Arguments for a particular length of instructional videos miss the mark: engaging video can be any length, from less than a minute to more than an hour.
If you listen to the commonly accepted wisdom, every instructional video would be a TED Talk: polished production values and a strict 10-15-minute time limit.
In a previous post, I argued that common wisdom is wrong about video “quality”: you don’t need to be a YouTube star to create great educational videos.
I would argue that common wisdom around video length is also wrong. You may have heard that instructional videos should be in a sweet spot of not too short and not too long, often 10-15 minutes long. This view is reminiscent of TED’s 18-minute rule, the length described by TED head Chris Anderson as “long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention.”
No matter the specific times suggested, they almost always fall between 5 and 20 minutes. While those times are fine, there is nothing magical about them. In fact, you’ve probably watched and learned from videos that are 30 seconds long and videos that are an hour long.
Why There Is No Perfect Length for Instructional Videos
Much of the advice for shorter videos comes from research in contexts other than a traditional 15-week course in higher ed. For example, one commonly cited finding, which suggests students drop off after 6 minutes, comes from a study of 6.9 million video views in a MOOC.
You should also be wary of advice that derives from student preferences (not actual habits) or from habits that aren’t germane to the classroom (e.g., YouTube or social media video watching habits).
The key reason there is no perfect length for instructional videos is that, just like with video “quality,” length isn’t the most important factor. Length very well may affect how many students engage with different parts of the video, but it isn’t directly connected with learning.
Every instructional video has a purpose – a reason you want students to engage with the video. This purpose should drive the video’s length. For example, if your purpose is to illustrate a concept you’ve had students read about with an example or model, the 3-5 minute range may be best. On other hand, if you need to dive deep into the historical context for a topic, you may be looking at 20-40 minutes.
In addition to purpose, what you say and how you say it is far more critical than length. As Neil A. Bradbury says in a review of studies on instructional videos:
“The most consistent finding […] is that the greatest variability in student attention arises from differences between teachers and not from the teaching format itself. Certainly, even the most interesting material can be presented in a dull and dry fashion, and it is the job of the instructor to enhance their teaching skills to provide not only rich content but also a satisfying lecture experience for the students.”
In the post about video quality, I cited three reasons to create your own videos, and they still hold true here:
- Videos help my students connect with me as a teacher and a human being
- Videos are more engaging than text or other media
- Videos help my students learn more efficiently or more effectively
Try to keep your focus on these items, not on a specific video length.
Exploring the Margins: 1-Minute Videos
To illustrate this point, I’d like to explore one extreme of the length spectrum: super-short videos. Often referred to as video microlectures, I prefer the term microengagements. If we try to make the format of a lecture fit into a 60-second video, we’re likely destined to fail. However, videos of a minute or less can be a very effective way to engage students in a concept.
Here are a few possibilities for 1-minute videos:
- Interventions for solving a common problem on an assignment
- Conversation sparker for the day
- Super quick demo of a concept
Let’s consider some examples, organized by the level of Bloom’s taxonomy each is aligned with.
- Remember – Reminder of an important definition or bring something important to top of mind for students.
- Understand – Clarify a tricky point where students often get stuck or provide an enlightening metaphor for a difficult concept.
- Apply – An example of one way you could apply the content you’re discussing.
- Analyze – Connect two ideas together for students.
- Evaluate – Quick critique of an example artifact.
- Create – Walk through how to solve a common problem in the creation process.
My point is not that 1-minute videos are the way to go. Rather, I want to encourage you to think of video length as not particularly relevant to pedagogical considerations around video. Instructional videos have value at any length – I encourage you to explore all lengths of videos and see what you can do for your students.
What length of instructional videos do you use in your courses? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Armstrong, Patricia. “Bloom’s Taxonomy.” Vanderbilt University, 2010. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/.
Bradbury, Neil A. “Attention span during lectures: 8 seconds, 10 minutes, or more?” Advances in Physiological Education 40, no. 4 (December 2016): 509-513. https://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00109.2016.
Gallo, Carmine. “The Science Behind TED’s 18-Minute Rule.” LinkedIn, March 13, 2014. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140313205730-5711504-the-science-behind-ted-s-18-minute-rule.
Guo, Philip J., Juho Kim, and Rob Rubin. “How Video Production Affects Student Engagement: An Empirical Study of MOOC Videos.” L@S ’14: Proceedings of the first ACM conference on Learning @ scale conference (March 2014): 41-50. https://doi.org/10.1145/2556325.2566239.
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