the slideshow frequently. Research says that a presenter should re-connect with the audience after presenting just three slides of information. At that point, it’s time to get them involved in something a little more active than listening. This could be something as simple as asking them to Pair/Share, type in something in TodaysMeet, add an idea to a Google Doc, or just raise their hands if they agree with what has been presented. What matters is that they stop zoning out and refocus on the content that is being presented.

Grow your tool belt. As a great teacher, you need a tool belt that is constantly expanding with ways to keep your audience involved in the learning. Adults can become bored using the same tool over and over, just like students do. So be sure to follow @TCEA on Twitter and gain a new tool every day or so to keep the focus new and fresh.

Get everyone involved. Regardless of the professional learning setting, it is critical that we do everything in our power to get each attendee actively participating.

  • If you’re in a large room, consider having the participants use the free app Crowd Mics to allow their voices to be heard using just their own devices. Crowd Mics will turn the devices into wireless microphones, ensuring that everyone can hear what is being shared. You can also use it to have the learners text or respond to poll questions.
  • If you’re breaking your staff into small groups to work, make sure they come back together on time by using Marinara Timer. The leader sets the time remaining on the website and participants can see how much is left using their own devices. This makes it perfect even if they leave the room to discuss the topic or are working in a webinar session.

 

Chunk it. Avoid cognitive overload by breaking the learning into small, manageable segments. Don’t use large blocks of text in your slides and avoid too many bullet points. Help the learners be successful by designing smaller modules or activities.

Give them the gift of time. We all need time to practice a new concept or skill repeatedly in order to be successful. So be generous with how much time you give attendees to practice on their own or with a partner. Make sure the time is structured, however, so that it’s not wasted. Scaffold the time with small projects and a clear explanation of what they need to accomplish.

Since this blog took longer than eight seconds to read, I hope you are still with me. If so, let me know how you are ensuring that your learners are actively engaged by posting your ideas in the Submit a Comment section below. And thanks for continually working to make professional development better for your staff!

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About the author

Lori Gracey

Lori Gracey has 28 years of experience in education, with 22 years as a curriculum and technology director. She currently serves as the executive director of the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) and is responsible for training technology directors, administrators, curriculum supervisors, and teachers across the country. During her eight years in this position, she has led TCEA in membership and revenue growth, helped to pay off their building and purchase a new, larger building, and implemented new conferences, partnerships with other associations, and professional development opportunities for members and non-members. She serves more than 17,000 members and oversees a staff of 20. Lori is also on the board of the Texas Society of Association Executives and SXSWedu and will serve as the Regional Program Chair for the ISTE 2017 Convention in San Antonio.

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