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The Myth of the Six-Minute Rule: Student Engagement with Online Videos

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Online Teaching

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1558.1 - 26.1558.17



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Paper Authors


Larry Lagerstrom Stanford University

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Larry Lagerstrom is the Director of Online Learning for the School of Engineering at Stanford University. Before coming to Stanford he taught computer programming and electrical engineering for sixteen years at U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Davis. He has degrees in physics, math, history, and interdisciplinary studies, including a PhD in the history of science and technology. He also recently taught a MOOC on “Understanding Einstein: The Special Theory of Relativity.”

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Petr Johanes Stanford University

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Umnouy Ponsukcharoen Stanford University

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The Myth of the Six Minute Rule: Student Engagement with Online Videos ABSTRACTVideo clips are standard components of online and blended classes. Instructors are often advisedto keep the videos brief in order to maintain the viewer’s attention. This recommendation ispartly based on the “ten-minute rule”: cognitive science research shows that a student’s focuswhen listening to an in-person lecture tends to flag after approximately ten minutes. More recentresearch on video-watching in massive online open courses (MOOCs) has claimed to moreprecisely identify the magic length as six minutes, a figure that is already being cited byprominent university leaders. The motivations and behaviors of MOOC students, however, arenot necessarily congruent with those of students who are enrolled in regular college courses. Inorder to further explore the question of student engagement and optimum video length, videowatching data was collected from the log files of the Center for Professional Development (CPD)at __________. The CPD offers working professionals the opportunity to take university coursesonline or in some cases at their work sites. Regular university students may also access thecourse materials. The material in most of the online courses is presented via standard-lengthlectures (50 minutes or more) by _________ faculty, which are professionally videotaped andedited by CPD staff. In some cases the lecture videos are cut into shorter segments, or theinstructor records shorter (5-30 minute) video clips in advance. Our analysis of the videowatching data reveals that the “six minute rule,” while useful as a reminder of the importanceof thinking about how students will engage with online videos, does not capture the full truth ofthose student interactions. Rather, enrolled students show a variety of behaviors, such as“looping,” that are not reducible to a simple rule of thumb regarding video length. We report onthese behaviors using both qualitative and quantitative methods.

Lagerstrom, L., & Johanes, P., & Ponsukcharoen, U. (2015, June), The Myth of the Six-Minute Rule: Student Engagement with Online Videos Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24895

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