Designing engaging educational video takes a little bit of science and a little bit of Hollywood.
Video is king. 80% of all 18-49 year olds watch YouTube, with more than 1 billion hours of video watched on the platform every single day. Notably, over half of users say they use the site to “figure out how to do things they haven’t done before” arguably making it one of the world’s largest online education platforms.(1)
What this also means is that the current generation of students no longer have the patience and motivation to sit through hour-long recordings of traditional lectures.
A new approach to educational video is needed.
This article distils some of the research on what makes for great educational video, it shares our experiences at Mediator Academy of delivering over 1 million minutes of educational video, and offers some easy-to-implement tips for you to create your own educational content, if you dare.
It may sound obvious, but if you want students to learn from video, you need to design videos that are effective for learning. Thanks to the growth in online learning, in which video features prominently, we now know a lot about this, and whole new pedagogical models have been developed and tested to help in effective design.
In this post, we’ll look at one pedagogical framework, the Community of Inquiry (COI), and what this can teach you about designing and using great – and effective – educational video.
The Community of Inquiry
The Community of Inquiry framework (2) was developed based on the idea that deep, meaningful learning experiences must be created in a learning community, which relies on three interdependent “presences”:
- Social Presence – defined as the ability of the members of the community to present themselves as real, social beings who form social and emotional connections with each other through learning.
- Teaching Presence – the design, delivery and facilitation of meaningful learning experiences.
- Cognitive Presence – the extent to which learners are able to construct meaning from their learning experiences and interactions.
The community consists of the students, instructors and, to a certain degree, the medium being used for communication.
In recent years, two further presences have been added to this model, namely Design Presence, which emphasises the importance of good design to maximise the learner experience (LX) and Emotional Presence, formerly seen as an aspect of social presence but now recognised as a much more significant in the learning process, as appreciation of the role of emotional intelligence in learning increased. (3).
This framework can be difficult to grasp in the abstract, so we will discuss a few examples of how it can be applied to the design and delivery of educational video.
Keeping it Real
All the “presences” in the COI framework can be supported by bringing the human to the forefront of your educational video. Students respond best to fellow humans, rather than a disembodied voice talking them through a powerpoint slide.
In fact, it is the single most commented on feature of our current online lessons – the students all love learning from the top professionals, but they particularly love the fact that these experts talk to them in a conversational way, about their knowledge and experiences.
A conversational, jargon-free style of presenting allows students to connect with the people from whom they are learning, and with each other when they discuss their learning on forums.
“I loved how Professor Alexander explained why people find it so hard to talk directly to their opposite number in a mediation.”(Student quote)
It’s Good to Laugh
Another strategy can be including appropriate humour at different junctures, as long as it comes naturally, and is not overly scripted or forced. Humour has been proven to promote critical thinking and cognitive presence when connected to the topics that are being studied. (4)
Designing videos in such a way as to bring out the humanity of the instructor, and allow the student to connect with them builds social presence, teaching presence and emotional presence, and even enhances cognitive presence.
Not only this, but it promotes much higher engagement rates than pre-recorded or live-captured formal lectures do.
Tip 1 – Consider Strategies that Promote Emotional Engagement
If you are creating educational video then make sure faculty introduce themselves on video. Ask them to talk about who they are, not just their roles and achievements. Think about what will make students emotionally engage with whoever is on screen.
It is possible to bring a dry subject to life by promoting emotional engagement and at the same time ruin what could have been an enlightening topic with a flat, emotionless delivery. Take legal education, for example, where some topics are unlikely to set the world on fire but with some innovative design thinking you can lift these topics off the canvas and engage the learner in ways that you wouldn’t ordinarily have thought possible.
Appearance Does Matter
Today’s students are exposed to too much video, too many GIFs, memes, Netflix series’ and animation to tolerate poor quality video. Good design is not just decorative or a “nice to have”, it is essential for successful online learning (5); (6). While good design enhances the learning experience and improves its effectiveness, poor design can interfere with engagement, enjoyment, cognition and lead to a diminished learner experience.
Grant describes good design presence as the “glue” that binds the other presences together and the “oil” that reduces friction for the learner.(7)
So what does good design mean?
Grant focuses on the fact that design should be “intentional”, so considered and thought out, with the goal of the video in mind.
A number of aspects of good design must be considered.
- First, the technical aspects of production must be right – making sure videos are well edited, not blurry or wobbly and that the sound works properly, for example.
- From an aesthetic perspective, it should be ensured that the video looks good but also that aesthetic mistakes are avoided; too many bright colours, to many white screens that can cause headaches or tiny, hard-to-read font.
- Accessibility also falls into the design category, and this shall be discussed further below.
This does not necessarily mean all videos should be made in Hollywood.
One study found that students tend to view instructors who produce videos themselves as more human and authentic. (8)
Modern tools such as iMovie, Camtasia, Screenflow and many many others make it easier than ever before to create professional looking videos and screen captures and vast libraries of imagery and graphics can greatly enhance the “look and feel” of your videos.
What is important to remember is not to get carried away by the functionality of these tools at the expense of design for learning. Before embarking on producing a video, take a short course or invest in a book such as Dierksen’s Design for How People Learn which offers great advice and suggestions for design.
