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How Long can Learners Concentrate?

On a computer course, effectively no more than five hours.

That is assuming that the course has interesting content, is relevant to the learner, involves active learning, is broken into learning segments or chapters, and offers diversity in the subject matter.

In an ideal world, learners would step into the classroom with laser-like focus, and absorb hours of information without pause.

But the reality is attention spans waive and this is associated less with attitude and more with course duration.

Long courses routinely deliver poorer learning outcomes than shorter courses, but why?

It all comes down to science.

Selective sustained attention that is required in computer application learning, also known as focused attention, is the level of attention that produces consistent results on a task over time.

Common estimates of the attention span of adult learners range from 5 to 6 hours; however, there is no empirical evidence for this estimate. Wilson, Karen; Korn, James H. (5 June 2007). "Attention During Lectures: Beyond Ten Minutes". Teaching of Psychology. 34 (2): 85–89.

Practically, no human can really focus for 5 hours straight. People can choose repeatedly to re-focus on the same thing. Cornish, David; Dukette, Dianne (2009). The Essential 20: Twenty Components of an Excellent Health Care Team. Pittsburgh, PA: RoseDog Books. pp. 72–73. ISBN 978-1-4349-9555-1. OCLC 721335045.

Learners in a classroom

Studies demonstrate what educators have known for years.


Even the best learners have a limited attention span, and for the best learning outcomes, we must keep lessons to no more than 5 hours and learn to work with lapses in concentration.


We must develop computer courses that include the following to increase learning concentration.


In hands-on learning, we remember 10% of what we hear, 20% of what we read, and 80% of what we see and do.


Active learning, includes a variety of tasks, exercises, quizzes, activities, and learning methods.


Content that is relevant, helpful, useful, and at the level of skill the learner can relate to.


Diversity in topics and resources can be referred to after the course.


Rests and breaks to refocus learning.


Food & Drink to keep the body and mind sustained.


Engagement, conversation, and discussion about how the information is relevant.


The Goldilocks Rule: Why Keeping Courses Under 5 Hours Enhances Learning Effectiveness

Ever wondered about the sweet spot for course duration? In this blog, we'll explore the Goldilocks rule and why courses that clock in at no more than 5 hours strike the perfect balance for effective learning.


  1. Optimal Attention Span: Research consistently points to an average attention span of around 20-30 minutes. Keeping courses under 5 hours aligns with this natural limit, ensuring that learners remain engaged and attentive throughout the entire duration.

  2. Retention and Focus: Shorter courses enhance information retention. Learners are more likely to retain key concepts when presented in bite-sized chunks. This focused approach minimizes cognitive overload and allows for better absorption of information.

  3. Preventing Burnout: Prolonged learning sessions can lead to burnout. Courses under 5 hours prevent information overload, allowing learners to pace themselves and avoid the mental fatigue that often accompanies extended periods of concentrated study.

  4. Flexibility and Convenience: Shorter courses offer greater flexibility, fitting into busy schedules without overwhelming learners. This convenience encourages participation and completion, as learners can easily find time for shorter, more manageable sessions.

  5. Active Engagement: Shorter courses encourage active engagement. With a limited timeframe, instructors and learners alike are prompted to focus on the most relevant and impactful content, promoting a dynamic and interactive learning experience.

  6. Encouraging Regular Review: Brief courses encourage learners to revisit material regularly. This reinforces learning and aids in long-term retention. Quick, regular reviews are more feasible and sustainable, contributing to a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

When it comes to effective learning, the Goldilocks rule prevails—courses shouldn't be too short or too long, but just right. Keeping courses under 5 hours aligns with natural attention spans, fosters engagement, prevents burnout and encourages regular review. So, whether you're an educator or a learner, consider the magic of brevity for a more impactful and efficient learning journey.


Based on research, Software Solutions standard courses are 8.30 am to 1 pm, 4.5 hours to maximise concentration.

Cathi Barker

Microsoft Master Instructor

Microsoft Innovative Educator

Educator in the private and public sector for nearly 40 years

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