Reflections from the 2017 CIPD L&D Show: attention spans and a marketing approach to talent

Attention span
SIPhotography/iStock
Kate Wadia
Service Delivery Director
Phase 3 Consulting
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Most of us paid attention when in 2016 we learned that the average adult attention span had decreased to just eight seconds and was now shorter than that of a goldfish. I am fascinated for HR, for Talent and Learning professionals and for learning tech providers as to the implications at work. Bear with me beyond the eight-second read that takes you about as far as this (yes, that’s all!) in my article and here is fish-food for thought as to how that plays out in 2017.

Is calibre of learning materials important...?

The BBC’s “More or Less” took to bits those stats on attention spans – both goldfish and mankind – and do take the time to read their view too.

It turns out that whether or not you’re engaged with a learning experience beyond early minutes may well depend not on whether there is more or less of it, not on its calibre, but on an oblique balance between what’s in it for you and how well the provider smashes through the volume of input in your day to arrest attention first-up.

I reflected on this with HR Zone at the CIPD Learning and Development Show this month.

Micro Maestros, Skill Pill, Pocketbooks, Little Boxes of Brilliance - all providers of micro-learning content shouting out for the profession’s attention. And I don’t knock these guys, as they’re meeting a demand and meeting it in engaging, innovative and inspiring ways.

The demand is there for learning content that is quick-fire and for tech to deliver to us fast and with accelerated energy (think appification, gamification, chat capability).

We tend to take as given that face-to-face learning does remain the premium learning experience where viable.

I question this assumption and ask what happened to the good, old-fashioned learning styles where we differ in our preference. I asked two interviews a question recently about how they’d approach a need to up-skill in a given role area. One answered with an excitable description of rolling sleeves up, messing with toys and having a good-old go.

The second described with equal excitement getting out there on the road to shadow and quiz colleagues and then to offer her own skills to reflect back to others that which she’d learned.

Andy Lancaster, Head of Learning and Development at the CIPD, gave a great example of how to do a “how to” session and took the same assumption about the face-to-face to task with some top tips on webinar delivery.

Yet bear in mind much of this short-sharp-snap approach derives from lifestyles. The industry is simply going with that natural flow. I visited at the show Bite Size Ltd and looked at a lovely balance between the trusted offering that is founded on the MS Office suite and yet delivered with flex and within the coffee-break space.

Reflecting on the CIPD L&D Show 2017

Let’s look at the CIPD approach to the May show itself. I enjoyed it very much and, yes, my own attention grabbed rather more than I’d perhaps anticipated. Consider the branding of the learning and development work-streams. That which I’d call technology is for 2017 “Digital and Social Learning”. I examined the agenda on the “Science of Learning”. This none other than business psychology.

Note this latter could get plain confusing if MI/analytics/reporting does get the official “People Science” regeneration, a direction I’m keen to see.

A marketing approach to talent and development

What we witness with the attention-arresting stream and session headlines at a conference agenda, as well as the learning offer, is the marketing approach to talent. Why? I suspect again linked to those short attention spans and to that volume - a gazillion goldfish swimming in the Pacific.

So I was delighted to find some solid stuff still going strong in talking to Belbin on the application of the nine familiar team roles, with these days self-development toolkits for youngsters embarking on their new career design. And there is solace in soft skills, albeit with the micro-styles at times the way we must inevitably self-improve.

A counter-balance to the frenetic is of course mindfulness in practice at work and, less obviously, an emerging need in today’s organisational agenda to look at individual resilience in the face of change.

The conclusion?

Firstly that if you’ve made it this far in your reading then perhaps consider yourself a koi carp rather than a much-maligned goldfish (read that BBC “More or less” feature!). Secondly that we see a tension and a squaring up of technology's impact and the human brain, with its emotional and mindset limitation. The pace of evolution of each rather differs.

At the CIPD L&D show it was Daniel Susskind who faced this head-on in looking at the future of our professional world. Susskind sees technology not just as streamlining but as replacing us and our ability to learn and to work well.

What to do? Pay attention. Avoid the fixed mindsets. Look at the possibility of technology. Look at how knowledge can be shared within your organisation in an entirely different way.

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