Active Learning Blog

Video As A Tool for Learning

Feb 1, 2017 8:01:00 AM by Alison Maloney


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Video is Everywhere

Learners of all ages now expect to be able to have information at our fingertips and we don’t just want written information, we want a visual demonstration along with the explanation.

This is an example of what I mean. I wanted to learn how to change a washer. So, I searched online and then watched 3 versions of washers being changed – incidentally there were thousands! - I found one I liked, watched it again to make sure I had the right equipment and then a 3rd time as I followed the instructions.

As recently as 5 years ago it probably would not have occurred to me to try this for myself. Now I have friends who regularly suggest links to videos. I’ve watched videos of recipes being made, the latest and greatest eco-friendly cleaning product, or even how to make a garden feature (that I’ll never use). I have discovered that I can learn to do almost anything by searching online and watching a video. Whether I should be attempting everything I can find online is a question for another day.

Video content is ubiquitous. So, it’s no wonder students expect to be able to replay classroom lectures as easily as streaming the latest episode of Game of Thrones. When asked, students place a high value on classroom capture technology. Video is everywhere else in their life, why not in the classroom?

What Does Research Say About Video As A Tool for Learning?

As educators, we know that video has become a critical tool in education. In the October edition of Campus Technology, Dian Schaffhauser wrote an article titled ‘The challenge of Understanding MOOC Data’. While many would argue that MOOCs have not been the most successful pathway to gain an education, they have taught us some interesting things about how students learn with video. Schaffhauser pulled out 3 lessons that also apply to traditional instructor-led online learning courses. 

  1. It’s about Multi-Modal learning – In the beginning, most students spend their time watching videos. But as the course progresses, video watching time drops and students spend more time solving problem sets.
  2. Students have short attention span for videos – Almost all students watch the first 2-3 minutes of video. After that, viewing drops off dramatically. The lesson here? Keep videos short.
  3. Small nudges can encourage participation – making presentations more interactive through the use of polls or questions can increase student engagement and participation.

There are a number of valuable research articles such as Phillip Guo’s findings that suggest videos should be between 4 to 9 minutes long to maintain our attention. 

Do all lecture videos have to be short in order to be effective? Not necessarily. I watched Sandi Tokvig’s TED talk which was 19 mins and 48 seconds from beginning to end and was thoroughly engaged. Maybe she kept my attention because she changed the speed and volume of the way she spoke, she made me laugh, showed me slides and made some points that made me think. Perhaps, rather than restricting the length of a video by rule, we consider our purpose and our audience as we would when composing written text. Five minutes was perfect for changing a washer, nowhere near enough for a keynote address.Finally an excellent visual overview of the affordances of video for online learning can be found in the paper, 'The Role of Video in Online Learning: Findings from the Field and Critical Reflections.'The paper offers up details on 18 video production styles including talking head, tablet capture and webcam capture.