Webinars tend to be dull to look at and tedious to listen to. They largely depend upon the skills of a moderator who hopefully has an engaging voice (qualities that are often lacking). Webinars also tend to be formulaic and predictable and, as my last post observed, they are rather sorry objects to look at. The poor visual quality of webinars goes a long way towards explaining our ensuing attention drift and poor memory recall.
This short visual attention loop is very similar to the movement pattern of a goldfish swimming in a fish tank. The fish swims from one end of the tank to the other, as it reaches the end it bumps into the glass wall of the aquarium, and turns to swim to the opposite end of the tank. It then meets the glass wall at this end of the tank and swims back, and so on, ad infinitum. (Does the fish’s brain contain enough memory to know it has been to the end of the tank and back already?)
In the case of humans staring at a relatively unchanging computer screen, the low demand of the webinar ‘goldfish attention loop’ triggers us into finding something more visually stimulating to look at. Based purely on anecdotal evidence it is well known that people open up their email while ‘attending’ an online meeting or training. Others simply carry on working, making phone calls or chatting to colleagues.
Now, when we look at the 3D environment of a virtual world depicted upon our computer screen our eyes can peer into a synthetic distance. This gives us the illusion of space and by adding the visual representations of familiar objects, we can create an ambiance, or mood, to this virtual meeting space. These extra peripheral visual details plus the use of additional ambient sound effects assist concentration and we end up remembering more as a result!