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Weekly Tip: Maximize Class Time with Mini Lectures

In a Faculty Focus article from 2015, Professor Ilyssa Izenberg draws on research from the previous decade as well as personal experience to advocate for shortening our lectures. Certainly, during the pandemic, when we all pivoted quickly to online instruction, time constraints and concerns over student attention span renewed interest in the idea that our lectures do not need to be as long as they have traditionally lasted. While Izenberg suggests lectures should be shortened to eight minutes, we advocate for lectures under twenty minutes to offer more flexibility without losing the benefits. This tip further explains the benefits of shortening lectures, shares a model for organizing mini lectures, and asks you to imagine what your course would look like using lectures that last less than twenty minutes.

Mini lectures are short, carefully structured lectures that better accommodate average attention spans. While different studies suggest varied lengths of time that people typically maintain focus, most studies regularly demonstrate that people lose focus on academic content after more than twenty minutes. After pivoting to teaching remotely, many instructors considered the benefits of short lectures because they were more accessible during the quarantine. However, mini lectures are also an excellent pedagogical practice regardless of teaching modality because of what we know about adult learners’ attention spans. We recommend mini lectures because they:

  • Are effective for online and in-person classes.
  • Are highly focused on a specific concept, principle, theory, etc.
  • Avoid extraneous content by focusing on the questions: What do students need to know? What are the key takeaways as they relate to the lesson objectives?
  • Work better for low bandwidth (if lectures are recorded).

How to Plan a Mini Lecture

When planning your mini lectures, resist the urge to break a 50- or 75-minute lecture into 10–15-minute parts. Instead, think about each lecture as a cohesive unit and use lesson objectives and course outcomes to deliver content in a relevant and scaffolded manner. It is okay, and recommended, that the lectures build from one another like a series, but they should each have natural beginnings and conclusions so that the information is contained and easy to process. A good template for a mini lecture, for example, might look like:

  • Topic:
    • What is the topic or concept that will be focused on?
  • Explanation/Definition
  • Context
  • Key takeaways
  • Relationship:
    • How does the topic relate to what students are learning?
    • How will students be expected to apply this knowledge?

This template is adaptable for many contexts. Below, we’ve drafted an outline of how using mini lectures might look in two different active learning lesson plans. Note the second example, which includes two mini lectures in the same course period, just broken up over time to promote student attention and engagement:

Example A

  1. Start: Begin class and provide the mini lecture.
  2. Have students participate in an activity or small-group discussion.
  3. Discuss conclusions.
  4. Wrap Up: Have students complete a reflection or exit survey that highlights a key takeaway and any muddiest points. Students might be asked to respond to prompts like:
    1. What was your favorite part of today’s lesson?
    2. Discuss how today’s lesson could be applied outside the classroom.
    3. What’s one question you have about today’s lesson?
  5. The following class meeting, address any muddiest points/revisit mini lecture.

Example B

  1. Begin class and provide mini lecture 1.
    1. In this first lecture, the primary topic is defined, and context provided.
  2. Have students participate in an activity or small-group discussion.
    1. The activity or discussion should prepare students for the second lecture.
  3. Identify key takeaways and address any misconceptions.
  4. Provide mini lecture 2.
    1. The second lecture should build off the first by going into further depth and tying into the activity or discussion that was completed earlier.
  5. Reflection—have students complete a brief reflection or exit survey where they highlight a key takeaway and any muddiest points.

The template and examples above are meant to be flexible and adaptable for your needs. When you plan your lessons to include mini lectures, remember you can vary the structure from lesson to lesson, and if you run out of time one day, that’s okay! If you were using example B, you could easily transfer the second mini lecture you planned into a follow up lesson.

We hope this overview of mini lectures has sparked some ideas about what these might look like in the context of your course and lesson plans. For more ways to implement mini lectures, join an instructional designer in our on-demand support room!

This series of videos and teaching tips is presented by Academic Outreach and Innovation (AOI). We invite you to join the conversation. Share your tips and ask questions through this blog. If you would like these posts to be sent directly to your email each week, subscribe to the listserv by emailing aoi.li@wsu.edu.

For more information or to schedule time with an instructional designer or emerging technologist, contact aoi.li@wsu.edu or request training on demand. You can also visit the Spark Faculty Innovation Studio in room 102 any time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, during the academic year.