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Instructional Videos Should Be (Really) Short
Student attention starts to wane after about 6 minutes, research suggests, and by 12 minutes it’s a ghost town.
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If you’ve read our feature on the research behind video-based learning, here’s a simple rule of thumb: Keep videos short if you want to keep students watching.
In 2014, researchers analyzed online lectures at MIT, Harvard, and Berkeley—constituting a whopping total of 6.9 million viewing sessions—to determine which factors improve student engagement. With a veritable mountain of evidence behind them, they concluded that the “median [student] engagement time is at most 6 minutes,” and that video length was “by far the most significant indicator of engagement,” easily beating out characteristics like production quality and instructor presence.
For the longest videos—think 30-minute online lectures—students only stuck around for about 20% of the instruction time.
The researchers suggest several tips for optimizing your videos:
• Chunk lessons into smaller parts, using the 6-minute benchmark as a maximum duration.
• Show your face, even if only for a moment. It provides a more “intimate and personal feel,” and helps to break up what can quickly become a monotonous presentation.
• Opt for Khan-style tutorials—a more informal, step-by-step sketch of a problem and possible solutions—over prepared slides.
• Speak normally and with enthusiasm. “There is no need to artificially slow down,” the researchers say. Students may pick up on your energy and pay more attention.
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