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A common question asked by new course creators is ‘how long should my online course be’?

The quick answer to this is that the value of a course is less about the duration of it, but rather in whether or not it delivers the learning outcomes that it promised in the sales copy.

However long it takes to provide the promised outcomes, is how long your course should be – provided that the delivery was as ‘to the point’ as possible.

So although the length of an online course is entirely up the creator and it’s market, the length of the videos within the course however are to be carefully considered.

Video Length in Online Courses Matters

How long should your online course videos be?

Here are 3 simple tips for getting the perfect online course video duration.

Us human beings have incredibly short attention spans, and it’s getting shorter and shorter as we continue to be bombarded with information and distractions.

Successful online instructors get to the top, because their students enjoy their courses, watch all of the videos and complete the course.

If your online course videos are longer than they need to be, or do not meet the points below, your students are less likely to enjoy and complete your course.

The fact is, that there is no ‘set’ duration that is good or bad, right or wrong; nor does the perfect ‘duration’ just come down to the actual number of minutes your video is.

Here are three simple tips to get the perfect online course video duration to maximize your student engagement and completion:

1. Keep to one key point per video

As online instructors we can often be tempted to over-deliver and over-explain (it’s that over-giving nature of an educator at work!).

This means that sometimes we address multiple points, concepts or principles in one video, and ideally we want to be avoiding this as far as possible.

To get the most out of your course videos, cut them down so that you only have ONE, singular point being made in each video.

Why you should make shorter online course videos

Shorter really is sweeter.  There are a number of reasons for making your online course videos shorter, and some I discuss in this article too.

Here are the top reasons why:

Attention spans are short

Online learner’s attention and concentration spans are often fairly short.  If you are presenting multiple concepts in one video it is likely to take longer, and you could lose your students simply because they get bored or distracted.

Cognitive information processing

Our brains can only process so much information in one go.  By providing less information per video, you help your learners remember more.

Stop-Start Learning Bites

Online learners are more likely to come ‘in and out’ of your online course, rather than watch the whole thing in one sitting.  By making your videos ‘one tip per video’ you are making it easy for them to learn flexibly and in short learning bites.

Illustrate the true value of your course

By having one key point per video, you actually end up producing more videos.  This shows the true value of your course to your potential learners when they read through your course outline.

Effective online course marketing

When you have one point per video you can better use them for targeted marketing (read more on this here).  I suggest to online course creators that as part of their bigger online course marketing strategy, that they put around 10-30% of their online course videos out into the public field for promotional purposes – such as YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn.  Pick the videos that answer the most commonly asked questions in your niche, then title them with the ‘question’ being asked.  This will make your videos come up in search results and attract your perfect online course customer – just make sure each video has a very clear link to your online course!

Pick n’ Mix tailored future content

Another reason why keeping one tip per video, is because you can later than ‘pick and mix’ from your video library to create specifically tailored mini courses for sub-sections of your niche audience.

2. Make sure every video answers a question

People want information, they want practical tips, they want to know ‘HOW’ to do something, or exactly what steps they should take to get a specific result.

If your videos waffle on with content that does not answer their burning questions or tell them HOW to do something, they will very quickly turn off and will be unlikely to return.

By focusing your attention on turning every video (as far as possible) into a ‘How To’, you can make your online course even more actionable and valuable to your learners.

  • By turning your video lecture into the answer to a question you do a couple of things:
  • Enables your learners to see the immediate reason and value in watching each video
  • Just by looking at your course curriculum your prospective students will see that it answers all ofthier burning questions and be more inspired to enroll.

Answer the question as concisely as you can and cut out all unnecessary content.  If it doesn’t answer a question, ask yourself if you really need it in your course.

Don’t forget that you can create an ‘extra resources’ section in your online courses for content that you’d like to include in your course, but that isn’t absolutely necessary in the main curriculum.

What is ‘unnecessary’ video content?

Although the following components can add significant value to your course when used in the right places, unless they directly make a point, answer a question or reinforce an example, keep these to a minimum in your course videos:

  • Talking about yourself for too long (unless your story makes a point, or it’s your ‘About the Trainer’ video)
  • When you are preparing your video, ask yourself if every word directly contributes to answering the primary question that video addresses. If it doesn’t, cut it out.
  • If what you have cut out is valuable, then make that another video lecture.

3. Try to answer the question in 2-9 minutes.

I said earlier that there is no ‘right or wrong’ when it comes to video length – as if it takes 30 minutes to appropriately answer a question and it’s delivered in the right way, then so be it.

However, statistics show that the average viewing time of online videos is between 2-9 minutes – and that number is getting lower all of the time!

Therefore, if you want your students to get the most out of your videos, try your best to break your content down into videos within the 1-9 min time frame.

It absolutely does NOT mean that videos longer than this are ‘bad’.  Not at all.  It just means that your students might not get all the way to the end of them if they are longer and could therefore miss critical content that you share.  If your students watch your entire video, they get 100% of the value from it – so your goal is to ultimately cut the waffle, get straight to the gold that they came for and as such keep it ‘shorter and sweeter’.

Not only does having shorter videos make your course more digestible, a course simply looks more valuable when it contains 6 x 5 minute videos, rather than 1 x 30 minute video – even though it’s exactly the same length.  It’s all in the psychology of presentation.

Ask yourself this:

As you are preparing your video, ask yourself:

Can I answer this question in a more concise manner?

People hate fluff and despise their time being wasted; so if you can answer a question in 2 minutes, for the love of your students sanity, please don’t answer it in 3 or more minutes!

I have struggled with this in the past, as sometimes I have a tendency to get too technical and advanced with the way I explain things – not to mention getting too carried away with passion and over-explaining!  But it all comes with practice and discipline.

Apply the ‘Man at the Bar’ Test

Here is a simple tip for making sure your explanations are as simple and straightforward as they can be:

I call it ‘The Man in a Bar’ test.

Simply imagine that you are sat at a bar, sipping a nice cold beverage of choice, when the man sat next to you (who knows NOTHING about your industry, and has had a couple of ‘fizzy ones’) asks you the question you are trying to answer in your course video.

How would you explain it to him so that he understands, BEFORE he takes his next sip of beer?
I find that the ‘man in a bar’ test significantly simplifies my explanation, makes it much more accessible and shortens it to it’s most efficient version.

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