What’s the ideal length for e-learning modules?
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What’s the ideal length for e-learning modules?

When we launched Rapid Learning Institute in 2009, we based it on the idea of offering a library of eight- to twelve-minute e-learning modules, each designed around one idea and focused on one behavior. The big unknown was whether we could effectively teach anything useful in such short bursts.

How times have changed.

These days, twelve minutes seems like an eternity.

We’ve created hundreds of Quick Take learning modules, and our newest ones are coming in around four to six minutes. Eight minutes used to be our lower limit. Now it’s our upper limit.

We recently ran some analytics on Quick Take viewership, and it shows why we’ve decided to go shorter and shorter.

QT completion ratesThis graph looks at completion rates for a selection of modules. Basically, it compares the average length that learners spend viewing each Quick Take with the length of the module itself. So, for example, if a certain Quick Take is five minutes long and viewers spend, on average, four minutes watching it, the completion rate is 80% (4 minutes divided by 5 minutes = 80%). In some cases completion rates exceed 100%, presumably because a viewer is pausing the program, or rewinding and reviewing it.

Not surprisingly, completion rates fall as Quick Takes get longer. What’s telling, however, is how soon they do so. Take a look at the trend line: At six minutes (360 seconds), completion rates hover right around 100% — out of thousands and thousands of viewers, virtually all of them are sticking around to the end. By the time you get to 10 minutes (600 seconds), it’s dropped to around 70%.

The trend line doesn’t extend past there, because hardly any Quick Takes are longer than ten or eleven minutes. But you can see where the line is pointing — and what it means for traditional e-learning modules, which are typically anywhere from 30 to 60 or even 90 minutes long. If viewers continue to abandon at the same rate, completion rates probably sink to single digits for long-form e-learning.

That’s consistent with what we hear about the challenges of traditional e-learning. People find it boring. They abandon it, or click through quickly to get to the end.

Traditionally, the “solution” is to try to make the content less boring. But that approach probably doesn’t work, because boring isn’t the problem. I have no reason to think our ten-minute modules are any duller than our five-minute ones. They’re simply longer.

To us, the data looks inescapable. No matter how good the content, modern e-learners simply will not sit still for very long — and by “very long” I mean nine, ten or eleven minutes. Which is why we’re making modules shorter.

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