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Top 4 tips for figuring out your ideal online course length

Are you wondering why your online course isn’t as successful as you’d thought it would be? Or are you trying to design a course and don't know how long it should be? 

Course creation is a complex subject. Besides providing the right content, you have to find the perfect structure that resonates with your learners. 

The length of your course depends on many variables. For instance,  what you envisioned for your learners should also align with their learning goals. A successful course can find a balance between short and simple, complete and comprehensive course content, and therefore be the ideal length. 

Too many details and irrelevant information will drift your learners away from your course, but skipping the essentials may also lead to dropouts. People want information fast, but that doesn't mean you should rush things. Your course length should be as long or as short as needed to make your learners happy. 

How to figure out the ideal online course length

Besides the topic at hand, your goals should be finding the course structure that will spark your learners’ curiosity and retention rates. That is what will bring in the revenue you want. Nobody can give you the perfect recipe for success, but here are a few ideas to help you out: 

Know your learners

Think about your learners when choosing how long your course should be. Consider their lifestyle constraints and try to fit your course into their routines, schedules, and availability. 

Understand your learners’ needs, the urgency of your course for them, and what actionable results you can provide.

Also, find out whether they consider your course their duty or their passion. Learners will be less engaged if the course feels like a “have to do,” so the course should be short and concise. For example,  if your course solves a practical problem such as learning how to take care of a car and change tires. However, they will dedicate a good chunk of their free time if the topic is related to their passion, such as painting or photography. 

Read more: 8 Tips for increasing learner participation rates

Know key statistics

Your online course length cannot predict revenue growth in itself. You need to provide valuable content and actionable results to succeed. Remember that learners need the What's in it for me factor (WIIFM) to engage and commit. 

Also, acknowledging that learner attention drops over time, you should consider reducing your content or breaking your materials into bite-sized pieces that allow learners to stay motivated and complete your course. 

Tips to determine the ideal course length 

Here are some tips to help you determine your ideal online course length: 

  1. Consider the length by the rarity of the course topic

    A very popular topic will not be of interest if you don’t put a spin on it and show it from a different angle. However, this is not enough. Your course has to offer a faster way to achieve actionable results. 

    Moreover, if the topic is relatively new, feel free to structure your course as you see fit. You'll be able to refine it after you receive feedback from your first learners

  2. Try to provide the fastest route to success considering your competition

    When you share topics with other course creators, you have to step up and come up with a better and faster alternative. If your competition has a 25-hour course, you should provide a 15-hour course version. 

    Don’t worry about cutting down your content. Structure your modules to fit the 15-hour timeframe and give the rest of the information for free. It will act as a lead magnet and allow you to be more efficient than your competitors.

    Read more: Why you should consider offering an online course for free

  3. Weigh the complexity of the subject

    A complex topic may be divided into subtopics or courses of their own to avoid cramming a course with too much information or cutting it short and losing essential information. For instance, you can offer a free introduction to your course and provide a paid version of the in-depth course.

  4. Address your audience

    When your course is about hobbies, the perfect length depends on the topic and how much knowledge you want to include in it. For example, a public speaking-related course can cover all the aspects related to your topic including How to structure a speech and How to overcome your anxiety in 20-80 hours. 

    However, you can have one main public speaking course of 10-20 hours, which is a manageable length, and the additional related topics, in short courses of one to five hours each. 

    Moreover, for mandatory continuous professional development or accredited courses, you must follow a certain number of hours your learners need to study. 

    Read more: 7 Course certificate features to look for in an LMS

Final thoughts 

There's no gold standard when it comes to course length. It all depends on your target audience and your course topic. Nonetheless, to avoid overwhelming your learners and attract them to your course, find topics of interest that haven't been available so far or provide a new perspective on older topics. 

The length of your course should be the one that allows you to offer valuable and relevant information in the least amount of time. 

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