If you have ever been deeply engrossed in a subject, you know that life is constantly presenting you with opportunities to learn more about it. Everything I do somehow relates back to something I am learning and writing about. Yesterday, for example, my microcassette recorder wasn’t working. Yes, I still use it occasionally, and in this case I wanted to listen to a tape I made many years ago. I use the microcassette infrequently enough that when I investigated the cause of the malfunction, I found the batteries had leaked into the battery compartment and the contacts were corroded.
I “YouTubed” a video on how to properly clean the corrosion. The video was 3 minutes long. The solution was simple. Dip a cotton swab in clear white vinegar and gently wipe the battery compartment clean, being careful not to get any of the leaked battery acid on your skin, and careful not to drip any liquid into the device. Wipe the vinegar off the contacts with a paper towel. Soak another cotton swab in water and wipe the inside of the compartment to remove any traces of vinegar. Dry it with another paper towel. Done.
That probably took you about 20 seconds to read that paragraph. But it takes about 3 minutes to watch someone actually perform all those steps in real time. Three minutes is a long time to watch this process. After about one minute, I found myself checking the remaining time on the video and figuratively tapping my foot wondering when the heck this video would be over. But I knew if there were two remaining minutes, there must be more to it so I better watch the whole thing or I might miss something crucial.
I learned two things yesterday.
1) I learned how to clean the battery compartment of my microcassette player and
2) I learned just how impatient we have become as learners.
If I – someone who was educated in the pre-YouTube era, someone who reads 300-page books to learn one critical point – if I didn’t have the patience for a 3 minute video, imagine how short the attention span of children who graduated from baby rattles to baby iPads by the time they were one year old.
The Post-9-11 Workforce
Those children born post-9-11 are entering the workforce this year en masse as they turn 17 and graduate from high school. Your employees of today learned to swipe an iPad to get the answer before they could drink juice out of a cup without a lid.
The other day I lunched with a woman who will be retiring within a few years who shared her experience of younger workers. She works in a medical technical field in a hospital.
I will paraphrase her comment only slightly. “They ask me a question, and they only want to hear a quick answer. They don’t want to know why or how or the context. They just want to get right back to checking Facebook or looking at Instagram.”
I do not want to castigate younger employees. Quite the opposite, in fact. I am suggesting that perhaps as we consider how all people learn today, what captures and keeps our interest, how we think and what we need to know to do our jobs, that we respect the effect of our all-info, all-the-time culture on the way we expect to receive information. After all, I can’t even sit through a 3 minute video without looking at my watch and wondering when the YouTuber will get to the point.
As you craft training programs to communicate with your workforce, ask yourself if you are you considering our cultural bias to learning new information. Is your approach and content relevant and compelling?
As experienced trainers know, if the learner isn’t paying attention perhaps it is time to revisit your methodology.