Video Filming David Hopkins

How ‘long’ is too ‘long’?

For a few years now I’ve been spouting the same lines when it comes to planning a video for an distance learning course or MOOC: “preferably no more than 4 minutes, definitely no more than 6.” Anything more than 6 and we’d consider splitting it at a natural point in the subject, or working with the individual and their content and seeing where a natural break can be made, or other ways to shorten the video.

This has been supported by experience (from distance learning courses I’ve supported at both Bournemouth and Leicester University’s) and the MOOCs I’ve supported and developed while at Warwick, as well as articles like this.

As with everything, there is enough evidence to be found to support and to disprove it.

Yes, I agree that if you have a ‘teaching’ resource, where the academic/teacher is speaking to camera then there is an optimum length that someone will sit and be ‘talked at’, and this is where I see the 6 minute limit coming into play. These kinds of resources are often loaded to a VLE or a MOOC and as part of a set of resources for the topic or week’s subject area.

But there are other approaches to video content where I don’t see this working. What about case studies or mini-documentaries? What about a conversation, when a short 4 minute clip just isn’t enough to get in to the details? Do you still stick to the short-is-best message? In order for these to work you will often need to make it longer so the content and ‘message’ of the case study can be put across.

Let’s not forget, the video is nothing on it’s own. It must always be put into context for the student – why are you presenting the video for them to watch, what do you expect them to think about when they watch it, is there something they need to question as a result of the video (and/or linking it to other resources to build their wider knowledge about the subject area), can they critique the resource and present their findings back to the group, etc.?

Examples:

Short, teaching video.
Taken from the Big Data course, this short video is a well-liked video of Associate Professor Suzy Moat talking directly to you, the student. It’s a great example of the personal approach you can still achieve from a 4 minute video, carefully planned and edited

Measuring happiness with Twitter and Facebook

Big Data: Measuring happiness with Twitter and Facebook – click to watch on FutureLearn. You can’t see the comments on this step unless you were enrolled on the course (April, 2015)

Long, non-teaching video.
Taken from the Literature and Mental Health MOOC, again from my work at the University of Warwick, this is a 26 minute in-depth conversation between Professor Jonathan Bate and Stephen Fry. No ‘teaching’ takes place here, but a clear and engaging learning resource, in the form of a conversation, where two extremely knowledgable and passionate authors discuss poetic form:

We did try and see what we could edit from this in to a shorter clip for the core materials on the MOOC, whilst making this full version available to those who were interested enough. Then we thought ‘stuff it’, this is excellent as it is, with the ebb and flow of the conversation between them just a pleasure to watch and integral to the learning experience from this resource.

In this example, the students on the MOOC watched the video and reflected on their own interpretation of poetic form, of specific poems, of the love of poetry to relax and ‘meditate’ for their mental wellbeing. The sharing and social aspect of the video, and the strength of camaraderie they shared together on this single resource. This resource, in the first week of the MOOC, had 1,400 comments on it!

Short, non-teaching video.
We have also used a mixture of both the above – taken a long interview and provided a shortened version for the students and the fuller version on YouTube, for those interested in more detail, background, and more depth to the work. In this example we have an interview with Professor Steve Koonin, which was 11 minutes in total, and we produced a more concise 4 minute version and directed the learner to the long version if they were interested.

What happened was that the majority of students who left a comment on the video started by saying to ignore the short one (loaded to FutureLearn) and watch the full version on YouTube instead! There were five of these in total in the course, and each time students referred their colleagues to the longer ones, often saying they’d have loved to have more!

Interview with Professor Steven Koonin

I have heard the argument before, when asking for the context of the video, that you “don’t get that on YouTube” so the students shouldn’t expect it on the VLE. Yes, but YouTube is not a structured learning environment and often, if you’re directing the students to the YouTube video you’d be telling them why. Again, the YouTube video on it’s own is nothing without the purpose of why you’ve given it to the students to watch it … !

For me the length of the video is never the issue. The video should be relevant and to the point, whether it’s an interview, conversation, or presentation, or a teaching style video that needs to get a particular theme or concept across. I will watch, and I realise this is ‘me’, two minutes or 20 minutes of a ‘learning resource’ if I am engaged and I see a purpose to it. If it becomes just waffle or filler or clearly does not have direct relevance to why I’ve been asked (there we are again – context) to watch it, then you’ve lost me and I’m on to something else.

Lecture capture
Lastly, let me cover the subject of lecture capture – I recognise the video approaches above are far higher quality of resource and enterprise that went in to creating them, but the above does not mean there isn’t a place for lecture capture in online and campus based courses because there is.

If a two-hour lecture isn’t stimulating when you sit and watch it at home, then odds are it isn’t for those sitting in the lecture hall itself either. That’s not a fault of lecture capture or the technology; it’s more something the lecturer needs to address. No one would blame students in the lecture that was being filmed for letting their minds wander and for working on something else at some point, so surely it’s fine for those at home to do this too. Those watching the recording have the added benefit of pausing the stream for a break, email, message, etc. and can come back when they’re focussed again. Those watching the archive can re-watch the same section again and again if they like until they’ve understood the section that they couldn’t understand before, or couldn’t hear, or missed due to any other kind of distraction.

There is a place for all these types of video resources, whatever their length. Just so long as it’s relevant. Always relevant.

Image source: David Hopkins (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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  • Phil Vincent

    Interesting post David, thanks for sharing.

    I think the quality of the recording also has a role to play in how long people will watch it for (and there may be research to back this up, I’d have to look into that)!?

    I’m sure we’ve all sat and watched a ‘hilarious’ video on Facebook that had terrible audio & video quality, but if it’s only 30-60secs long we know we can tolerate it, any longer and there’s no way we’d watch it.

    On the other hand, the slick looking (and sounding) clips in your post make for pleasurable viewing, and make it easy to sit and watch for up to 30mins or more.

    Often staff get caught up on not having the skills or equipment to create such high quality video, but I’m a firm believer that it just needs to be fit for purpose, and that a tablet or smartphone is more than enough for a decent 4-6min video.

    Cheers

    Phil

    • Hi Phil. Indeed – I’ve found that the higher quality video you aim for the higher the expectation from the students/viewers that the quality matches it. Whilst I aim for the high quality you see above for the Warwick MOOCs and other work from the team I manage at WBS, there is something to be said for the quick & ‘dirty’ approach provided the video is authentic and relevant.
      I agree, however, that if you’re going to watch something for anything longer than a minute I want high quality audio, lighting, environment, set up, etc.

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