Effective (Educational) Videos

Video has become an important part of education.

It is integrated as part of traditional courses, serves as a cornerstone of many blended courses, and is often the main information delivery mechanism in MOOCs.

In order for video to serve as a productive part of a learning experience, however, it is important for the instructor to consider three elements for video design and implementation:


1, Cognitive load

One of the primary considerations when constructing educational materials, including video, is cognitive load. Cognitive Load Theory, initially articulated by Sweller and colleagues (1988, 1989, 1994), suggests that memory has several components (see the figure). Sensory memory is transient, collecting information from the environment. Information from sensory memory may be selected for temporary storage and processing in working memory, which has very limited capacity. This processing is a prerequisite for encoding into long-term memory, which has virtually unlimited capacity. Because working memory is very limited, the learner must be selective about what information from sensory memory to pay attention to during the learning process, an observation that has important implications for creating educational materials.

Based on this model of memory, Cognitive Load Theory suggests that any learning experience has three components (see the figure). The first of these is intrinsic load, which is inherent to the subject under study and is determined in part by the degrees of connectivity within the subject. The common example given to illustrate a subject with low intrinsic load is a word pair (e.g., blue = azul), whereas grammar is a subject with a high intrinsic load due to its many levels of connectivity and conditional relationships. The second component of any learning experience is germane load, which is the level of cognitive activity necessary to reach the desired learning outcome — e.g., to make the comparisons, do the analysis, elucidate the steps necessary to master the lesson. The ultimate goal of these activities is for the learner to incorporate the subject under study into a schema of richly connected ideas. The third component of a learning experience is extraneous load, which is cognitive effort that does not help the learner toward the desired learning outcome. It is often characterized as load that arises from a poorly designed lesson (e.g., confusing instructions, extra information), but may also be load that arises due to stereotype threat or imposter syndrome.

These definitions have implications for design of educational materials and experiences. Specifically, instructors should seek to minimize extraneous cognitive load and should consider the intrinsic cognitive load of the subject when constructing learning experiences, carefully structuring them when the material has high intrinsic load.

Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning

The Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning builds on the Cognitive Load Theory, noting that working memory has two channels for information acquisition and processing: a visual/pictorial channel and an auditory/verbal processing channel (Mayer and Moreno, 2003). Although each channel has limited capacity, the use of the two channels can facilitate the integration of new information into existing cognitive structures. By using both channels, working memory’s capacity is maximized — but either channel can be overwhelmed by high cognitive load. Thus design strategies that manage the cognitive load for both channels in multimedia learning materials promise to enhance learning. In addition to the two key assumptions of dual-channel processing and limited working memory capacity, the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning also articulates the goal of any learning as “meaningful learning,” which requires cognitive processing that includes paying attention to the presented material, mentally organizing the presented material into a coherent structure, and integrating the presented material with existing knowledge (Mayer and Moreno 2003)1.

2. Student engagement

One of the most important aspects of creating educational videos is to include elements that help promote student engagement. If students don’t watch the videos, they can’t learn from them. Lessons on promoting student engagement derive from earlier research on multimedia instruction as well as more recent work on videos used within MOOCs.

