How long should video lectures be?

Shorter than six minutes, according to the largest ever study of engagement with online videos.

So why is it that tutors continue to produce long  video lectures?

Last week, I had the opportunity to host a webinar with the fantastic Dr. Martin Compton from UCL. Among the many things we discussed was this strange tendency for tutors to believe that ‘their students are different’ because ‘they like long lectures’, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. His recent article for the Association for Learning Technology blog explores this issue in depth,


What’s wrong with long videos?

Long videos are not engaging, according to the research. Of the 6.9 videos analysed in the study, those up to 3 minutes long had the highest amount of engagement. The average engagement time was 6 minutes, and students regularly struggle to make it more than halfway through a 9-minute video.

Given the size of the study, we ignore these findings at our peril. The data indicates it’s largely pointless to spend time creating and editing a hour-long lecture if students aren’t going to watch more than six minutes of it.

But the problem is that many tutors are used to giving 1-hour lectures, and often resist creating shorter videos because they believe it is ‘dumbing down’ the lecture or ‘spoon-feeding’ students. So what can we do?


How to create better teaching videos

This doesn’t mean you can’t create lots of video content. Instead, the important thing is to ‘chunk’ your video content into a series of short episodes of 6 minutes or less. This makes it easier for students to identify and absorb the key points, and more likely they will make it through most of the content. And tutors will want to think that their students are watching most of the content they’re producing.

The study also highlighted several more useful findings:

  • Videos that include a ‘talking head’ of the tutor are more engaging than just providing slides and a voice-over.
    Recommendation: ensure the tutor’s head appears at several moments in the video, or is on-screen throughout.
  • Videos that have a more personal feel can be more engaging than those with high-production values.
    Recommendation: try keeping your videos fairly informal, for example film them in a relaxed setting, consider just using your phone to record.
  • Videos that include ‘continuous movement’ are more engaging than static slides.
    Recommendation: consider typing, drawing or moving between webpages as you speak to create a sense of motion.
  • Short, dedicated videos are more engaging than recording classroom lectures.
    Recommendation: If you do record your lectures, design them with the 6-minute format in mind.
  • Videos in which tutors speak enthusiastically, and relatively quickly, are more engaging.
    Recommendation: Coach tutors on their performance skills to help them deliver their content with enthusiasm.

I would also add a caution to this last point, which is to make sure your videos all include captions. If a tutor does speak relatively quickly, it can be difficult for some students to follow. Adding captions to all videos not only makes them compliant with accessibility legislation, it also ensures that students can see exactly what the tutor is saying.

And it goes without saying that it’s much easier to caption a 6-minute video than a 1-hour lecture.


Trust the research, not your gut

I’m usually a great believer in trusting your gut when it comes to teaching. But video length is clearly an area where we should be guided by the research. It’s largely pointless to continue creating long video recordings when the evidence shows overwhelmingly that students won’t watch them.

Thank you again to Dr. Martin Compton for his insights on this topic – check out his ALT blog post.


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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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