Make your video as long, or short, as it should be

You already know that people lose attention, just after few minutes. You know it because you have experienced it ourselves. But now there is Big Data on this fact and that easily mess things up for us. We have to understand what all this actually means. It is about how long your video should be.

Today, when actors all over the globe have started to produce E-learning in massive scale, and huge amounts of videos are therefore also produced, all of this knowledge, that we actually already had long before things became digital, seem to be re-invented – as if we did not already knew that people’s attention do matter.

For instance, it has rather recently become known that a video-clip in an E-learning module should not be longer than, let’s say 7-15 minutes (like a TED-clip). If longer: you are told that the audience fall asleep and leave (unless it is a really great documentary of course, like the ones made by BBC). By tracking all these Massive Open Online Courses, MOOCs, this is a conclusion that seems to be drawn, purely based on statistical observations. In other words: huge amounts of people that is using the videos that are embedded within a MOOC seem to stop watching them after something like 7 minutes at this moment (so, this statistical observation is some sense correct).

But hey, how come then that some people, a lot of us actually, seem to be able to watch a really long movie without dropping out, like one that is several hours long? How come, that some people even tend to watch episode after episode after episode of a TV-series (like for instance House of Cards) without dropping out?

It is because some movies are great!

The reason why a lot of people seem to lose attention after watching a video-clip they find in a MOOC is not because of its length. Most likely it is instead because it is not “good enough” to capture longer attention than, roughly speaking, 7 minutes in average – when analyzing all the ones existing at this moment.

So, a bad video, should never be made – and will never make it, even if it just was 55 seconds short. And it does not become better, even if you just shorten a bad video. At the same time a good movie, can actually be just as long as it has to be, if it is good.

It is not about length.

Having the idea of length of a video being related to its quality would be like claming that “good books are measured by the color of the cover”.

But then, yes, it is correct that at this moment a kind of standard for how a long video on a Mooc should be, or actually is, just like we ones created a kind of de facto standard on how long pop-songs are, around 3 minutes. Just don’t forget: there are great pop-songs that are longer, or shorter, than 3 minutes – and there are bad songs that are 3 minutes long, eventhough they are 3 minutes long.

(There is actually a technical and historical reason why pop-songs in average have certain length. Or actually had – today we use streaming and that has changed this issue. It come down to how much data we, at that time, were able to pack, from a technical point of view, on a vinyl record. It also related to the technical differences of speed, 33 rpm vs 45 rpm could pack different amounts of data).

The point is: If you want to make a video to be used for education, focus on making it good, not on how long it should be.

In other words: There is no casual connection between the length of a video and its percieved quality. There is only a correlation between two different statistical facts here: length, and when people drop out. This mistake is commonly made by people that might be great in math, but not that great in understanding what the reality behind a certain number actually tell about reality.

By the way: this also only emphasize the need for knowing reality, if you want to use Analytics or some other kind of “digital tracking tool” in order to find out how to do good e-learning. Numbers are just numbers and do not included conclusions by itself. Conclusions here must be drawn by someone that knows what education is about.

I´m definitely not against numbers, and tracking, in the field of e-learning. They can really be useful, and they will be used in the field of education far more in the future than so far. We can definitely have use for them in order to develop great e-learning. But we have to use the numbers in the right kind of way.

So, make instead your video just as long (or short) as you like, or as long (or as short) as it needs to me (some things might just need a certain amount of time in order to be explained in a good way). But it better be a good one, no matter the length of it. Quality is not measured in time – it is measured by other kind of “termostats”. In other words: It is not the length of the video that is the trick.

Having that said: don´t let length, as such, stand in your way for making a great video. And do not numbers, nearly by itself, tell you how great e-learning should look.

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