Tip 2 – Storyboard your Videos
Line up content, imagery, colour schemes and graphics to ensure everything flows and coheres. Templates for storyboards are readily available online.
Keep it Simple
Let’s face it, today’s students are more easily bored than ever before.
Generally, they will benefit from variety rather than repetition, and from mixing media, in order to stay cognitively present.
Some research has shown that including graphics in an educational video can enhance memory performance, for example. (9)
Mayer’s “cognitive theory of multimedia learning” (10&11) a fascinating theory based on studies of how we process information, cautions against overdoing it.
In brief, this theory states that
- We have two different channels for processing visual material, on the one hand, and auditory on the other;
- Each of these channels has limited capacity and can only handle a few pieces of information at one time;
- Active processing is required for learning to occur.
In order not to overload these cognitive processes, we should be wary of including too many different types of information at once in a video.
Keen to use all the functionalities of DIY video tools, for example, some instructors now produce videos which feature themselves talking, an interactive whiteboard being used, captions, music and graphics flying in and out.
Mayer would say that this information overload, and cause distraction and cognitive overload, thereby reducing learning.
This equally applies to aspects of poor design (such as a wobbling camera or uneven audio) which requires cognitive processing unrelated to learning objectives which compromises both motivation and learning.
Tip 3 – Less is more.
Have a maximum of three things going on at once. Music in the background is redundant where the video includes other audio.
Keep it Active
Active learning is an ubiquitous buzzword these days.
Video is sometimes criticised for being too passive a learning activity. It need not be. In order to build cognitive presence, video has to be designed so as to actively involve learners in their learning.
There are many ways in which this can be done. At the outset, instructors should consider how they use video:
- in the classroom?
- before class in a flipped model?
- as a revision tool?
- as a learning activity in itself?
The choice of model must be based on what the learning outcome is intended to be. If a video is intended to foster critical thinking, for example, it might be best used in a flipped format where students watch it and then discuss and debate it later in class.
Such a debate can take place online also of course, and a number of apps and platforms now allow discussion to be integrated directly into the video. Equally, various video apps now offer functionality that pauses the video and asks the students a question which they must answer before they can continue.
Even in the absence of such tools, instructors can make the learning experience more active by setting specific tasks for engagement with video, such as identifying examples of certain skills, or suggesting alternative ways of approaching something in a simulation video.
Even something as simple as a video with the addition of some focused questions can make the learning experience a more active one.
Tip 4 – Consider How to Engage Students by Scaffolding Activity Around Video
Break videos into short segments that finish with a question, a threshold concept or a cliffhanger. Ask students to consider what will happen next or what the answer might be before showing them the rest of the video.
Videos are for Everyone
It should go without saying but all educational videos should be designed by reference to the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines for accessibility. (12)
No medium is perfect. However, video offers many benefits for students with disabilities or learning difficulties and, if designed with accessibility principles in mind, it can bring additional learning benefits for all students.
A key aspect of this is to provide closed captions and / or transcripts. Not only are these beneficial for those with hearing loss and learning disabilities (13) but they have also been found to aid comprehension, retention and attention for all students (14). Non-native speakers, in particular, have found video to make learning easier (as compared to in-class lectures) even in the absence of subtitles. (15)
Many video platforms now offer integrations of .srt files, the most common format for closed captions, or the facility to add transcripts. These can be procured easily and cheaply from a variety of online providers.
Of course captions are only one aspect of accessibility. To create a fully inclusive video learning experience, all three aspects of the UDL guidelines should be followed:
- Multiple means of representation – give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge
- Multiple means of expression – provide learners with alternatives for demonstrating what they know
- Multiple means of engagement – tap into learners’ interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation
(See also http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html)
Tip #5 – Caption All Videos and Double Check Grammar and Spelling!
If you outsource caption production, they often come peppered with spelling and grammatical mistakes. While, in the words of one of our students, they can be “an endless source of amusement”, they also increase cognitive load and distraction, so proof-read all your captions!
The Final Act
In order for video to be the effective, engaging and inclusive learning experience that it can be, it must be pedagogically designed.
The Community of Inquiry, with its focus on social and emotional interactions, thoughtful teaching and learning and great design, is just one model we can turn to, but it gives some useful ideas for designing great video that don’t require huge amounts of time, technology and resources.
The students of the future will not be sitting in lecture theatres in major urban centres. They will be watching educational videos on their smartphones on the train, on their laptops in their bedrooms and on their tablets in a cafe before a tutorial.
If they can learn how to apply make-up or change a tyre from video, they can also learn how to run a negotiation, give feedback to a colleague or ask for a pay rise. We just have to get a little creative about how we show them.
Do you use educational video? We’d love to hear your experience, any tips, things that have worked?
Please do leave comments and questions in the box below, we read and respond to every single one.
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- Majeski, R. A., Stover, M., & Valais, T. (2018). The Community of Inquiry and Emotional Presence. Adult Learning, 29(2), 53–61. https://doi.org/10.1177/1045159518758696
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- Sage Publishing, White paper “Assessing the Impact of Educational Video on Student Engagement, Critical Thinking and Learning: The Current State of Play,” (2018) https://us.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/hevideolearning.pdf
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