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Absorbing information


What is the optimum/maximum time that individual's can accurately listen and absorb information for any one continuous period?

Thanks for any help.
Michael Gower

5 Responses

  1. It Depends…
    There are several figures touted around for this from 15 minutes to a couple of hours. But really it depends on the subject, the individuals involved, the level of interest and whether the session is in anyway interactive.

    I work on a basis of no more than 30/40 minutes of taught material without some form of exercise/energiser and also no sessions of more than 1 and 1/2 hours without a break. This seems to suit the trainees I have taught but both as a sales trainer and a software trainer the audiences I have trained have been willing and interested participants.

    If you were speaking to an audience of disinterested and “forced to attend” delegates I suspect that these figures would need revising.

    Hope that helps…

  2. 30-40 minutes
    Hi Michael

    I’d agree with Nik that 30-40 minutes is usually about right.

    The thing to remember (!) here is that the learning process has two stages rather than one. Getting information into short-term memory (STM) is comparatively easy. Getting the information from STM into long-term memory (LTM) is where the skill comes in ūüėČ

    Firstly, as Nik suggests, research shows that anything more than 40-45 minutes will have even the most highly motivated trainees losing info from STM as fast as new info flows in. And very little getting as far as LTM.

    Secondly, there’s the question of how many main points you try to cover per session. 3 main points, with supporting points and evidence seems to be about right.

    Both a degree of repetition and exercises help to strengthen understanding AND encourage the transfer from STM to LTM.

    A BRIEF review of the previous learning points – all the way back to the start of the course – at the beginning of each new session will also help the transfer of information.

    Other studies suggest that it may take several hours to completely transfer info into LTM. And of course the more info you impart, the longer that takes.

    IMHO, far too much training/education still follows the “jug and mug” logic. I reckon we need to start looking at the possibility that a “slowly, slowly, catch the monkey” approach may actually be more effective – and therefore more economical – in the long run.

    Hope this is of use

    Be well

    Andy B.

  3. Planned and unplanned breaks
    The time will depend largely upon the subject content, interactivity, current subject knowledge and of course, reason for the participant being there.

    The old fall back of 90 minutes must never be forgotten but there have been times, especially where participants have been active or deeply in a case study, for example, where time is not the issue.

    It is important for you to judge the participants and be ready to call ‘a break’ if required. Try and do this as if it is a planned break and not one to ‘wake people up’. Not as easy as it sounds sometimes. I try and not keep breaks ‘regular’ (apart from those which are required) so as not to encourage ‘clock watching’.

    Anyway, hope this helps and good luck

    Ray Hargreaves

  4. Give us a break?
    Hi Michael,
    I would suggest that you should consider a much shorter period, 20 minutes, of any continuous form of training. However a change from talking to listening, or from reading to watching or other similar change of method allows the training to continue for an elongated period.
    I too would have no hesitation in calling for a break as necessary. I would use that time to enquire of participants as to the relevance, pace and depth.
    Hope this helps.


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