The traditional online learning format often mimics a traditional classroom learning structure. The instructor creates a relatively long lecture capture, then supports the learning process with discussion questions and assignments. While there are a number of alternatives, one option that works particularly well for both instructors and students is to break longer lectures into video mini-lessons.

What Is a Mini-Lesson?

A mini-lesson is simply a self-contained lesson that typically takes around five to 10 minutes; for higher-ed students, you might consider mini-lessons of up to 15 to 20 minutes.  These lessons shouldn’t be just pieces of a longer lesson. 

When you’re taking mini-lessons online, you will create multiple short, self-contained videos, rather than a single, longer video lesson. You can plan these as one-time videos, or in a series of videos to be watched in a set order.

Planning Smart Mini-Lessons

When you’re planning a mini-lesson, it’s essential to keep some key components in mind. Some of these are similar to longer lessons, while others may be rather unique to a mini-lesson structure.

  • Include a brief introduction and conclusion, as you would for any other type of lesson.
  • Remember to define terms, even if you have used them in other mini-lessons. This doesn’t need to be an in-depth definition, but should at least provide a quick reminder.
  • Stay focused! When you’re working with a brief format, there’s not time for any additional or unneeded content.
  • Provide structure and context. If one video mini-lesson builds on another, make the order clear to students. 
  • Integrate different approaches. Students learn differently, and mini-lessons are an ideal way to provide different approaches to learning the same material. 
  • Use mini-lessons as a way to answer student questions or respond to student confusion.

The Benefits of Mini-Lessons

Mini-lessons offer some distinct advantages for both instructors and students. The first of these is shared; mini-lessons take less time to make and to watch. This can simplify the learning process from both instructors, and acknowledges that many of us have short attention spans!


For Learners

Flexibility is frequently essential for online learners; they often have many additional responsibilities. Mini-lessons are quite flexible, and can easily fit into lunch breaks or other short periods of time.

Mini-lessons are particularly mobile-friendly. You’re not likely to watch a video for an hour on your smartphone, but it’s quite practical to spend ten minutes watching a mini-lesson. This makes it simple to fit learning activities in whenever a student has time available. 

Focused lessons can provide increased attention. Students are less likely to become distracted when watching a short, subject-specific video than a longer and more varied one. 


For Instructors

Mini-lessons are easy to plan, write and create. When you have a limited amount of time, it is often easier to produce a focused lesson. Your slide shows are shorter, and there is less temptation to include content that isn’t relevant.

You can experiment when you create mini-lessons. If you’ve been considering trying out new teaching modalities, mini-lessons are an ideal format.

Some instructors find the idea of producing long videos overwhelming. When you break those long lessons into a series of mini-lessons, they can feel much more manageable.