Monthly Archives: October 2010

Lecture: How long is too long?

In our 4MAT train the trainer live and web classes, we facilitate an exercise where each of the four learning style groups gives examples of painful learning situations particular to their style.  There is only one painful learning situation that is common to all learning styles: boring lecture.

We all recognize that boring lectures are painful, because we’ve all experienced the pain. As trainers, we want our audience to be engaged and we are constantly looking for ways to avoid being that boring trainer. This explains why two of the most frequent questions we get asked regarding lecture are:

 -How do you make lecture interesting?

-How long is too long?

On his blog (which we love) Dr. John Medina shared the following:

“Peer-reviewed studies confirm my informal inquiry: Before the first quarter-hour is over in a typical presentation, people usually have checked out. If keeping someone’s interest in a lecture were a business, it would have an 80 percent failure rate. What happens at the 10-minute mark to cause such trouble? Nobody knows. The brain seems to be making choices according to some stubborn timing pattern, undoubtedly influenced by both culture and gene. This fact suggests a teaching and business imperative: Find a way to arouse and then hold somebody’s attention for a specific period of time.”

There are two points at which we naturally tune in during a presentation: the beginning and the end. Why? At the beginning, we are checking in to see if this is going to be interesting. We go to sleep in the middle and then wake up at the end to find out what we need to do and where the snacks are located.

If you want to keep attention high, you need to shift gears every 10 minutes or so. When you do this the attention remains higher throughout the entire presentation. 

In the next blog post, we’ll explore some ideas for increasing attention in lecture. Stay tuned.