How long is too long?

When designing Live Online Training what is the optimum length for a session? While there is no single right answer to this question, my view is different from a lot of what I have read and heard. In this blog, I’d like to share my viewpoint and then MP900449122 copyI’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Most of the ‘common knowledge’ espouses that 60-90 minutes is the maximum length of time for a live online class.  I’m not sure how that number was derived but it seems a bit arbitrary to me.

I believe that there are a few guidelines that will help inform your decision on how long your virtual training class should be.  The considerations are both in the design and the delivery.

Design Considerations

Learner Motivation:  First and foremost: how motivated are your learners?  Highly motivated learners will be much easier to engage than learners taking a class because they ‘have to.’  I personally have sat in on live online workshops with brilliant horsemanship guru Carolyn Resnick http://www.dancewithhorses.com for up to 3 hours at a time because I was so highly motivated by the content.  During her training sessions Carolyn offers coaching by reviewing videos of students using her methodology.  While I personally only spent 5-10 minutes with Carolyn, my motivation to learn from her was so high that I would stay on calls and glean any insight that could further my learning.

Contrast that, to a workshop that I am asked to attend because I must, not because I want to.  The motivation of the learners is the first consideration in the duration of your virtual workshop.

Content Appropriate:  What does the content dictate in terms of learning outcomes?  If the content genuinely needs two hours, then give it two hours and be sure it’s desgined well.  There is no benefit in trimming down the content so much that you miss the learning objectives.  Conversely, if the content warrants 60 minutes, then give it 60 minutes.  Stay true to instructional design principles

And remember, all the content doesn’t need to be taught in one session.  Why not have a two-part workshop.  Many of y courses are once a week for six weeks.  This format has the added learning advantage of applying skills/knowledge as they learn.  We call this ‘spaced learning’ and there are some GREAT benefits!  Spaced learning equates to smaller chunks of content over a longer period of time.

Balance Meaningful and Relevant Interactions:  As you evaluate the interactions you have designed into your content, avoid the pitfall of clustering three polls up front and nothing else until the end of the workshop.  Rather balance meaningful and relevant interactions throughout the entire workshop.  While I strive for an activity every 5-7 minutes, I am not wedded to that.  I like to balance the time spent in interaction with the learning that needs to occur.  To do this effectively, consider breakout sessions where participants work in small teams.  The time will fly by since adult learners love both problem solving AND working in teams.  If you create opportunities for them to apply the knowledge for their own situations your workshops can run longer.

Delivery Considerations

Set Expectations:  If learners know up front that the class will last two hours you have begun to set expectations.  But how many of you have been a learner and had the following happen?  You are ready to go at the appointed time. 5 minutes after the appointed time someone comes on and says we’re waiting for a few other participants (or we’re having a technology problem) and then you start getting anxious.  You ask yourself, “Does this mean we’ll really be here for 2 hours and 15 minutes?”  If you’re like me, you wonder if you can’t trust the start time, can you trust the finish time.  I’m now officially distracted! Let them know how long they’ll be in class and stick to it!

Hold Learners Accountable:  When I facilitate a live online workshop, I expect that my participants to be actively involved and I expect them to participate.  That’s why I ask them questions.  I call on them by name.  I stimulate dialog among learners.  AND if I happen to call on someone that was clearly multi-tasking, their awkwardness speaks volumes to the rest of the group.  They don’t want to be caught in that awkward embarrassment.

So with all this said, I like having a full two hours to deliver workshops with lots of various interactions.  While I’ve delivered workshops for up to four hours, I felt that was too long, for the learners and for me.  I was exhausted by maintaing my energy for four hours as my participants energy started to wane.  So my recommendation is:

1)   Class duration should be appropriate to serve the content and should take learner motivation into account

2)   Interactions should be frequent and highly relevant to maintain engagement

 

3)   Facilitation needs to move quickly and hold learners accountable.

I’m curious to know your thoughts on the optimal length for an online workshop!

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