Blog Find your e-learning’s ideal length in 5 steps

Find your e-learning’s ideal length in 5 steps

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What the ideal length of an e-learning or online training? That’s a difficult question, especially now that there are so many different types of online learning. Explainer animations, text-based interactive courses, multimedia trainings that mix questions with videos and animations, gamifications. 

For example, 10 years ago the ideal length of an “online explanation” on a website was 3 minutes. As more video platforms (and videos) were introduced, the optimal length became 2 minutes. A few years ago we reached the bottom: 1,5 minutes is supposedly the maximum attention span for a clear and concise animation – some providers have even named themselves after this length. However, when you’re using explanations or videos in social media, the ideal length depends on the platform. Youtube is ideal for long content (videos of 10 minutes more or longer), but on Facebook or Instagram, which bombards you with videos even while you’re watching, 20-30 seconds is an absolute max. Oh hey, and the most viewed Tiktok videos are max. 10 seconds. In short, there is no clear-cut answer except that there is a constant drive to make videos shorter and punchier. 


This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, making your e-learning punchier and more to the point can radically improve your learning results. 

Whatever its form, the ideal length of a learning or training should always be “as short as possible”. Whether it’s an animated explanation, a training or a capsule article, a great explanation of 2 minutes is always better than a great explanation of 10 minutes. But what If you suspect that you may have over two hours of content to turn into online learning?


How do you find the optimal length for your content? Let’s go over the process step by step. 



Step 1: Assemble your content.

How “long” is it?


The first step is to gather all your content. 

Assuming you have your rough content written down on pages, run a word count first. If you’re using for a voice over or a live presenter, keep in mind that, on average, a human voice explains things at a rate of about 125 words per minute. In other words, 125 words equals one minute of spoken voice over. 


If you’re going for text-based content that needs to be read, note that the average reading speed for learning and absorbing new content is around 150-200 words per minute. People read fiction and non-fiction faster than that, but reading slows down when people are trying to pick up something new. 


If you have your basic content in a PowerPoint presentation, think of around 30-45 seconds per slide to present each slide and explain its content. 

If you’re thinking of adding didactic exercises (anything else than multiple choice questions with obvious answers) consider that your learners will need at least a minute per question. Remember, after completing the question you also want to give them time to absorb your answer feedback.


Note that didactic design and proper copywriting can reduce the length of texts and content blocks by about a third, simply by making it more active and dynamic. 



Step 2: Set clear learning objectives. What exactly do you want to teach your people?


Be critical about your objectives. Put yourself in your learner’s shoes. Ask yourself, “what’s in it for them?” This is the first and most important question in learning. 


What will the learners pick up from this content? What makes your training worth their while? What should they be investing their time and efforts in yet another training? What is its practical use? 

If you can’t answer this “what’s in it for me” or if your answer is vague, saying everything and nothing, you cannot measure your training’s impact. 



Step 3: Remove unnecessary content. Cut flab.


Jettison any content that does not help achieve your learning objectives from your course. Yes, take your time you need to explain what you need to explain, tell your story and get your message across. But cut all flab. As the famous film director Alfred Hitchcock said, “kill your darlings”. 


Remove anything that isn’t necessary. If management forces you to add irrelevant content anyway, include it as optional content that people can read, but don’t let it distract from the core of your objectives.


Add optional content as links but add these links at the end of your course, after it’s been completed. Don’t allow people to wander away from your core content.




Step 3.2: Give your content a logical flow


This step is a given. No flow or structure = no learning. As a content owner, you should be able to present the content in a logical way that makes sense for your learners. If you’re stuck, talk to your learners and involve a third-party provider. An outsider perspective can bring a lot of clarity.) 





Step 4: Add a hierarchy to the remaining content


The content that remains is your core content. Arrange it in a logical order and divide it into small learning blocks, aiming at around 2-3 minutes per block. It’s okay if some blocks are longer. Again, take the time you need to get your explanation to stick.


Then, divide your blocks into Must knows, good to knows and nice to knows and pick the best format for each type.

For example: 

  • Your must knows go in the most impactful format, such as video or animation. This is what you want your people to be able to recite verbatim after completing the training.
  • Your good to knows go in an interactive format. This is what you want your people to keep In mind after completing the training.
  • Your nice to knows go in a text-based format. This is interesting stuff your people may want to look up afterwards. 

This approach helps you find the right budget. 

Determine the best format for each block, add plenty of variation and add exercises between each blocks. Even an open question is a good exercise. You need plenty of variation to stimulate your learners’ attention and keep them active.  




Step 5: Distribute your content in the most efficient way.


Once you have your series of learning blocks, present them in the best way. Don’t dump everything on your learners all at once. Make sure they can access the learning blocks and complete the course at their own pace. Add a menu so people can easily navigate their way through the content. You can lock this navigation to follow a logical sequence (so that learners cannot skip but only review previous chapters), but remember to open up the navigation once the course is completed. While this last step is not related, it does make the course “feel” a lot shorter. Length is very much a psychological phenomenon. Make sure your course is to the point, swift and snappy. 


As mentioned before, an outsider’s perspective can bring a lot of clarity, especially if you’ve “lived” your content or your project for a long time. At Instruxion, we have two decades of experience in processing your content into a compelling, streamlined training course.  We also have the up-to-date skillset to present your content in the most didactically powerful formats.


Get in touch. 

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