Credit Hours

In an academic setting where degrees are granted based on the time spent studying a certain field, course design is based on credit hours.  A credit hour is the basic unit of course weight or rigor.  For example, a common course format is the three credit hour course.  This means that students need to invest each week at least three hours receiving direct instruction from the course instructor, and double of that (six hours), performing course related activities such as reading, studying, or doing homework, in order to fulfill that requirement.  This of course could be considered the instructional designer and/or faculty’s best wishes, because in reality that time investment will vary.  Also view leads to the question… What happens with student differentiation, since not everybody learns at the same speed?

Well this same situation applies to online learning where instructional designers and multimedia producers try to optimize video content to maximize it’s efficiency.  Probably you have read or at least are aware of studies about the recommended length of an instructional video.  Each time there is a new study it seems that the attention span of students continues to shrink based on many factors.  Some studies revealed that ten minutes was the sweet spot, but now it’s down to 6 minutes.  So what is the problem with this? There’s really no problem other than implementing really well designed, short and concise videos in courses that are under this time frame.

What Happens to Contact Time as Videos Start to Shrink?

What happens to that course equivalency to justify that an online course is as effective as it’s face-to-face (F2F) counterpart?


In the zoomed image above, you might notice that the video is from a two-hour lecture.  Most F2F two-times-a-week classes have lectures similar to this one in length.  The most pragmatic approach towards online learning is to capture these and post them online.  The problem with this approach is that it is similar to the early days of television, where producers just did the same radio show, but now they showed it on screen.  That type of adaptation is not the best, but it is good as maybe the first step. [If you want to learn more about this soft transition model, check out my presentation about the Elastic Course Design Methodology.]  If you include videos the same way they were recorded, online students will be having a hard time following up.

It is really not the same to be in front of them physically than virtually.  That eye contact you have with them, and that immediate feedback will not be there unless you do something about it.  The best way to solve that engagement issue would be to create videos specifically designed for online learners, carefully scripted and supported by visual aides, but most likely, if the SME is a full time faculty member they will not have the time to invest in this endeavor.

So what if you chopped thole two-hour-long lectures into more consumable pieces? What if you take away all the “uhms and ands”? What if you strip away all the chit-chat that might have helped F2F students, but that will not contribute for the online learner.  What if you could get those chunked videos reduced in time considerably leaving just the meat of the lecture and trimming out the fat?  Well, the engagement will go up, but have you guessed what will happen to the contact time? Yes, it will decrease, because you will if you do this correctly you might reduce its time at least 25%.  So now you would have to add other activities like discussion forums or similar where the students interact with the professor in order to account for the time.

So there you have it.  By making lectures shorter and more efficient you might end up in a paradox where you also affect the equivalency and you might have to device other activities to compensate, even if you made that product more efficient.  If you are looking for a research opportunity this topic has considerable exploration to be done.  How can it be proven that a chunked down and shrunken down lecture will be even more effective than the longer version?  What do you think?