Help Your Remote Learners Focus

Dear law firm trainers, I hear you! Keeping your learners’ attention has always been hard! Now, you’re tasked to teach them new skills (sometimes on brand-new platforms) virtually. Often, your learners are in VERY distracting situations: dogs howl, kids interrupt, doorbells ring. And, of course, they can literally surf the internet while their camera is focused on their face, making you think you have their rapt attention.

I am constantly searching for ways to make our own law firm teaching materials better, and I am especially interested in the ones that have some research behind them, proving that they work.

Recently, I read an article titled, “Ask a Trainer: How Can I Apply Brain Science to Virtual Learning?” on, the website for the Association for Talent Development. It shared some information that resonated with my own training experience. Here is an excerpt:

“… learning only happens when people focus. We cannot multitask and learn at the same time, because our brains must be able to focus. We need to strongly encourage people to shut off their email and other forms of distraction. If they’re in the learning experience and they’re checking their email, they’ve now disrupted the ability for their brain to push that knowledge into long-term memory. In an in-person event we can tell people to close their laptops and ask them to be present, and we can bring their attention to what we need them to look at. That’s a little harder to do online. We can certainly do it, but we have to pay attention to it.”

If you’re able to see your learners’ faces, it’s actually pretty easy to discern if they are multi-tasking while you teach to them. Because all these webinar platforms require that we stare into a camera full-time (sort of disorienting sometimes, if you ask me), you can see where people’s eyes are focused. Eyes, as they say, are the window to the distracted soul. If their eyes look like they’re scanning rather than focused, you’ve lost your learner.

As for recorded learning sessions, I encourage you to pause throughout the recording to remind people to set their other devices down or to “hit pause” if they need to manage a distraction. Remind your learners that they are in charge of the “play” button and they can/should make sure they can focus before moving forward.

Here is another tip from the article:

“I would also add that our brains process information incredibly fast. If you put up a slide where the five points you want to make are laid out in bullets, the brain sees that, quickly skims the five things you’re going to say, and it’s going to look for some other way to entertain itself. It’s important, particularly when you move to online learning, to have more slides. You have to change that image every five seconds. You have to have way more imagery because the brain is going to look more at pictures than it is words. Learning designers have to capture and keep attention. Just pay attention to yourself. If something’s on the screen for too long, and it’s static, you’re going to want to click somewhere else. The brain is seeking stimulation. If it’s not getting it through the learning event, it’s going to go find it somewhere else.”

I agree! You don’t realize how slow five seconds can be if nothing much is going on! With our Savvy tutorials, if we’re just showing a mouse movement to click on a button, that picture changes within about 1.5 seconds.

I’m sure there’s no hard-and-fast rule about timing, but I agree with the author and actually had a personal experience with my brain losing focus recently. I was attending a webinar and a bulleted list came up on the slide. I found myself thinking about the second bullet before the presenter finished the first. If the slide had changed for each bullet, giving my brain both a place to pause (after the first bullet) and a new slide for each consecutive bullet, I would have been more focused.

Do you have tricks to keep your virtual learners’ attention? I’d love to hear them!


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