No Image Available

Seb Anthony

Read more from Seb Anthony

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Attention Span


In updating one of the courses that my organisation runs I came across the "fact" that the average adult attention span is 20 minutes. I was about to change it to 6 minutes (which is my understanding), when I realised that I didn't know where I had got my information from.

After carrying out some research I found that opinion differs and can be anything from 6 - 90 minutes.

So, can anyone tell me what the average attention span is for an adult worker in a classroom environment in the UK.

As I write this I realise that there are many factors that will influence and individuals ability to concentrate in that type of environment, but any sort of referenced comment will be gratefully received.
Nigel Parry-Price

15 Responses

  1. Attention spans
    Hello Nigel,
    I have a copy of “The Trainers Pocketbook” 9th edition which states, “The brain goes into auto shut-off after only 10 minutes if it is not given something to stimulate it.

    Saying this I do think this depends very much on the time of day and the subject and the trainer. I hope this helps.

    Nick Smith

  2. 15 to 20 minutes?
    [All too often,] lecturing is a process by which information is transferred from the notes of the lecturer to the notes of the students without touching the brain of either (modified from Sisteck, 1986).

    “Studies on attention span …. shed light on why students have difficulty with the traditional lecture format. Adult learners can keep tuned into a lecture for no more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and this at the beginning of the class. After three to five minutes of “settling down” at the start of class, “the next lapse of attention usually occurred some 10 to 18 minutes later. Students recalled the most information from the first five minutes of the presentation. Given that students have an attention span of around 15 to 20 minutes and that classes are 50 to 90 minutes, instructors must do something to keep their students’ attention.”


  3. Web Sites
    Can I quote you section from the following report: That I think you’ll find very informative:

    “We should consider some things formal research suggests.

    No “average” attention span

    There is simply no number that can be put on an attention span. Consequently, there can be no average. Some of us can focus on a three-hour concert, but fifteen minutes spent doing our taxes will leave us bored and begging for mercy. For others, the opposite is true. This is almost always an issue of personal preference and may be related to the next item.

    Attention spans decrease as people become spectators
    A legitimate criticism of too much television is that it diminishes opportunities for individuals to develop the internal controls necessary to focus attention. The message for teachers is to design learning activities that require involvement, interaction and problem solving. Also important is ensuring that each class session makes use of a variety of different skills. Even if people are involved in “hands-on” work, they feel like spectators if they lack the skills and understanding to participate.

    Brains aren’t built only to focus attention

    While some parts of the human brain are intended to focus and hold attention on specific things, other parts are intended to quickly scan and shift attention from one thing to another. Author and researcher Dr. Jane Healy refers to this as “the widespread neural highways” of the brain. With these highways, people are multi-dimensional and well equipped to explore and learn. Ironically, those same characteristics are often blamed for creating the barrier we refer to as ‘short attention span.’ Given the right cues and directions, those same highways enable individuals with developmental disabilities to foster their own creative gifts.”

  4. Thanks
    Thanks for all of your input.

    There’s a lot of interesting reading there.

  5. Just seek to Captivate
    Without beating about the bush, trying to find out an average attention span must be a futile exercise. I think so because my attention span in one training session will differ from the next, and I am just one person. For a group, other factors like subject, personality of trainer, venue, mix of group, and delivery style of trainer are just some of the factors that can determine attention span. From another perspective, I do not think an agreed attention span average/statistic can truly be an effective tool in producing successful events on a regular basis. So, my question is – what is its use? The main goals of trainers among key others are to match business objectives with training and needs. Therefore, to get a group to stay focused, concentrate on what they want and need and research the style of delivery they prefer. Thereby, you are focusing on captivating your audience throughout.

  6. Attention Span
    This is all really interesting. “If the training is interactive then 45 mins is a good rule of thumb”. What do people think would be a good thing to do after 45 mins? Have a coffe break? Change the subject? Have an energiser?

