TED talks are incredibly popular. Around 1.5 million people view a Ted talk every day, and a new viewing begins 17 times every second. But do you know why each TED talks last no longer than 18 minutes? Here’s what TED curator, Chris Anderson, says :
It [18 minutes] is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention. It turns out that this length also works incredibly well online. It’s the length of a coffee break. So, you watch a great talk, and forward the link to two or three people. It can go viral, very easily. The 18-minute length also works much like the way Twitter forces people to be disciplined in what they write. By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say. What is the key point they want to communicate? It has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline.
I did a search for any research that supports the idea of 18 minutes being the optimal time for a lecture and couldn’t find any. It does feel right though. Anyone who has sat through 50 minute university lectures knows that the mind wanders away and wanders back to the lecture. But even with an 18 minutes lecture, it’s easy to find your mind wandering.
I suppose the question is : do you learn that much from a TED talk besides a broad introduction to the topic being presented ? I’ve watched quite a few TED talks on a wide variety of subjects from understanding Body language to deciphering the Indus Valley language. What I’ve learnt could be put into one or two sentences on each topic. I’ve learned far more by asking questions on Quora than from TED talks on the same subject.
For language teachers, I think this underlines the importance of us not talking too much. My own experience, and that of a lot of researchers, is that successful learning occurs through interaction, and that means lots of student talk. And not so much teacher talk.
And students, you learn to speak though speaking. Ask questions, even if you think they’re silly. It’s how you learn.