If you click on the transition in the timeline, there should be a place in the properties panel to change the duration.
What version are you using? The method may vary between versions.
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If you are referring to Premiere Elements 12 on Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 64 bit
There is no set lower than 0 seconds for the transition duration in the pop up, but you can drag on the placed transition to achieve that 0.5 second duration. This an example of left clip alignment/Cube Spin/0.5 second duration at the Timeline level. If you would double click the transition to get the Transition Adjustment pop up, you would see 0 for duration followed by 15 frames (the equivalent of 0.5 second in a 30 frames per second system).
For more specific information, please say what version of Premiere Elements that you are using and on what computer operating system it is running.
When opening the program you could also set for Video Transition Default Duration in preferences where the units are in frames. So, you would set 15 frames there to get your 0.5 second Video Transition Default Duration in a 30 frames per second system. (See Edit Menu/Preferences/General/ Video Transition Default Duration.)
If you double-click on a transition, you can also type .5 as your transition duration in the the Duration option box that pops up.
But, as Bob said at the outset, everything depends on which version of the program you're using.
I have a problem with the generalized comments offered on your generalized question of setting a 0.5 second transition duration in Premiere Elements.
1. For Premiere Elements 11 and 12, I have only observed what I have written in post 2 and that includes not being able to put 0.5 seconds in the duration field which has units of seconds in the Transition pop up. See my defined response in post 2.
2. For Premiere Elements 4, 7, 8.0/8.0.1, 9.0/9.0.1, and10, you can do as SG mentions, double click the transition on the Timeline to get the transition's properties palette. And, there you can type in the duration. But, the units there are not given in seconds as he suggests. They are given as a timecode in the format 00;00;00;00 (hours;minutes; seconds; frames). So, if you want a transition with a 0.5 second duration, then you set the duration to 00;00;00;15 in a 30 frames per second system.
I would with Premiere Elements on Windows XP SP3 32 bit, Windows 7, 8, 8.1 64 bit, and that is what I have always observed.
Please review and check it out for yourself to define what works for you.