  7. Attention span
    My understanding of the attention span theory is that it is linked to the study of Ultradian Rhythms. You can check out the work of Dr. Ernest L Rossi and the theory of Ultradian on the net. I have no specific webstite to recommend as I studied this many years ago during my clinical hypnosis training. While it may not be the answer, it may shed some further light on the issue.

  8. Cultural Differences
    Can’t lay my hands on the reference, but there was some research done that showed different culture have different attention spans. Americans for example tend to have a far shorter attention span that Japanese (a fact the Japanese often make use of in negotiations!). I recall the ASTD doing some research on this a couple of years ago.

    What to do when attention starts to wander? Pretty much any kind of state change will work, but in general the greater the physiological change, the more refreshed the person will be (consider ‘tired eyes’ when driving, a quick walk twice round the car is all that is needed to refresh you for another 30 mins or longer).

    You might also like to look at research done by Von Restorff (Primacy/Recency), and some research done by Henri Pieron (French researcher) who found that planned series of breaks increases the probability of recall. Colin Rose (A/L theory) suggests that a 5 min break every 30 mins is optimum, with the break being a complete rest. This links in to work done by a German researches Zeigarnik who is also worth researching!

    Hope this helps!


  9. Variety is the key
    I’m not sure that human beings have a fixed “attention span”. I agree that cultural differences may have an impact on the average attention span. But so can environmental factors – who find’s it that easy to concentrate for long periods in a stifling hot or freezing cold room?
    Intelligence may play a part – I don’t know of any research to back this up but it may be that the more intelligent your audience the less that unchallenging information will hold their attention.
    And so on…

    The key to holding people’s attention is to ensure that the training is relevant and interesting (it’s amazing how many trainers and training functions forget this) and that a variety of methods is used constantly.

    I wouldn’t speak for more than 15 minutes without then using some kind of exercise to liven things back up. I always encourage delegates to participate with questions – when they need them answered, rather than at the end of the session. I use tests throughout events to check learning. I try to ensure the physical environment is as comfortable as possible without making it so comfortable that sleep seems the best thing to do. I also ensure that sessions are kept to the minimum length for succesful learning to take place. And I use regular breaks (though not every 45 minutes) to enable delegates to freshen up, drink coffee, smoke and make any pressing phone calls so they don’t spend their time worrying about when they can do these things.

    It’s always been pretty succesful for me and feedback from delegates has been very good with respect to this.

    And that’s the most important bit – get feedback from your delegates, did they find parts of the day just went on and on? Did they find certain exercises boring or frustrating? The list could go on and on.

    But if you ask your delegates, and bear in mind that you can’t please all the people all of the time, then sooner or later you’ll get the balance right (or at least as good as it can be).

    Everyone is different but you can find a happy medium by talking to your learners. Any “standard measure” almost certainly is only a “standard” under the conditions of the study in which they were measured. So ask your learners – one of the best things about doing so, is they feel more involved in the structure of the program and can take pride in helping improve it. They’ll like you more for it as well.

  10. Theory-schmeory
    There’s an interesting debate elsewhere in Any Answers about how change management theory falls apart in practice. It potentially can be very limiting to take a piece of psychology research conducted under ideal conditions and extrapolate it to the training room. My favourite worst example of this is the famous Mehrabian 7% words, 35% tone & 53% body language quote.

    In real training situations with real people, I find that sensing peoples’ arousal level is a constant process, with my behaviour varying accordingly. Like has been said elsewhere, 15 mins is a good trigger at the design stage to ask – is it time to change the dynamic ?

  11. the power of questions
    Very interesting comments and will to a large degree depend on the topic-desire and interest.However never forget the power of a good question.My rule is at least one every 20min’s.These i often plan in preperation,and more so if the topic is in the desert!! simple i know but i find it works.Well most of the time!

  12. Take a look at this presentation

     Interesting subject, I think there are a variety of deciciding factors, personal circumstances, history, health, perception of the trainer, experience.  


    I found this link very good and think it covers most of the comments above 





Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!