skip to main content
Home » Teaching Online » Creating content » Lecture options for online courses: narrated options

Lecture options for online courses: narrated options

Posted at 12:13 p.m. Oct. 7, 2014, by in Creating content, Teaching Online

Narrated lecture options for online courses


Developing lectures for online courses is very different from developing lectures for face-to-face courses.There are a variety of options for different types of lectures and can take the form of video or narrative text. Overall, lectures should be split into short chunks and should be as interactive as possible to keep the learner engaged.

Video lecture

How long should my video lecture be?

Video lecture should generally be limited to short chunks of 5-10 minutes maximum. While one MIT study found that video drop-off increased dramatically after 6 minutes, another study did not see the completion rate decrease until after 10 minutes of watching. One of the authors of the MIT study, Dr. Philip Guo, writes in a blog post summarizing the findings:

“The optimal video length is 6 minutes or shorter — students watched most of the way through these short videos. In fact, the average engagement time of any video maxes out at 6 minutes, regardless of its length. And engagement times decrease as videos lengthen: For instance, on average students spent around 3 minutes on videos that are longer than 12 minutes, which means that they engaged with less than a quarter of the content.”

You can read more about optimal video length in these articles:

  • Juho Kim, Philip J. Guo, Daniel T. Seaton, Piotr Mitros, Krzysztof Z. Gajos, Robert C. Miller. 2014. Understanding in-video dropouts and interaction peaks in online lecture videos. In Proceedings of the first ACM conference on Learning @ scale conference, 31- 40.
  • Sera Thornton, Ceri Riley, Mary Ellen Wiltrout. 2017. Criteria for Video Engagement in a Biology MOOC. In Proceedings of the fourth ACM conference on Learning @ scale conference, 291-294.
What types of video lectures could I make?

This article details findings of an MIT team after they researched what characterizes the most effective video for online courses. Below, two types of video lectures are demonstrated: narrated slides and a “talking head” video.

Narrated slides

Usually, this consists of you recording audio narration over PowerPoint slides. Narration can be done within PowerPoint, but this often results in large files that students have trouble downloading. Rutgers faculty have access to a video recording program called Kaltura, which allows you to upload your video to a streaming server. Your video lectures can then be easily streamed by your students from your Sakai or Canvas site.

Example of narrated slides

“Talking head” video

“Talking head” videos are simply recordings of an instructor lecturing with no accompanying slides. Sometimes, these are recordings made in traditional face-to-face courses; other times, these recordings are created specifically for use in an online course and may feature the instructor at a desk instead of in front of a class. The article referenced above, however, found that videos developed specifically for online courses (and not simply recordings of a traditional course) worked best.

Example of a “talking head” video

Screencast whiteboard video

These are screencasts made while writing or drawing on a whiteboard, with narration. Here are two very different methods to produce a similar outcome:

  1. This video was recorded on an iPad, using the iOS Notes app and an Apple pencil. Most tablets should allow this type of “whiteboard screencast.”
  2. How to: record a narrated lecture on your iPad

2. If you don’t have a tablet, but you can record a video from your smart phone, try this method, using a pile of books (or soup cans or whatever you have at hand) to suspend your phone above a sheet of paper on the desk.

The setup:

The video:

Last Updated: May 27, 2021 @ 5:40 pm

Icons made by Madebyoliver from