Best Presentation Types for Online Learning Courses

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Best Presentation Types for Online Learning Courses

This research provides best practices for creating online training courses. Notable features of online presentation addressed include the preferred video length, type/format of video, speaking style, and use of text. It is the best practice to keep the length of videos for online training/learning at 6 minutes or less. For better engagement, post-production editing should be done to display the instructor’s head at intervals in an online learning video. Also, text should be included to ensure accessibility for students with learning or sensory disabilities. Details on these best practices have been provided below.

Keep Video Length Under 6 Minutes

  • An analysis of research compiled by numerous industry experts and leading publications reveals that the most commonly recommended length of video for online training/learning is 6 minutes or less. The rule of thumb is to keep the content short and simple.
  • According to a Harvard University publication on the best practices for online pedagogy, lectures should be broken down into shorter segments of 3-5 minutes. Long prerecorded lectures do not offer pleasant viewing experiences.
  • Long courses typically deliver poorer learning outcomes than shorter courses. Most studies have found that the maximum attention span of an average adult is about 20 minutes. Individuals may choose to re-focus their attention on the same activity repeatedly; however, it is quite normal for lapses in attention to occur.
  • Various studies confirm why it is considered the best practice to keep online learning videos within 6 minutes or less. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) conducted a large-scale study of more than 6.9 million video sessions recorded for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses); this study "found that the optimal video length should be under 6 minutes."
  • MIT's study found that shorter videos were much more engaging, while videos longer than 6 minutes resulted in significant viewer attrition. The University of Wisconsin conducted a similar study which found that most students preferred videos to be under 15 minutes in length.
  • Dr. Philip Guo from the University of Rochester also analyzed several math and science courses offered through the EdX platform. Guo found that video engagement typically peaked at 6 minutes, and decreased precipitously as the video length increased.
  • Research conducted by TechSmith found that: "The majority of viewers want informational and instructional videos to be less than 20 minutes, with a preference toward the 3-6 minute ranges."
  • Skillshare, a leading online learning community with over 27,000 premium courses, has successfully leveraged this practice in delivering its videos. Each class on the platform "includes 20-60 minutes of video, broken down into 2-5-minute lessons."

Combine Talking-Head Lectures and Demonstrations

  • When delivering online lectures in video format, it is most impactful to combine talking heads with PowerPoint slides. This format keeps the learner more engaged. Rather than showing only slides, it is best to invest in post-production editing in order to display the instructor’s head at intervals in the video.
  • However, it is not advisable to go overboard in placing these inserts. Sudden transitions could be jarring. A picture-in-picture video style also works well.
  • Philip J. Guo, Juho Kim, and Rob Rubin conducted an empirical study of MOOC videos which analyzed the results of a very large study done on video engagement in the online environment. The findings of this study reveal why it is the best practice to deliver lectures in this format. The study revealed that "videos that intersperse an instructor’s talking head with PowerPoint slides are more engaging than showing only slides."
  • Coursera, a leading online education platform with about 76 million learners, recommends and leverages this practice. In its videos, slides are stylized and interspersed with the talking head during post-production editing.

Overlay Text on Screen for Accessibility

  • It is best to have an overlay of text (words/summary) on the screen when delivering online learning videos. Text is a universal method of communication. Assistive technologies (such as magnifiers and screen readers) are almost always designed to work with text.
  • When sending images to students, teachers should include textual descriptions so that students who use these technologies can also follow along. When using video chat tools like Zoom, someone should be assigned to create a transcript or provide closed captioning throughout the session.
  • The inclusion of text is considered the best practice because it ensures accessibility for students with learning or sensory disabilities. Such students are not required to inform a teacher of their challenges, and they may not feel comfortable telling anyone. Therefore, rather than asking them to identify themselves, it is best to employ these practices to reach a wide variety of learners.
  • Also, some students require additional processing time; therefore, transcripts should be shared along with chat logs, images, and videos for students to download and examine afterward. This procedure is especially helpful to students with dyslexia and other reading impediments.
  • An example of a leading platform that successfully leverages this practice is HarvardX. Videos produced by HarvardX have captions, and their images have alternative text descriptions included. YouTube also enables accessibility through text by allowing viewers to suggest caption improvements on many videos.

Deliver Lectures With Enthusiasm by Speaking Quickly

  • It is best to ensure that online lectures are not boring. The best way for instructors/teachers to ensure that their students are engaged is for the instructors to be engaged themselves. Generally, learner engagement increases when instructors display enthusiasm and energy by speaking quickly.
  • This concept is the opposite of what is usually recommended for in-person lectures. Unlike in-person lectures where speakers are usually encouraged to slow down to allow for better comprehension, speaking quickly is the best presentation style for online classes.
  • It is important to note that, unlike in-person classes, video e-learning students have the ability to easily stop, rewind, and review a clip if they miss something. Therefore, speed does not prevent them from catching up with the lectures. These online videos are also meant to be accompanied with captions and transcriptions, thereby enabling the student to go over the material at their pace and convenience.
  • Findings from the empirical study conducted by Philip J. Guo, Juho Kim, and Rob Rubin, revealed why it is the best practice to show enthusiasm by speaking quickly. The researchers found that "videos, where instructors speak fairly fast and with high enthusiasm, are more engaging."
  • Highly successful Adobe instructors like Daniel Walter Scott and Brian MacDuff leverage this technique to deliver very engaging instructional videos in video format.
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