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What's the Optimum Length for an Instructional Video? And Why is it Important?

Feb 23, 2021 8:24:16 AM

When choosing a video to include in your course, there are several factors you’ll want to take into consideration.

Of course, quality is critical. You’ll want the video you have chosen to raise the overall appeal and effectiveness of your course and, for that, you’ll need high-quality content from the likes of Boclips content partners including TED, Crash Course, SciShow, Wonderscape Education, and PBS.

You’ll also want to ensure the video is relevant and that it effectively supports the specific learning objectives you have in mind. 

But beyond that, one thing course developers sometimes miss in their hurry to provide value is that less is usually more when it comes to video.

Quality Over Quantity

When creating courses, instructional designers aim to educate students, to solve a specific problem that they’ve been seeking a solution to.  Sometimes in a hurry to provide value to students, this objective can be lost. Too often, course developers confuse cramming in more content with delivering more value. The two are not the same thing. 

Instructional designers need to continually refer back to learning objectives and consider how best to meet these in the course. Alongside that, it’s important to take students’ attention span into consideration.

How Long Is Too Long?

Shorter videos tend to be more engaging. Many of us are time-poor with numerous competing demands on our attention. Learners want to get to the meat of a lesson as quickly as possible, and lean, well-edited videos allow them to do this best.

Intuitively, many of us probably already know this, but the research also backs it up. A large-scale study based on 6.9 million video-watching sessions found that student engagement with MOOC videos had a median engagement time of, at most, 6 minutes, regardless of overall video length. The study also found that the shortest videos of 0 to 3 minutes had the highest student engagement levels.

In general, for course developers to maximize the effectiveness of their video content, they should aim to keep their videos at or below six minutes. Boclips understands this and 95% of their videos are at or under this magical 6-minute mark.

Students studying with video resources

So, Just Why Is Shorter Better? 

Of course, the obvious answer is that our ever-decreasing attention spans are not robust enough to endure anything longer than 360 seconds. However, there is, not surprisingly, a little more to it than that. Shorter videos offer a range of benefits. Let’s take a look at some of these.

1- Serves Up Bite-Sized Learning

The flexibility that asynchronous learning offers can be a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, students can undertake their learning at their own pace. On the other, this can lead to sporadic learning sessions that negatively impact retention as the learning flow is broken.

Videos of shorter duration help avoid this by organizing learning material into bitesize chunks that learners can easily digest in a single sitting. This increases the student’s overall control over their learning. The research also shows that shorter videos increase the median viewing time in a single sitting. As the old saying has it, “There’s only one way to eat an elephant; one bite at a time.”

2- Increases Engagement with Post-Video Assessments

Not only does compact video length increase student engagement with the video itself, but students are also significantly more likely to complete any post-video assessment activities when the video is brief.

This helps maintain student engagement with the course content and provides both the student and course moderator with feedback on the student’s progress throughout the course.

3- Makes the Most of the Learning Time Available

The short length of video lessons and materials can often stand in stark contrast to the traditional hour-long lecture format of old-school learning.So, instructional designers sometimes have difficulties convincing an educator of the benefits of breaking learning up into smaller chunks. 

In the context of synchronous learning, it makes sense that you cram as much as possible into each learning session. Halls must be booked, students and instructors have to travel to and from the venue, and resources need to be organized and distributed ahead of time. There’s a huge investment of time and energy to overcome these and other logistical problems just to get a class going in the first place. It makes sense then, to have longer sessions to make the most of that investment.

Some educators get trapped in that mindset. Asynchronous learning requires no such investment on the part of the student or instructor. The single determinant of session duration can be boiled down to efficacy and, in the case of videos, that usually means shorter is better.

4- Increases Perceived Course Value

There’s no doubt about it; using video content in a course increases its perceived value by the student. Text alone just doesn’t have the currency it once did. With the Internet chock-a-block with free blog articles, research papers, and PDFs, all available at the click of a mouse, there’s a growing sense of entitlement on the part of learners when it comes to accessing text-based resources. 

Instructional designer searching for educational videos

Video however, still has cachet. Especially high-quality proprietary video such as those curated by Boclips. And while the inclusion of video itself can increase the perceived value of a course, short videos in particular add more bang-for-your-buck. There’s just something that feels more valuable about a course that boasts 9 x 5 minute videos than one that contains a single 45-minute video, despite a quick bit of finger-counting revealing them to contain the same duration of video.

So, Does One Size Fit All?

While the research clearly shows that short videos provide more benefit for learners and instructional designers alike, there are times when selecting a video longer than six minutes may be warranted.

According to research undertaken by VA Boston Healthcare System and Harvard University, a person’s ability to sustain their attention tends to increase with age, up to its peak at around 43-years old. However, regardless of the potential of an individual or group to sustain their attention, as instructional designers we aren’t in the business of testing people’s mental endurance. The needs of our audience and their learning objectives should be our main considerations when choosing video. And for most of us, most of the time, that means shorter is better!

The good news is that the Boclips library is full of short-form, educational videos from some of the world’s best providers. All videos are rights-cleared for educational purposes so you don’t need to worry about copyright headaches. Plus, our download, LTI, and API delivery options allow you to integrate engaging learning materials in a way that suits you and your customers. Get in touch with us to find out more. 

Boclips

Written by Boclips

Boclips is on a mission to make learning more captivating with video with an easier, safer way to access videos from the world’s leading video producers.