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By Heather Morton
Senior Editor, MindEdge Learning
In a 2022 global survey of education professionals, 79% of respondents agreed with the following statement: “When it comes to learning, video is more effective than text.”
Fully 29% expressed strong agreement with this proposition. Based on this finding, the survey sponsor concluded that “integrating video wherever possible is key” to educational success.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The survey sponsor, Kaltura, sells education-video products.
Learning experts without a commercial motive have somewhat more specific recommendations for when and how to use video for e-learning.
According to Donald Clark in Learning Experience Design, indiscriminate use of video is dangerous because people feel it’s effective even when it’s not. Because video is so engaging, learners leave the video feeling that they’ve learned more than assessments show they have. Transient media like video doesn’t move information from short- to long-term memory. However much we feel we’ve learned, we walk away with the gist, but few or none of the details. We might remember, for instance, that compliance is important—but not remember exactly which issues we’re supposed to pay attention to, or how to check on them.
Because it is not transient, text is usually the best way to convey detailed information. If you use video for this purpose, however, the best practice is to follow up small amounts of video with retrieval questions, requiring learners to try to remember the information they just heard. The process of trying to remember is essential for moving information from short- to long-term memory.
Contrary to the invitation to use video whenever possible, Clark describes some nicely specific situations where video can actually improve on text:
- Process or Procedure. Video is the best medium for demonstrating a process, such as changing the brake pads on your car or checking a guest in at a certain hotel chain. In these instances, seeing how the job is done is the key to learning how to do it right. When demonstrating the process, shoot the video from the first-person perspective so that what learners will see in the real world will closely match what they see demonstrated on the video. Some videos are job aids rather than learning materials; that is, they are intended to help employees get the job done and will be used every time the learner needs to perform that process. You might change brake pads once every five years and will use the video every time you want to do that job. If the learner does need to learn the process, however, remember to pause the video to ask students to recall or anticipate the next step. You could demonstrate the process in a first video and then interrupt the second video to ask students what the employee should do next.
- Blackboard Videos. A subset of the process video category, blackboard videos feature text or equations that are manipulated as voiceover explains the process. No part of a human being need be visible, though some blackboard videos include the writer’s hand. As the popularity of Khan Academy shows, video is a great medium for showing worked examples in math, science, or grammar. Again, these videos work best when they are interspersed with practice for the learner. A pause with the question, “What is the next step in solving this equation?”—along with feedback on the answer—will move learners from passively watching the video to learning the procedure themselves.
- Curated Answers. Nick Shackleton-Jones and Roger Shank both advocate using video to replicate the way most of us like to get information—from another person. Both designers recorded an expert answering many single questions in a series of short videos, and then indexed the answers. When learners want to figure out how to do something, they type in their question and pull up the corresponding video. Both instructional designers claim this is popular with users, but I’m skeptical. While in real life I like getting answers from others, the main advantage of person-to-person learning is the human interaction involved. That is not present in the video version, even if it approximates how I get the information.
- Role-Play and Modeling. My favorite use of video is in the field of interpersonal skill—how to handle a child’s tantrum, how to conduct a job interview, how to support diversity and inclusion, how to coach, how to run a meeting, how to de-escalate conflict with a person with dementia. Video provides a way of modeling right and wrong behavior that is far better than any textual description, in large part because it captures the subtleties of nonverbal body language. A role-play can contrast the consequences of the wrong and right ways of handling a situation, using an expert’s voiceover to point out features of what the learner is viewing. The voiceover can also be used as the internal thoughts of someone in the video, such as the person who never gets the chance to contribute during a meeting.
- Drama. Best of all, the video can create dramatic moments illustrating genuine dilemmas that can deeply engage learners. Of course, text can be used to create dramatic moments, too, but video can be more engaging and is certainly less work for the viewer. Tom Hickmore, a video learning designer, argues that effective drama for learning centers on difficult choices or dilemmas—choices where there are no right answers—which provoke the learner to think deeply about the issues involved. He urges designers to minimize exposition—the set-up of the situation—or shift the exposition to text, so the video can focus on the conflict among characters. In training videos, compelling conflicts are often built from differing job pressures. An organization’s salesperson is going to have a different agenda from the organization’s lawyer or product developer. A compliance dilemma that arises when differing perspectives conflict will engage viewers more deeply than a video that lays out compliance information. The video drama can pause while viewers look up the relevant information to make their own decision about how the characters should handle the situation. In short, in drama, the video provides the motivation for learning, rather than the material itself.
Used indiscriminately, video provides the illusion of learning while encouraging passive forgetting. But used effectively, video captures information that cannot easily be conveyed in text—information that requires visual elements and provides personal engagement.
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