Keep Lecture Videos Short

Did you know research studies recommend breaking down video lectures into shorter segments to support student learning? This strategy can help students better organize information and identify connections between concepts.
by LSA Learning & Teaching Technology Consultants

In recent years, a lot of uncertainty has surrounded online instructional videos in flipped and blended courses. How are they best presented? For instructors looking to enter that space, it may be tempting to record a lecture similar to how a student would experience it in a classroom - over forty minutes long, prebuilt slides, set in a lecture hall. However, student learning experience in a lecture hall, a dedicated instructional space with lots of peers all focused on the same thing, does not translate well to an instructional video. Length, location, and content delivery methods play significant roles in how engaged a student is with an online video.

Researchers have collected a great deal of student viewing data from online instructional video sources such as EdX. This data has enabled analysis of how long students stay engaged in video content, how often they rewatch content, how often they pause the video, and how the location and format of the video affect student engagement and outcomes. One such study, conducted at MIT with the help of EdX, analyzed almost seven million watching sessions across the EdX platform. By defining student engagement as how long a student watched a video for, they found that the optimal length of a video to maintain student engagement was six minutes. After that, student engagement dropped significantly, with a forty percent drop by twelve minutes and up to an eighty percent drop after that. Another finding was that videos that were shot in an office or studio setting with the instructor on screen were more engaging than ones filmed in a lecture hall. Additionally, students who watched a video with an instructor talking close up to the camera as opposed to at a distance in a lecture hall setting were more likely to attempt sample problems (46% vs 33%). Further still, they discovered that videos that involve tablet-based drawing or other live creation of screen content, rather than pre-built slides, bolstered engagement.  View the Results of the Study.  

In another study conducted at the University of Wisconsin, published in the journal Online Classroom, they found that more than three-quarters of students agreed or strongly agreed that the optimal length for a lecture was 15 minutes or less. Also of note in this study, four out of five students found the use of captions to be helpful in note-taking and understanding, even though none of the students surveyed were self-identified as deaf or hard of hearing.

This data challenges the method many instructors are comfortable with - teaching fifty to eighty minute long lectures with pre-made slides. However, it is important to remember that online video is a very different medium from in-person lectures. Students are likely to engage with these videos at their own pace in settings full of distractions. In order to compete for the students’ attention, instructional videos should be dynamic, brief, and straightforward. To make best use of this medium, content should be streamlined or compartmentalized to fit smaller chunks. Combined with small assignments to address the content of each chunk, this method of breaking up larger lectures into smaller videos can increase student engagement both with the content of the video and with the assessment or practice pieces associated with them. It can help students make connections between concepts and better organize information.  

A paper published by the IDEA Center gives some helpful tips to avoid common pitfalls, such as poor lighting, audio distractions, and complex visual patterns in the background of videos. They suggest that if the videos are self-produced, instructors try creating a test video to have a colleague or instructional consultant review.

LSA Technology Services provides a wide spectrum of services to aid instructors looking to create video content for their classes. Our two loan centers in Mason Hall and the Modern Languages Building (MLB) have equipment for and expertise in video production. Our Learning & Teaching Technology Consultants can aid in the planning, design, and implementation of video content in Canvas. Our Advanced Videocasting Studio can be used to create high-quality video lectures as discussed in the MIT study.  Additionally, our Instructional Video Production team can assist with the production of videos for courses, whether it is self-produced using screencasting software or through our full production service. Call us at 5-0100 or email a consultant at for more information


Inman, J., & Myers, S. (2018). Now Streaming: Strategies That Improve Video Lectures. IDEA Paper# 68. IDEA Center, Inc.

Berg, R., Brand, A., Grant, J., Kirk, J., & Zimmerman, T. (2014). Leveraging recorded mini-lectures to increase student learning. Online Classroom, 14(2), 5-8. 

Guo, P. J., Kim, J., & Rubin, R. (2014). How video production affects student engagement. Proceedings of the First ACM Conference on Learning @ Scale Conference - L@S 14 


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