Lesson Timer in Sensei for Distance Learning

    Akshaya Rane
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learning-management-system-senseiHave you heard of Distance Learning? What happens is, educational institutes provide courses, which can be taken online. So students can take up these courses, without having to physically attend a classroom lecture. Several Continuing Education programs use distance learning techniques as well. An LMS plugin you can use, to create a distance learning program with WordPress, is Sensei. Sensei is by WooThemes, hence seamlessly integrates with WooCommerce and WooCommerce Subscriptions, thus you can sell your courses as well.

The advantage of distance learning, as you can imagine, is that students can learn on a convenient schedule, and right from anywhere. Hence it is quite a popular learning alternative. But can you list out a few disadvantages of this approach?

A primary disadvantage here, is that students can cheat (not on tests or quizes, but more on the lines of attending classes). This is because a teacher isn’t physically present. Usually lessons are available as video tutorials, and hence a student can very easily skip a lesson, by skipping the associated video.

What can, you, as a teacher do in such situations?

One approach, (which has gained attention), is timing a lesson. What does that mean, you ask? That means, we have to keep track of whether the video has been watched or not, and only then mark a lesson as complete.

Sounds reasonable right? Let’s explore!


Add a Lesson Timer in Sensei

With a timer for each lesson, a prerequisite for a lesson to be marked as complete, should be a minimum time a student has to spend studying the lesson.

  • For example, say a student has to watch a 30 minutes video, which is lesson number 1 for a particular course.
  • Which means the minimum time required to complete a lesson is 30 minutes.
  • This lesson cannot be marked as complete, within 30 minutes, of the lesson.

But the timed lesson is not a default feature of the Sensei plugin. Thus we will need to customize it a bit. To translate what we need into WordPress lingo, we’ll probably have to set a cron, for 30 minutes since the lesson start, to know if a student has spent adequate time on it.

But wait. That’s not enough.

A student can just watch the first half of the video twice, and complete 30 minutes of lesson time. Or, a student can simply choose to play the video, and venture off, to run personal errands. What happens then?!

We need a better approach!

Diving a Video into Sections

Instead of tracking if a video has been playing for a set amount of time, we need to first check if all sections have been viewed. This means, say for our 30 minutes video, we could divide it into 10 sections of 3 minutes each.

Video hosting services like Vimeo, offer progress tracking APIs. Using these APIs, you can register for events, which can be used to track video play progress. Based on the result, you can analyse if the entire video has been watched or sections have been skipped.

But we still haven’t addressed the issue, of the student, not actually watching the video, while it is playing. We’ll look at how we can tackle this scenario, next.

Adding Feedback on a Timely Basis

To ensure that a student sits and watches the video, we need to get feedback from the student on a timely basis. It’s like a teacher asking students a random question in the middle of the lecture, to figure out if they’ve been paying attention or not. And that’s what we will exactly be doing.

After specific intervals, there could be a random quiz question displayed, relevant to video content viewed, which has to be answered accurately, to continue watching the video. If your video hosting service provides you this functionality, you might as well use that. Else, you will have to customize the Sensei plugin.

We’ll have to pause the video, when we have to show the question. Usually, the question will be a select option. Only when the student answers accurately, the video will continue to play, else the student will have to try another question, or choose to view the video section again.

Quiz Made Available only After Set Time Limit

Once we have tracked and marked the lesson as complete, the quiz related to that lesson will be shown.


The Importance of Timing Lessons

Timing a lesson, or in some cases a course, is important, to ensure, that a student has truly gone through, and completed the lesson or course content. A time based check is similar to an automated monitor, or supervisor.

It’s a simple, yet effective approach.


Your Thoughts?

As an LMS owner, or a Sensei practitioner, it is important that you provide us, and fellow readers, valuable feedback. So do feel free, to leave your comments, questions, and thoughts about this approach, in the comment section below.



Akshaya Rane

Akshaya Rane

2 Responses

  1. Hi Akshaya, have you actually set up a Sensei site to allow for timing like this? I am building a site that requires a timer for the lessons. Users need to spend a specific amount of time on the content for each exit.

    For example
    Lesson 1: 5 min
    Lesson 2: 30 min
    Lesson 3: 35 min

    Once they have spent that amount of time on the lesson content, they can move forward to the exit quiz. Once they have taken the quiz they will be able to move forward to the next lesson.

    Can you show me how you did this?

    1. Hi Joe,

      I do not have a solution ready. I had evaluated this scenario in detail for a client requirement.

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