Reforms in Education: Attention Spans

Reforms in Education: Attention Spans

The average attention span of a human is now less than that of a goldfish. In the age of smartphones and social media, it’s no surprise that students tend to lose concentration. Bombarded with constant stimulation, young brains are unable to focus on a certain task for long periods of time without craving distractions. 

One clear example of these short attention spans comes from the idea of TED talks. TED talks are a series of talks where speakers present their ideas on a wide range of topics. The maximum amount of time these talks can be is 18 minutes; with the idea that 18 minutes is the longest amount of time a person can hold another’s attention. However, even with this multitude of research that limits the average student’s ability to be productive in a time period, lectures are still 50 minutes long (perhaps longer in many institutions). While lecture times cannot actually be as short as the recorded attention span of 8s (partially because of its ridiculous infeasibility), it should be noted that curriculum should change to reflect this new age of technology and its consequences. 

According to the book “Tools for Teaching”, the narrator dictates that “most students are paying attention for only about 10 minutes.” So if students are only paying attention for 10-15 minutes, why not change lesson plans? Another drawback with the 50 minute traditional lesson is that note-taking drops exponentially over the course of a lecture. However, some have noted that this could be due to mental or physical exhaustion rather than an attention deficit. In addition, recall is greatly affected over the course of a long period. It was found that over the course of 50 minutes, a student was unable to remember information past 10-15 minutes from the first part of the lecture. It can be noted though that attention spans are not the same as memory (but are tightly linked). 

It is of course difficult in large institutions to have classes that only last 10-15 minutes. However, small breaks in between those 10-15 minutes can improve this. It was seen that students’ attention did not completely leave in a 50 minute lecture after the first 10-15 minutes. Rather, a student would go in and out of paying attention to the lecturer. Therefore, if something were implemented so that every lecture would have a 1 minute break every 10-15 minutes, attention spans would be able to reset and could last longer. 


Bradbury, N. A. (2016). Attention span during lectures: 8 seconds, 10 minutes, or more? Advances in Physiology Education, 40(4), 509–513. 

McSpadden, K. (2015, May 14). Science: You now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. Time. Retrieved October 25, 2022, from 

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