Ten Minute Attention Rule

Many experienced presenters and educators have found that people tend to get bored after ten minutes of listening to the same thing. The brain seems to be hard-wired to receive new stimulus after that time and it is hard for most people to focus their concentration longer than that. This is especially true for arcane and difficult subjects like e-discovery. Here is a short excerpt from my law school class at the University of Florida last week where I discuss this ten minute rule. Be sure to set the HD (high definition) button to “On” in the upper right corner of the video and view in full screen mode by clicking on the arrows in the lower right corner. Don’t worry, its less than five minutes long.

I am unsure of the science behind the ten minute attention rule. It is promoted by Dr. John Medina, who is a molecular biologist and director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research. Although I have not seen the full data to support the science, I am convinced of the efficacy of the rule. After years of talking too long (and too fast), I now try to follow this rule whenever I make presentations, so too does my generation’s true master of presentations, Steve Jobs. Our best political speakers do also.

As a “reformed trail lawyer,” as Craig Ball likes to say, I am always focused on the last step in the EDRM model. I have spent my whole career preparing for trials and thinking about the presentation of evidence. This is, after all, the whole point of e-discovery. So any course on e-discovery should include some of the key rules of the ninth step – presentation.

The rules of evidence are what usually come to mind in considering the ninth step, and they are important to be sure; see for example my prior blog on George Paul’s great book, Foundations of Digital Evidence. But the psychological rules of presentations must also be learned. They are important to anyone who tries to persuade or to teach. So too is the related ability to explain a complex subject within a set, usually short period of time. That is why I assign students in my seminar on advanced e-discovery the task of making a five-minute verbal presentation of the articles they are working on. The exercise forces you to think about the key features of your paper and how to summarize your ideas. Practicing attorneys do this kind of exercise too. It helps to refine your positions and arguments.

I am very interested in online education and, as I have written about before, there is a right way and wrong way to go about doing online instruction. Online programs that simply play a one-hour video on a web page, which is 90% of what passes for online higher education today, do not begin to utilize the full potential of the new media. Such productions also ignore the latest thinking in learning research. They fail to take advantage of the unique features of the world wide web and hyperlinked writings and they violate the ten minute rule. I join in the criticism of such low level productions.

Videos are an important part of online education, but they should be short and enhanced. My quickly made, low-budget video for this blog demonstrates a little of what I mean by enhanced. It does not take that much time and effort to add a few interest-enhancing special effects to a video. What I have done here is very basic.

A good online video should also be integrated with hyper-linked text that puts it in context and links it with other segments of the web. This blog again demonstrates this feature by including links with background and further reading related to the ideas presented in the video. There are many other features that make for a good online training program, primary among them interactivity exercises and mentorships.

Simple podcasts and videos that dominate online education today miss all of these key ingredients to good programming. Yet research shows that even these primitive online learning modules are just as effective as current face-to-face classroom instruction. See: Why Online Education Will Surpass Traditional Face-to-Face Education in the Next 5-10 Years. Just think how learning could accelerate with truly advanced online models. For this reason, I predict that in five to ten years almost all CLEs and other continuing education programs will be online. The face-to-face CLEs that remain will be for relationship building and dialogue, not instruction per se.

Any thoughts or comments you may care to share with us about the ten minute rule? Online education? CLEs? Videos? Or the ninth step in general? Please share them with us by leaving a comment below. Keep it short for obvious reasons.

One Response to Ten Minute Attention Rule

  1. Linda Caldwell says:

    I am thoroughly enjoying this site, your blog and all the wonderful resources. I am having difficulty hearing the video and have turned my volume control to high. Do you have any suggestions?

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