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Making Mini-Lectures

Making Mini-Lectures


Vincent Kovar

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The traditional, hour-long lecture that is so familiar to on-ground undergraduates has little place in an online learning environment. However, shorter, tightly focused “lecturettes” can help engage learners and add some multimedia punch to your classes. You don’t need a fancy sound-studio or even a DJ friend with an editing board to get started. In fact, jumping ahead to the fancy “bells-and-whistles” can distract you from the design fundamentals of the audio lecture.


Listen First

First, go online and listen to a few audio-lectures yourself so you can get a feel of what works for you. You can find a selection of free audio books, lectures and articles in several places on the Internet. For instance: or the open courseware available from M.I.T.


Find Your Voice

Remember that these are professional produced, commercial resources that are mainly intended to be for sale to a broad audience. You’ll want to personalize your recordings to infuse your classes with the essence of you. Think about how many celebrity voices you can identify in an animated film or how you can recognize a friend who is trying to disguise their voice on the phone. Your voice is part your class identity.


By adding the element of your individual voice to your mini-lectures, you help to reduce the feelings of isolation on-line students can experience with an unknown, unseen and unheard instructor. You become perceived as friendlier, more approachable and reinforce that mysterious bond between teacher and student.


Less Really Is More

Notice that I keep calling them “mini-lectures.” This is an important point to remember as you begin to outline the content for each audio-presentation. The average, adult American has an attention span of between seven and twenty minutes. Given that mainstream media like television tends to produce programming in seven to ten minute blocks with commercial breaks in between, it would be a good rule of thumb to make your mini-lectures no longer than ten minutes.


Vary the Content, Repeat the Format

Build each mini-lecture around a single idea and resist the urge to cut a longer lecture into ten minute increments arbitrarily. While the content of each lecture should accrete around a unique idea, keep the structure familiar.


  1. Open with a short summary of what is contained in the mini-lecture. “Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em.”

  2. Have the main body of your lecture follow the same structure you expect to see in student papers. I find it helpful to write out an outline to keep myself on track. I prefer not to use a formal speech or script as this can make the tone sound too scripted and dull. Keep the tone lively and fresh. If you misspeak, don’t edit it out. Just correct yourself as you would in an actual classroom. These peccadilloes of speech remind your class that there is a real person available to them for questions and interaction.

  3. Include spots where you discuss and answer anticipated questions. Actually ask these questions aloud. For instance, “At this point, many people find themselves wondering, ‘why did Hannibal choose elephants?’ Well, most scholars believe that…” Model the behavior of formulating questions.

  4. Request interaction by telling your listeners to react in the class forum or logon to a scheduled chat. For instance, “When you finish this audio-lecture, logon to the class forum and post at least one question that you have regarding this material. Also, theorize answers for least two of your classmate’s questions…” Always include this listen-then-act requirement.

  5. Finally summarize the content of the lesson: “Tell ‘em what you told ‘em.” When using a single medium like sound, it is important to repeat the information. In an audio environment, your information may be competing with conflicting stimulus so this repetition is important.



The Mechanics

Most computers have a built in microphone these days or you can purchase a plug-in microphone quite cheaply at any electronics store. Find a quiet place and do a few practice recordings. Listen for the basics of clarity and volume. Don’t worry too much extraneous noises as long as they don’t overpower the mini-lecture. You can learn more about creating audio files by doing a quick online search. For instance:


You may want to provide your mini-lectures in multiple file formats. Again, an online search, will easily locate conversion programs like this one: though there are many others.


Making It Portable

Today’s students are highly mobile and the tendency is to take their media with them. The near ubiquity of MP3 players and iPods mean that many of your students will be listening to your mini-lectures on-the-go. Take advantage of this portability by making your mini-lectures a “podcast.” A podcast is like a radio program only it is designed to be downloaded to a portable player. There are many online resources that can lead you step-by-step through this process. For instance:


Short, focused mini-lectures help you establish your presence in the online class as a real, approachable instructor while also engaging the often overlooked audio opportunity of online learning. Once you have the hang of making audio-files, think about giving your students the option of posting audio-presentations as well. It’s a fun and engaging way to add multi-media to your virtual class.


[All links contained in this blog are merely publicly available examples, not endorsements or recommendations.]




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Vincent Kovar