Business Development

How long do learners expect eLearning to be?

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eLearning can be just as effective as instructor lead training if it is done well although some people may argue with this statement. Researchers like Derouin (2005) and Paul (2014) and others have already confirmed this years ago with academic research. The key is that eLearning needs to be well-executed but there is not a lot of guidance yet on what is the criteria for good eLearning. It’s worth noting that Derouin and Paul did not give additional answers either. IBM is doing a lot of research on trends in learning and we looked into various criteria during the last months. Industry experts who were interviewed from fortune 500 companies mentioned that especially the length of eLearning, the right point in time and personalization are key.

This blog is focusing on the dimension of ‘length’ ie the duration of a course.


We used a survey inside IBM to get direct feedback from eLearning users to validate the statements of the industry experts. The research questions are the questions of how ‘short’ eLearning should be, how ‘AI’ should get applied and ‘when’ is the right point of time for training. In this context, it is interesting that the feedback from the survey presents data which is giving a strong indication to practitioners on how to develop eLearning in similar companies to IBM. The data should also be able to be used in any other of the industries that were discussed in the initial research, and those were automotive, hospitality, IT services and healthcare products. In reallity, the survey could be repeated in other companies and industries to give an additional indication of its validity. This could also be a topic for additional research.

The right length of eLearning

To figure out how long ‘short’ is, the possible answers mentioned in the initial interview were suggested to the participants of the survey. These are less than 15 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour and 2 hours. Furthermore, two additional lengths were added to cover typical lengths of existing eLearning: 4 hours and 1 day. The diagram in this blog shows the results.

Diagram. Answers in per cent of the total population.

None of those surveyed chose 4 hours or 1 day at all in the survey. Therefore the table is not showing entries for those results. Only 2.2% of the participants think that 2 hours is the right length of eLearning. Based on this, the overall suggestion is that the length of eLearning should be between 15 minutes and 1 hour. I also want to highlight that only 11.1% of participants have chosen the ‘typical YouTube video length of fewer than 15 minutes’. This means that users expect good eLearning modules and not just an existing youtube video.


These days, eLearning users have a clear opinion of what they expect. They expect elearning to have a length of around 15 minutes to 1 hour and they expect more than the typical Youtube video of 15 minutes. Based on the underlying expert interviews in Fortune 500 companies as well as the survey of the end-users, the data gives a strong suggestion of how eLearning should be structured in the IT industry. That result may also be relevant for other industries, but the survey should ideally be executed in other industries to confirm this.

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