Recorded lectures: Does size matter?

This week, I’m helping to facilitate a professional development workshop to train faculty to teach online.  This workshop is offered twice a year and the participants always have a lot questions about the best ways to teach online.  This group is particularly inquisitive and really interested in what research says about online learning.  Yesterday, we were introducing different tools for creating record lectures for use in online classes when one of the participants asked, “How long should a recorded lecture be?”  Since a face-to-face classes are usually scheduled to last an hour (or longer), the faculty member wondered, shouldn’t online lectures be a comparable length?

The simple answer is “No.” If the goal is for students to watch the entire video, instructors need to be strategic with how they create videos. Wistia, a streaming service for business videos, examined data from millions of views of their online lessons.  Across the videos they analyzed, the researchers found that as the size increased, the percentage of viewers who watched the entire video decreased.  Looking at the graph below, when a video was less than two minutes long, viewers on average only watched about 65% of it.  If a video was 60 minutes long (or more), viewers watched less than 30% of the video.

Looking at the next graph, however, viewer drop off becomes a little clearer.  For videos longer than 10 minutes long, most viewers had stopped watching by the halfway mark.
So, what does that mean for online teachers who want to offer recorded lessons for their students?  One, try to keep it short.  How short?  Looking at the data, videos under five minutes long seem to be the best length to keep most viewers engaged through the end.
Some readers may be wondering how they’re going to be able to distill their hour-long lecture down to five minutes.  That the second main takeaway from the Wikia data.  In their research, all of the videos were passively viewed.  The videos offered no engagement opportunities and didn’t offer any interaction.  If you want to keep students engaged for longer periods of time, build in some interaction.  One suggestion is to use a site like EdPuzzle to embed assessment questions and targeted instructor feedback through the video.  By adding these engagement points, student drop off can be diminished.
Another suggestion is to break up longer lectures into smaller sections.  Have a 60-minute lesson that you’ve recorded?  Try offering it in smaller, more digestible chunks. This suggestion ties back to Meyer’s Multimedia Principle of segmenting that I’ve talked about previously on this blog.
Another possibility is to offer descriptive tags to enable to students to jump to sections where they may be struggling.  Take research reported in the British Journal of Educational Technology (BJET).  In a study conducted with 1200 students in Netherlands, recorded lectures (45 – 60 minutes in length) were placed online for students to review prior to exams. Some of the videos were tagged so students could jump to specific sections of the lesson based on their interest.  Other videos were not tagged, requiring students to fast forward or try to watch the lesson in its entirety. Ultimately, more students chose to watch the videos with tags over the ones without tags.  The downside is that students using the tagged videos didn’t watch as much of the video as the students who watched the videos without tags.  The upside? Students who watched the videos with the tags performed better on classroom assessments than the students who didn’t. The big takeaway is that metacognitive links that allow students to select the sections of videos they need to watch may improve their overall engagement and motivate them to learn.
The BJET study didn’t include the specific technology that allowed the researchers to mark specific portions of the video with descriptive tags.  I did a little searching online and found a site called YouTubeTime that allows users to link to specific start times in a YouTube video.  Pretty slick and easy way to offer students the ability to navigate longer recorded lessons.
Gorissen, P., van Bruggen, J., & Jochems, W. (2013). Does tagging improve the navigation of online recorded lectures by students? British Journal of Educational Technology, 46(1), 45–57.

One thought on “Recorded lectures: Does size matter?

  1. Pingback: Best of 2016 – Part 1 | The 8 Blog

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