How Long Should I Make My Online Video Lessons?

If you’re a true expert on a particular subject, it’s likely that you could discuss it all day. 

For me, this might include, say, bicycle racing. I spent several years participating in this sport with a team based in Colorado. If I spent two hours with you I could likely bore you to tears discussing the efficiency of your pedal stroke, training techniques, how crosswinds affect a group of riders, nutrition, team tactics, and on and on and on…

All of this sounds pretty exciting, right? 🙂

 When we create videos for online courses, there’s a natural tendency to “brain dump”. However, the  students who enroll for our online video courses need to be able to slowly intake information in order to retain that information.

If you’ve ever enrolled in a three hour Tuesday and Thursday college course you’ll understand what I’m talking about. At some point, we all have a limit to what we can digest when it comes to topics we’re trying to discover.

And with online learning, it’s even more difficult to keep students focused. With YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and so many other possible distractions, you need your students to be able to view content that they can “bookmark” in their mind before you lose their attention.

If your students are able to spend a smaller amount of time learning specific concepts, they’ll be able to retain that information quicker and if they decide to move on to something else while they’re at their laptop and on the internet, they’ll at least have picked up at least one specific concept that you’ve taught them.

We’ve discussed this on the blog in prior posts, but an online course is like a bridge. To get across it, you need to take one step at a time. Think of what you want your students to be able to accomplish first. After all, you’ve achieved mastery in the subject, so think about how you arrived at that point.

After that, you then need to determine the specific topics which need to be mastered to get to that point. And the smaller you can keep those steps, the better.

So What Is the Ideal Video Length?

There’s a reason that TED talk speakers are limited to 18 minutes…we humans and our minds tend to be distracted and zone out after a certain amount of time.

Now, having created online video courses myself, I’m well aware that some topics or skills simply can’t be taught effectively in a short amount of time. I was once guilty of producing a tutorial video which was around 40 minutes in length.


However, some research has been done which indicates that around six minutes is the optimal time for effective learning retention from students watching video.

Again, there are some discussions which cannot be conducted in this amount of time. Some topics are just too complex for this “optimal time”.

But think about how you use YouTube or other video hosting providers. Do you tend to stay engaged within a 30-minute video? 

Probably not.

The bottom line is to try to create video lessons for your students which:

  • Allow them to easily bookmark their progress
  • Work on as many lessons as they have time for at that moment
  • And, finally, don’t overwhelm them (or create information overload) so that they can better retain the learning they’ve done
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Nate Johnson is one of the co-founders of CourseCast, and is one of the creators of the first and most widely-implemented learning management system for WordPress, WP Courseware. Since 2012, he has helped thousands of entrepreneurs, corporate training departments, and higher education institutions develop and deploy online training courses from their WordPress websites.

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