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Right-Sizing E-Learning Videos for Optimal Engagement

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

As the world shifted to remote learning in the first quarter of 2020, some of our customers at Perform-Link looked to leverage their existing library of videos as a resource for self-paced e-learning courses. But one popular video was a bit too long for one viewing. At 45 minutes in length, the content was rich and complex, but it would not grab the attention of our learners nor would learners retain the content.

Major concerns were expressed by the functional and content subject matter experts (SMEs). They did not want to let go of the precious content they had pulled together for this video. The SMEs felt that the video could be paused and that learners would go back and watch the parts of the video they were most curious about. It became clear that the SMEs' identities were strongly linked to the content of videos, and altering them was a sensitive issue.

However, when Perform-Link's design team watched the video, they hit the pause button after 16 minutes and did not watch it again despite that they were highly motivated to view the entire 45-minute segment. It was the job of these designers to go through the video and determine how to best repackage it, though. So, they had to watch the video in intervals to make meaning of the concepts presented.

This is just one example. The bottom line is that everyone at Perform-Link understood from our other customer engagements that learning and performance managers and university professors were seeking tips and recommendations for the ideal length that videos should be when used as part of self-paced e-learning courses. Let's take a closer look.

Length of E-Learning Videos: Average Engagement Versus Video Length

In a study by business video host Wistia that involved 564,710 videos and more than 1.3 billion plays found that after two minutes, there’s a sharp drop in engagement. It declines from about 70 percent to just above 50 percent between the six- and seven-minute marks; from there, engagement remains relatively steady with a slower decline until video length reaches 12 minutes, where it again begins to drop more rapidly.


The designers used these findings to guide the functional SMEs to clip the videos for four different purposes: to capture interest, for recaps, as guides or tutorials, and for deeper content.

Tips for Chunking E-Learning Videos

Make every second count by editing e-learning videos in a precise manner.

  • Capture interest (one to two minutes). Given that two minutes has the highest viewing rate, keep it less than that length to optimize the experience.
  • Training, trailers, and recaps (two to five minutes).
  • Guides, tutorials, and overviews (six to 10 minutes).
  • Deep content (keep less than 12 minutes). After 12 minutes, average engagement drops to 50 percent. If you are looking to maximum viewership, limit your content chunks to less than 12 minutes.

Videos Are Passive; Activities Are Engaging

Instructional designers and learning developers are always looking to increase engagement further and want to add other activities and multimedia in addition to the videos. But this experience affirmed a few key points about course duration and design.

  • Though there is no unanimity on the duration of classes, almost everyone agrees that shorter online courses have higher acceptance and that students feel motivated to complete them. A good length for a web-based course is somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes. This traditional opinion builds on psychological research, specific content patterns, and gut feeling.
  • There is also the agreement that it is necessary to have a variety of teaching materials, like interactive diagrams, videos, quizzes, activities, and assignments in the course to make it attractive to the students. Questions to keep in mind: What do learners need to know? How can I best cover this topic in the most efficient and useful way?

Ultimately, the SMEs and designers were able to chunk their new self-paced e-learning course from a 45-minute video into two 30-minute modules where videos were thoughtfully clipped into appropriate segments that captured attention, took deeper content dives, and recapped learning.

How do these tips compare with your own experience? Your thoughts and comments are welcome. E-Learning practices are shifting, and we are here to learn from each other.

About the Author

Catherine Zaranis is an award winning entrepreneur, educator, and public servant. In 2012, she founded Perform-Link, LLC. Perform-Link™ has been helping organizations with leadership development, change management, instructional systems design and advisory services a range of learning and organizational effectiveness challenges. Catherine served as President of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), Potomac Chapter, where she was privileged to receive a Chapter of Excellence Award. The chapter has won ten consecutive Chapter of Excellence Awards since Catherine’s tour as President (2010-2011). She is passionate about developing happy and healthy leaders that achieve award winning results. Her Motto: “Role Model Excellence by Example.” Follow her on LinkedIn at

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