Download Time and E-Learning

Jared Spool

October 25th, 2007

Dave wrote:

I just listened to your podcast: Usability Tools Podcast: The Truth About Page Download Time. Can you express your thoughts on download time and usability as it applies to e-learning modules with rich media content? We have been receiving more and more requests for adding video and audio to our learning modules which is pushing total file size tremendously.

At present I have been tasked with trying to write a “best practices” document for file size/download time for our learning modules. This document will be used as a guide not only for internal Instructional Design but also a “push back” tool when clients are requesting the moon. Specific thoughts may include how download interruptions might affect the learning process.

Excellent question, Dave.

E-learning is different from other types of web interaction. In a non-E-learning environment, the user really only cares about the final destination page — their target content. The pages on the way to their destination aren’t important, as long as they arrive at their target content. (The site’s marketing organization cares about those pages on the way, but the user truly doesn’t.)

In E-Learning, the journey is far more important than the final destination. It’s the pages they visit on their way to the Congrats!-You’ve-Learned-It! page that are most important, since those pages contain the instructional material.

So, the download time issue gets slightly changed. If users are waiting for content and not doing anything else, they’ll see that as painful. It would be the equivalent of an engaging live instructor, in a classroom, suddenly becoming silent for minutes at a time. It’s distracting to the educational process and not helping the user with their goal — to learn the material.

That said, there are ways to mitigate the problem: Since much online instruction is done in a predictable linear fashion, it’s possible to “cache-ahead” — load material in advance of it’s need, thereby making it feel more responsive than it really is. For example, this is what YouTube.com does. It’s starts to load the content, then begins playing it before the loading has finished. It continues to load advanced material while the user is still absorbing material it loaded earlier.

YouTube stops loading at the end of a video segment. However, if the designers knew which movie the user was likely to watch next, they could continue loading. Or they might load the first few seconds of several different likely-next-choices, so, whichever one the user picks, they can start playing the content while they resume loading the remainder of the segment.

With clever techniques like this, it would have the appearance of immediate streaming while really just loading content in the background.

One Response to “Download Time and E-Learning”

  1. University Update - YouTube - Download Time and E-Learning Says:

    [...] Download Time and E-Learning » This Summary is from an article posted at UIE Brain Sparks on Thursday, October 25, 2007 Dave [...]

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