It’s a new fresh morning and you have classes starting in 5. So, you get locked inside your room, plug in your earphones and get started for the day. Let’s say you are attending a Google Meet class on Object Oriented Programming, and this is how any standard experience would typically look like this.
You got nothing from the last class and are frustrated sitting before your laptop. You look around to find methods of escape, like a prisoner staring at the barbed wires of the prison and hoping to wake up to a different life. You are moving around in the meet window itself, maybe you open the chat section and see what other people are talking about or, open the list of participants and spend a couple of happy minutes stalking someone. Soon enough you are bored again, the professor makes no sense and you wonder what could make things better. You thank God that the Internet Explorer has evolved, and now you can open multiple tabs simultaneously, without letting your professor even catch a guess! You open YouTube, the feed looks like a fancy multi-cuisine restaurant, and its free food- so you start ‘consuming’ like you have never done before. Now YouTube has this added advantage, if you don’t like something, you can reject it in seconds and there are thousand other dishes waiting to be tasted by you! Now you would never want to abandon this multi-cuisine restaurant food and return to your ‘Ghar ka Khana’(Home-cooked food), but sad life, you have to return finally. This thing happens every day, with every professor, and no one really notices what’s going on. Let’s try to break the entire experience down, find out the problems and attempt to suggest a solution.
Attention span and content design:
In the digital space, human attention span reduces drastically. With the presence of so many escape points within the browser, it is easy for anyone to escape into a very different world. To match with these reduced attention spans, content pieces have started getting smaller and smaller. Multiple hour-long online lectures produce a huge amount of cognitive load, and even smaller pieces in larger number produce the same impact. From 6-minute songs down to 3-minute songs, from YouTube to TikTok, we have been a part of a digital environment that has continuously adapted itself to changes in human behavior.
Here are a few of the possible solutions:
a. Immersive experiences:
Designing an immersive experience is an attempt to focus the user’s attention into one thing and one thing alone, quite similar to real-life memorable experiences. Immersive experiences reduce the number of escape points by design. VR is the highest amount of immersion we have been able to achieve through technology, however it is possible even to create near-to-ideal immersive experiences in regular devices as well. Any digital content creator is competing for attention, and the best way to win is to clear out all competition completely.
b. Reducing content duration: YouTube channels like Crash Course, do a great work stuffing a good amount of information into very short and engaging videos. Cognitive overload, i.e. overload caused for being asked to do something that the brain thinks is too difficult to achieve, is far more prominent in digital experiences. This has hardly to do anything with individual capacity- most of it comes out of our habit to use digital products which have been designed to be easy to use. This has also been encouraged by the huge number of escape points which have made it easy to reject content soon after it starts being boring. Reducing content duration reduces cognitive overload, which in turn increases attention and memory.
c. Active participation: Immersion + Active participation = Escapist experiences. Participation is what differentiates playing sports from watching sports, making it much more enjoyable and memorable. Participation to personalize content (in terms of the general knowledge of the class, doubts and questions) and the ability to periodically react to the learning experience, makes the user more responsible for paying attention to the content.
d. Reward system:
Rewards are used to take a user through cognitive loads without ruining the experience and therefore, without affecting the user’s attention. In fact, rewards make experiences even better, they become active dopamine suppliers at the end of the tiresome process. Goal based rewards are often accompanied by social recognition systems like the leader-board. The higher one gets on the leader-board, the more concerned one will be about continuing to watch all the lectures ahead.
These solutions are all difficult to implement and master, however this is what the future of e-learning will look like- engaging an much more efficient. Online learning can not continue in the same manner as offline learning, much because of the huge difference in human behavior. Reaching maximum efficiency depends on how well we understand the problems and design better solutions :)