Instructional design: a more effective approach than uploading lectures online

Online degrees have revolutionised higher education, giving people the chance to develop valuable skills without having to pause their careers to head to campus.

While it’s important for online degrees to borrow some aspects of conventional ‘campus life’, recording a traditional lecture – or seminar - for students to watch online is considerably less effective:

“Simply putting lectures online doesn’t work,” explains Nick Johnston, Senior Learning Designer.

“In video presentations, research has shown that students’ attention drops off after 5-6 mins. One-hour lectures online are not going to maintain the engagement and attention of a student studying remotely.”

This is supported by the findings of Philip Guo, who found the optimal length of engagement for students watching video material should be six minutes¹.

So how do we overcome the barriers of lack of physical proximity to deliver real value?

Breaking it all down

To maximise student engagement, faculty work with Learning Designers and Video Producers to break-up lecture material into smaller bite-size chunks.

“My job is to make sure that the student’s learning experience is meaningful, and that a sense of dynamism and retaining engagement is maintained,” explains Nick.

He continues: “In terms of pedagogy, we create more granular content, so little bits of content as opposed to vast swathes of content. We know we shouldn’t write huge amounts for online students to read on a web page as it will turn them off; therefore, we often create shorter videos in bitesize chunks. Most of all, we are keen to put the creation of learning and learning objects into the hands of the students by making their learning activity-centred.”

Recommended read: Campus vs. online: which mode of study is right for you?

Going beyond content

Content is certainly important, but it’s not the only way to learn. Our online programmes bring students together in a way that allows them to learn from each other; they swap ideas, share experiences and give different perspectives to the topics and materials in front of them.

“I get to study and collaborate with many students in groups, who are from various geographies and disciplines. That might be slightly different in classroom courses. This diversity and drastic mix help me to better understand the module, its context and applicability in the real world,” says Kathirvel Balakrishnan, Online MBA student.

Nick adds: “With the online courses, students and tutors can interact with each other on a just-in-time basis, which you can’t do on an on-campus course; and that’s a huge advantage of studying online.”

The communal study aspect of online learning is demonstrated best in the programme’s live synchronous sessions. Designed more as interactive seminars than one-way lectures, these sessions give students the chance to discuss their weekly activities together and with their online tutors.

By limiting attendance to 30 people, running multiple sessions to cover different time zones and allowing over two hours of discussion, everyone gets to ask and answer questions as they wish.

Developing world-ready skills

Rather than just focus on theory, our programme leaders strive to provide actionable insight. The programmes are designed to help students develop skills they can apply to their careers immediately.

Nick explains, using the Online MBA’s Accounting and Finance module as an example: “We designed the Accounting and Finance with three different areas of focus: one covers financial accounting, another covers management accounting and a third covers investment appraisal. We felt it best to determine what approach will be most relevant for online students and most directly applicable to real working environments, so we could achieve maximum impact.”

Not just an alternative

There are so many people for whom traditional postgraduate education isn’t logistically feasible, and online learning is a great solution. Rather than trying to emulate conventional study by uploading lectures online, we use a range of creative methods to overcome geographical barriers. And, as a result, these programmes offer real career-boosting value to students.

If you think one of our online programmes could do the same for you, download our brochure to find out more. 


  1. GUO, P. (2013) Optimal Video Length for Student Engagement [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28.09.2018]

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