Microlearning and attention

In terms of awareness of cybersecurity, we’re witnessing increased use of what is known as the microlearning format.

Microlearning consists of providing training in the form of short modules in bursts of between 5 and 7 minutes at most. Indeed, our attention spans have evolved considerably over recent years. We now take around 2 seconds to recognize an image when 20 were needed in 1960 (Hayles, N. Katherine, University of California, ‘Hyper and Deep Attention, The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes’ 2012). It seems only by watching an old film can we have that feeling of slowness as things unfold nowadays. In contrast, our distraction-free attention span online has gone from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8 seconds in 2013 (National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, The Associated Press 2014).

Millennials have also become accustomed to being able to access information quickly and from just about anywhere. Digital information can be consumed however we want, on demand, without waiting and in any situation. Nowadays, we want to get straight to the point without wasting any time. And if something takes too long, we simply swipe it away and never look back.

Bersin, part of the Deloitte Group, has conducted a very interesting study on the modern learner. They created the following infographic from their findings:

The results of this study are clear.

Employees are overstretched:

  • They spend 41% of their working hours on uninteresting tasks, which don’t contribute to the achievement of actual work;
  • 2/3 of employees in the tertiary sector feel they don’t have enough time to do their jobs.

Employees are distracted:

  • The number of occasions employees go online every day has gone from 5 times in the early days of the Internet to 27 times today;
  • We unlock our smartphones around 9 times an hour;
  • Today, employees are interrupted approximately once every 5 minutes, often by work-related applications and other collaborative tools.

Employees are impatient:

  • The majority of learners won’t watch videos that are more than 4 minutes long;
  • Online, you have between 5 and 10 seconds to capture the attention of viewers before they’ll click elsewhere.

These profound developments are already having a fundamental impact on the way in which training and communications need to be conducted. But there’s another factor at play that must be taken into account when developing training material. That of our natural propensity to forget. Indeed, it has been recognized (Via Learning Solutions, ‘Trends of Blended Learning: Evolution of Learning Design and Technology’) that after traditional training sessions we forget around 80% of what we’ve learned after 30 days.

The idea of microlearning is to create training modules that can best overcome all of these various constraints.

It’s about delivering training in the form of capsules, where the duration never exceeds 5 minutes.

The advantages of this format are plentiful:

  • Microlearning capsules are easier to integrate within an employee’s already overstretched schedule;
  • Employees can choose the best times to start these sessions;
  • The content of capsules focuses only on the essentials – the message is therefore shorter and, as a result, easier to remember;
  • Producing these training modules is easier and updates are simpler.

In terms of awareness of cybersecurity, this approach makes it easier to conduct multiple, short campaigns. In order to develop a real culture of security, it’s better to do little and often rather than a great deal at once. Distilling a short security message on a regular basis will be more effective in the long run than asking for a major effort once or twice a year.

In fact, when acculturation is stronger, we can maximize the adoption of best practices in everyday behavior, which is the ultimate goal of raising awareness, after all.

In order to transform behavior and make your employees your strongest links in the chain of your information systems, this format must have its place. User feedback and appreciation are already calling for a mass roll-out.