If you are like me, you’ve watched some TV shows for hours and hours, usually late into the night, at least once. A lot of us binge-watch quite often. We all have different tastes when it comes to entertainment, but luckily there’s enough content – and streaming platforms – available to tickle everyone’s fancy.
However, just because this pastime is so popular, it doesn’t mean that when it comes to corporate e-learning, people will watch lengthy videos with the same dedication. It’s not a comment on the instructional designer’s skills; educational videos are just very different from popular entertainment and need to be treated as such.
The power of video
From my instructional design experience, I know that relevant and engaging videos are great because they have a major impact. Whenever we had something to show in training, a video would always be well-received. The participants’ feedback often mentioned it as the highlight.
We would often use videos of SMEs who were talking about relevant issues, giving advice, or sharing their journey. Some of these videos were truly inspirational. They were also usually short, and we also discussed them afterward.
The thing about video is that we’re so used to it that relevant facts can easily slip our memory – and that’s the kryptonite of learning. Since it’s trickier to organize a live discussion in e-learning scenarios, some things have to be done about the debriefing part.
The ideal video length
TED talks have officially established the ideal length of a mini-conference to sixteen minutes. I have watched so many of them online that my brain is almost programmed to shut off after that approximate time.
For e-learning videos, it’s safer to see what the research has to say. This study looked at 564,710 videos and more than 1.3 billion plays, so its findings should be quite pertinent. The number one conclusion was that videos of up to two minutes long are the best for engagement. So, if you have a powerful message, try to can communicate in under two minutes.
However, two minutes won’t be enough for when you need to include more information and directions. In that case, you should go with the second-best option, which is 11 to 12 minutes. Any longer that, and the learners’ attention dwindles significantly.
What to do about long video material?
There are several options if you have already created the video content. You can use editing tools and cut it into smaller chunks. Since video is passive and engagement comes from being involved in the learning process, it’s best to alternate the video bits with quizzes, simulations, small tasks, or any form of interactive or participative activity.
If you can’t do that for some reason, you can always post it as extra material that learners access at their own convenience if they feel they need more information on the subject they’re learning or are simply curious about it.
Inserting it as it is will most probably result in bored learners who either skip the whole thing or engage in some other activity during that time. Forty minutes, for example, is perfect for watching an episode of their favorite show on a tablet while the SME vexes more or less poetically on the laptop screen.
Should you make twelve-minute courses?
No. That’s a bit short to be called a course. However, since micro learning is widely preferred and learners can access the modules when they want to, you can create 25-30 minute-long videos. The key is to make sure they’re engaging, and chunk the information in a way that allows users to hit pause and watch later without stopping in the middle of an important topic.
The other useful tip is to add some degree of interactivity if you have the technology to do so. Having the learner answer questions or choose the “chapter“ they would like to see next are easy devices to keep them engaged in the experience. Ultimately, it’s also a matter of knowing the audience, so do a little research on that before deciding the best route.
Video content is very hot these days. However, shorter ones seem to be a lot more successful. Instructional designers can’t ignore this reality when they are looking to tap into the full benefits of video content.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.