When teaching face-to-face, you might break your lectures into weeks because you will only meet with students once or twice a week.  You hope to give them all the information they need during your face-to-face sessions for them to successfully complete work independently between classes.

While a typical face-to-face lecture can span 50-90 minutes, there is evidence to suggest shortening the length for your online students may be a better practice.  Your online students may be in and out of your course many more times than they would be face-to-face and this gives you the opportunity to think about designing your video lectures differently.  Organizing your lectures topically, rather than weekly can be a powerful way to redesign your course.

Students can find what they need, when they need it

Imagine you are taking a course on humor and Week 1 covered the causes of laughter.  Midterms are approaching and you realize you understood the causes exaggeration and anticipation, but can’t remember what protection was about.  If there was one long lecture on the causes of humor, you would have to re-watch or scroll through the whole lecture to find this one piece of information.  But, if your instructor had each of the lectures separated out and named by topic, you could easily review the one topic that was confusing to you.  If you have a limited amount of time to study, you can place your focus on studying the content, rather than finding it.

The practice of topic-based videos also makes finding content later much easier for your learners. Consider how much harder it is to find information when you are looking through titles like “Week 2”.  By Week 9, when students might be reviewing for their final, is it likely they will remember exactly what you covered in Week 2?  However, they could quickly glance at topical titles to jog their memory when deciding what to study.

Speaking from experience, I reviewed videos from a course I had completed to prepare for a job interview.  I remembered that the course had the lectures broken out by topic rather than week, so it was easy to refresh myself on concepts that I was sure would come up with the employer.

Students can digest smaller pieces

Topical lectures, perhaps several short ones per week, are easier to digestible than weekly lectures.  And, shorter lectures are more likely to be viewed by students.

Imagine a course where the topics might be complex, intimidating or unfamiliar.  For me, this could be German.  If I bought a German book today, I know it would sit on my shelf collecting dust.  But, I might use an app like Duolingo to learn a couple of words each day, which feels much more manageable.  Consider that microlearning is advantageous, particularly for adult students that may benefit by breaking their studying into many small, achievable sessions.

It is faster and easier for you to make changes

If you are noticing that students are just “not getting” a certain topic, it is much easier to rerecord a small video on just this one topic than to rerecord a long video on several topics.  This is particularly true if many of the topics covered are being understood – why make more work for yourself?

It is also easier to rearrange videos if they are topical.  If you realize that one topic belongs in Week 2 and not in Week 7, you can simply move that one part without re-thinking the whole week two video.

Topical videos allow you to add value to other course materials

An effective use of short videos can be to add value to the topic through your experience or expertise as the instructor.  You can discuss a case study or scenario that relates to a topic that helps students understand the topic in action.  Rather than a long video that includes both the lecture and the example, break these into two parts.  If you totally reiterate what students are learning in another part of their course, like a reading, they might wonder why they are doing both activities.  But, your examples add a layer of meaning and depth to the other course materials.

People can find almost any information on the internet.  Part of their motivation to take courses is to gain access to your knowledge as an expert in the field.  Short videos that talk about real-life situations adds both instructor presence and meaning for students.

Short videos load more quickly

No one wants technology to be a barrier for students.  Short videos load more quickly, which can be important to students that don’t have consistent access to high-speed internet.  You don’t want the student to get frustrated and give up simply because a video is too long, when it can easily be divided into pieces.

Challenge yourself to be focused

By committing to create shorter content, you challenge yourself to be focused and refined in what you share.  By setting a goal, like recording videos under 7 minutes per topic, the quality of the content must be top notch.  This encourages you to review your content to cut out what is redundant, unclear, or off-topic, which can be very satisfying.  And, if you model being on point, precise, and specific – your students will have a clear expectation on the quality of work they are expected to create as well.


Like some inspiration to get started?  Thanks Joanna Abbott for this example that comes in at 4 minutes and 41 seconds: ALS 114 decision making matrix

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