The best e-Learning Tips for Short Attention Spans

December 15, 2020

Are you struggling to keep your students focused during online lessons? Learning virtually can be hard for children. They struggle with so many distractions at home.

Short attention spans during eLearning is a common complaint for most teachers. The usual strategies you’d use in the classroom have less effect online. That means you need fresh ways to keep their attention on you.

Here’s a round-up of 13 ideas you can apply immediately to your online lessons. They’re all easy to use and require minimal preparation. After all, you don’t want to increase your workload.

1: Chunk your lessons

Instead of treating your lesson as one block of time, divide it into smaller elements. Each one will have a specific purpose such as recapping prior learning, introducing new vocabulary, or practicing a skill. Make each of these small lesson chunks distinct from each other to capture your students’ attention.

2: Make them laugh

You’re a teacher, not a comedian, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun with your lessons. Younger children will enjoy silly voices, funny pictures, and amusing stories. For older classes, share real-life anecdotes linked to the learning and add a few obvious puns to make them groan. It all works to give your students something to remember after the lesson is over.

3: Lesson disruptors

A good lesson disruptor is a surprise. The students aren’t expecting it, and this sudden change will wake them up and get them focused. Whether it’s a blast of a favourite tune, an ‘everybody stop and…’ task, or a fun learning game, disrupting the familiar routine will enliven even the driest of lessons.


4: Time-limited activities

Check time isn’t running away with you when you’re presenting. Keep a clock handy and use rough timings to keep on track. It’s hard to gauge when students are ready to move on. Those classic low-level behaviours are hidden when your students are on a screen not in the classroom.

5: Short recaps

Instead of launching into a new subject every lesson, spend a chunk of your time revisiting prior learning. Lots of repetition helps them remember and learn more easily. Try starting your class with a flashback question from last lesson, last week, last term, and last year. Alternatively take familiar learning and give it a new application.

6: Cut out the clutter

Have a razor-sharp focus when planning online lessons. What is essential for the students to learn? What they will do at end of your class that they couldn’t do before? Keeping this clear focus removes any extras and lets you plan activities that really deliver your desired outcomes.

7: Two topics in one lesson

Who says you can only learn about one thing in a class? Try cutting your lesson in half and tackle two subjects one after the other. It can take some getting used to, but it provides an interesting way to learn. You could use one half of your lesson for a revision topic and the other for something completely new.

8: Gamification

You might have heard of gamification and dismissed it as just playing. Think again. Done well, it creates a fun, memorable experience whilst still delivering the lesson objectives. If your students are enjoying the lesson, they’re likely to remember more of it. Just make sure you carefully align the activities you choose to your desired outcomes.

9: Show them the relevance

Keep their attention by showing them exactly how this segment of learning fits within the entire unit. Signposting each step of the journey means they can measure their success throughout. Explain what and why they’re learning so they can see why this lesson is useful.

10: Brain breaks

We all need time to stop and process what we’re learning. Provide moments of reflection throughout your lesson where students can pause and process the new learning. Just a few minutes taking notes, creating a graphic organiser, or talking with peers will help them remember the key points.

11: Note taking

Teach your students to take notes during your lessons. At first, you’ll need to model the process for them. Try using a Wacom pen tablet when screen sharing to show them what effective note taking looks like. Use different colours, line weights, and Visual thinking tools to organise ideas.

12: Give them choice

Students love having ownership over their learning. Provide opportunities for them to choose a task or activity to suit their needs. Virtual learning makes it easy to signpost them to a range of useful websites and online activities. They can come back together as a class to discuss what they’ve learned.

13: Make it visual

It’s hard to listen and remember what you’ve heard. Use dual coding to add high quality visuals to sections of text or spoken words. Wacom’s pen tablets are perfect for drawing, annotating, and highlighting on your screen whilst video sharing or recording a lesson. It’s a great way to reduce cognitive load.

In summary

Your students are adjusting to tremendous changes in how they learn, and it’s no surprise that many find it hard to stay focused for long. Home can be a distracting space. Many are competing for access to technology, poor internet connection, or struggling to find a quiet place to work in.

Low-level behaviours, poor attendance, and dropping test scores are all signs that you need to do something different. Maybe you’re struggling with your own motivation? Ask colleagues if you can sit in on some of their online lessons to get inspiration to improve your own. Sometimes lessons that work well in the classroom don’t have the same effect online. Making simple adjustments will make them engaging and keep your class learning better for longer.

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