Are Students’ Attention Spans Shrinking?

By: Bruce Moyer

In the work leading up to our 2017 State of the Real Estate Education Industry report, we conducted two unique phases of research. In the first phase, we conducted in-depth interviews with contacts at 11 real estate schools throughout the country. We used their input to design a quantitative online questionnaire, which was sent to 2,611 real estate education industry contacts. 318 of those contacts responded to our survey.  That’s an 8.2% response return rate to the survey.

In the first phase of research, when asking real estate educators about the biggest challenges they are facing today, we noticed several themes emerging. One of those was the idea that educators felt student attention spans were shrinking in our technology-driven age. When we conducted the second phase of our research, we offered up a selection of challenges identified in the first phase of interviews. We asked survey respondents to indicate if each listed challenge was (1) Not at all challenging, (2) Somewhat challenging, or (3) Very challenging. One of those challenges listed was:

Shrinking student attention spans/appetites for detailed reading assignments.

Of our 318 survey respondents, 31% report this being “very challenging,” and an additional 56% classify it as “somewhat challenging.” Only 13% of respondents say this is not a challenge at all.  

Today’s Student vs. Yesterday’s Student

It is certainly clear that today’s real estate student is not identical to the students we have served in the past. For one thing, the average age of the students in most prelicensing classrooms is skewing younger than ever before. These students have been raised and taught in a world that’s quite different from the one most real estate instructors, and students just 10 years ago, were raised and taught in. Secondly, we are all more susceptible to distraction than ever before. We all have the world’s wealth of information and communication available 24-7 on handheld devices…never more than a pocket reach away.

Still, to say that students’ attention spans are shrinking suggests a decline in cognitive skillsets. While real estate education-specific research is not readily plentiful, there is a wealth of educational journals featuring an unending collection of ongoing research that explores all aspects of education, as well as student behaviors, performance, and ability. Yet, we don’t see any research pointing to a declining cognitive ability in students. Similarly, we don’t see evidence of cognitive decline from any other licensing occupations.

Are We Teaching the Way Today’s Students Are Learning?

One possible alternative to consider is that the students we are teaching today have not grown up learning the same way former students have. For centuries upon centuries, there have been two primary ways to learn: books and lecture. It was once (not that long ago) common for every home to have a library of encyclopedias in the basement, with their value declining every year as the world moved on from its historical snapshot in time. The person whose past experience and knowledge was given value in the classroom was the instructor. The students’ role was to simply be a sponge, soaking up the wisdom being imparted to them.

While that’s the way it was done for far longer than any of us have been around, it is no longer as effective as it once was (or was perceived to be). As technology and what we know about how people learn has evolved, the most effective means for educating have evolved as well. We now know that students learn better when they are actively engaged in their own learning. When they are challenged to seek answers via the plethora of resources available today, they are more likely to absorb the lesson than when they are fed it via a book or by didactic lectures. We also know that, especially in real estate classrooms, our student base comes from all walks of life with varying levels of past experiences. Their experiences can be incredibly valuable. Getting students engaged in their own (and their classmates’) education opens up a world of opportunity for reaching today’s real estate student.  

Student success is ultimately our goal as both school administrators and instructors. While the characteristics of today’s students and the way they learn may be affecting their success in the real estate classroom, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their ability to absorb and retain information, nor their ability to comprehend reading assignments, is declining. By evaluating our classroom management skills, practicing active learning techniques, and developing practices that engage learners in their own education, we can better position ourselves to be on the forefront of driving greater student success in tomorrow’s real estate classroom.

About Bruce Moyer

Bruce Moyer is a NC instructor for prelicensing, postlicensing, and continuing education courses with Superior School of Real Estate. He is the former Director of Education and Licensing with the North Carolina Real Estate Commission and is currently volunteering with the national Real Estate Educators Association (REEA). He is a regular contributing author and teaches the weekly Interactive Study Group for Dearborn.

Free Download: 2018-2019 State of the Real Estate Education Industry Report

We talked to over 300 real estate educators across the country to learn more about what and how you are teaching, where you see the industry going, how you’re spending your marketing budget, and what challenges you’re facing. We compiled the results in this free report.

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