  • Keep it short. Guo and colleagues examined the length of time students watched streaming videos within four edX MOOCs,
  • analyzing results from 6.9 million video watching sessions (2014). They observed that the median engagement time for videos less than six minutes long was close to 100%–that is, students tended to watch the whole video (although there are significant outliers; see the paper for more complete information). As videos lengthened, however, student engagement dropped off, such that the median engagement time with 9–12 minute videos was ~50% and the median engagement time with 12–40 minute videos was ~20%. In fact, the maximum median engagement time for a video of any length was six minutes. Making videos longer than 6–9 minutes is therefore likely to be wasted effort.
  • Use a conversational style. Called the personalization principle by Richard Meyer, the use of conversational rather than formal language during multimedia instruction has been shown to have a large effect on students’ learning, perhaps because a conversational style encourages students to develop sense of social partnership with the narrator that leads to greater engagement and effort (Meyer, 2008).
  • Speak relatively quickly and with enthusiasm. In their study examining student engagement with MOOC videos, Guo and colleagues observed that student engagement was dependent on the narrator’s speaking rate, with student engagement increasing as speaking rate increased (2014). It can be tempting for video narrators to speak slowly to help ensure that students grasp important ideas, but including in-video questions , “chapters”, and speed control can give students control over this feature — and increasing narrator speed appears to promote student interest.
  • Make sure the material feels like it is for these students in this class. One of the benefits for instructors in creating educational videos is the ability to reuse them for other classes and other semesters. When reusing videos, it’s important to package them with text outside the video to contextualize them for the particular class for which they are being used. Further, it’s important to create them for the type of environment in which they will be used. Guo and colleagues examined student engagement with MOOC videos that were created by chopping up videotaped lectures that had been presented in a face-to-face class (Guo et al., 2014). Student engagement was significantly less than when lectures were created with the MOOC environment in mind.
  • Match modality. While this consideration is important for managing cognitive load, it is also relevant to promoting student engagement. When telling a story, it can be very effective to show the storyteller’s face or to show an animation of the story (see Jay Clayton example: https://class.coursera.org/onlinegames-003/lecture). When solving a problem, Khan academy-style videos are particularly helpful, showing students step-by-step with narration how to work through the problem (Guo et al., 2014). When teaching about an invisible phenomenon, it can be helpful to provide an illustration. In each case, providing visual elements that add to the lesson can not only promote student understanding but also engagement with the lesson.

3. Active learning

To help students get the most out of an educational video, it’s important to provide tools to help them process the information and to monitor their own understanding. There are multiple ways to do this effectively.

  • Use guiding questions.Lawson and colleagues examined the impact of guiding questions on students’ learning from a video about social psychology in an introductory psychology class (2006). Building on work from Kreiner (1997), they had students in some sections of the course watch the video with no special instructions, while students in other sections of the course were provided with eight guiding questions to consider while watching. The students who answered the guiding questions while watching the video scored significantly higher on a later test.
  • Use interactive features that give students control. Zhang and colleagues compared the impact of interactive and non-interactive video on students learning in a computer science course (2006). Students who were able to control movement through the video, selecting important sections to review and moving backwards when desired, demonstrated better achievement of learning outcomes and greater satisfaction. One simple way to achieve this level of interactivity is by using YouTube Annotate, HapYak, or another tool to introduce labeled “chapters” into a video. This not only has the benefit of giving students control, but also can demonstrate the organization, increasing the germane load of the lesson.
  • Integrate questions into the video.Tools like HapYak can allow instructors to incorporate questions directly into video and to give feedback based on student response. Vural compared the effect of video with embedded questions to interactive video without embedded questions in pre-service teachers, finding that the embedded questions improved the students’ performance on subsequent quizzes (2013).
  • Make video part assesment . Faizan Zubair and Mary Keithly are each part of the BOLD Fellowsprogram at Vanderbilt University, in which graduate students develop online learning materials for incorporation into a faculty mentor’s course. Faizan developed videos on that were embedded in a larger homework assignment in Paul Laibinis’ Chemical Engineering class, and found that students valued the videos and that the videos improved students’ understanding of difficult concepts when compared to a semester when the videos were not used in conjunction with the homework. Mary worked with Kathy Friedman to develop videos and follow-up questions to serve as pre-class preparation in a genetics class. Although there was no apparent change to learning outcomes in the class, students valued the videos and post-video questions as learning tools and thought that they were effective for promoting student understanding.

The important thing to keep in mind is that watching a video can be a passive experience, much as reading can be. To make the most of our educational videos, we need to help students do the processing and self-evaluation that will lead to the learning we want to see. The particular way you do this should be guided by goals of the course and the norms of your discipline.

Summary

Videos is king!