Video as a learning tool: A mixed blessing?

Published in Concepts
Saturday, 09 March 2013 22:15
Do you think the use of video during the instructional process helps or distracts the learner? Is video a mixed blessing? In our world of e-Learning, video has become an important element in the eLearning process as, according to research, visual demonstration of something new can lead to successful results. Yet, many eLearning developers hesitate to use this powerful tool. But is this hesitation an unfounded fear?

Video as a learning tool: A mixed blessing?

First of all, to provide an answer, we should define what we mean by saying “video”. Is it a Flash animation? A text? Anything that happens in front of a screen? If that is the case, eLearning is by definition related to video as everything takes place in front of a screen. Therefore, video can be either a handy tool, a disastrous distraction or even a complete waste of money. The answer may vary depending on the points of view among professionals involved in the eLearning field.

Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “the medium is the message”, thus suggesting that a medium itself, not the content it carries, should be the focus of study. On the other hand, Richard E. Clark in his article “Media Will Never Influence Learning” that was published in the journal of Educational Technology Research and Development launches a debate about media. More precisely he compares media to “vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition”.

The truth is that the majority of eLearning professionals admit that video constitutes a vivid and entertaining way to stimulate the learner’s interest and convey the desired knowledge. Learners are thus more likely to retain the information they have been taught by recreating the images in their minds. After all, most learners need to feel as if the instructor is speaking directly to them in a one-on-one conversation. They need this relationship between instructor and student that helps them keep their interest in the subject to be taught.

However, there are some requirements that must be met in order for a video to be successful in achieving effectively its primary role. First of all, we should think about how a video is produced; a good quality video is vital and can highly influence the way the viewer receives the message.

Moreover, before creating a video to back our eLearning course, we should also consider the nature of our target audience. One very important factor is age. For instance, when talking about adult learners, videos are more likely to be used, but not as the main part of the lesson. When it comes to children, video is the sine qua non of the learning procedure. Due to the fact that videos are mainly associated to entertainment, it seems that learners need to put less mental effort.

Then, we should also bear in mind that not all people are the same: some just don’t prefer video! This can depend on various reasons (e.g. some might be unable to follow the narration of the online instructional video, especially non-native speakers). Therefore, videos are more efficient when they are accompanied by their transcriptions, step-by-step instructions as well as PDF files.

Don’t overdo it!

Apart from the beneficial effects of the use of video in eLearning courses, there’s always a dark side in every situation. In an effort to limit the adverse effects, one should bear in mind the following before starting the creation of an instructional video:

  1. Interest level of content: The more interesting your subject matter, the less you need to invest in video. Teaching something boring? Bring the video!

  2. Duration: A video should be kept short and contain relatively small amounts of information (5-7 mins are more than enough). Short videos are more convenient to watch, scan and rewatch. Too long videos not only tire learners and make them more passive, but they can also prove an obstacle in the learning process.

  3. Quality-quantity: The ratio of quality to quantity is also very important. Everybody gets bored waiting for a video that takes too long to download.

  4. Format of content: There should be specific provisions for the different types of learners: e.g. text reinforcement for “visual” learners, subtitles for non-native speakers. Bear in mind that videos work better if used in combination with interactions, games and puzzles that allow a more active participation of the learner!

Always remember: Videos are not a panacea!

Video should not be considered as a learning product in itself, it should be seen mostly as a way to illustrate and highlight particular parts of the learning content. To put it differently, video is just an option for the delivery of your content, but not the only option! It’s a great way to keep a learner engaged, but it’s not the media itself that affects learning - it is the learning methods and strategies.

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Read 3479 times Last modified on Wednesday, 22 January 2014 13:36
Christopher Pappas

Christopher Pappas is founder of The eLearning Industry's NetworkCurrently, the eLearning Industry has a network of more than 75,000 professionals involved in the eLearning Industry and runs the following sites:

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He is also the Founder and Owner of the Instructional Design and eLearning Professionals’ Group (64K+) (, which is the largest online community of professionals involved in the eLearning Industry at LinkedIn.

Christopher holds an MBA, and an M.Ed. (Learning Design) from BGSU.

If I can be valuable to you do not hesitate to contact me!

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