Breaking down video

Video hardware and software is cheaper. It’s quicker and easier to achieve a good standard.  Publishing is now the same as distributing. Yet, if we want to make engaging educational videos, we need to understand how it works and what it’s affordances are in the educational context.

How does video work in education?

Video’s sound and image fills the visual and auditory senses.  Our working memory decodes according to verbal and visual models for integration with our own understanding of the world.  This new understanding get transferred into long-term memory – but this last point, of course, is subject to remembering and forgetting processes.  It is the strength of the dual-encoding experience that makes video so powerful but there are limits.  Spot the bottleneck in this simple diagrammatic representation (Mayer and Moreno 2003, p44) of how video works in education:

Cognitive theory of multimedia learning

The bottleneck is Working Memory’s capacity to hold and interpret words and images.  That puts it in conflict with the infinite possibilities of presenting sound and pictures; and the seemingly unlimited capacity of Long-term memory.  This is the essence of cognitive load – the capacity to process and integrate into long-term memory.

What are the educational processes happening in video?

Well designed video manages the cognitive load.  Beyond normal learning design, both the process of creating and watching well designed video itself gives it some significant affordances :

  • Signalling : bringing additional audio and visual cues of what’s important.  It’s not just the “pointing arrows” highlights but it is also the passion in your voice signals what’s important.
  • Segmenting : the chunking and sequencing choices you make as you construct a story and argument.  Similarly, the learner has control over the pace of how they experience that videoed story/argument.
  • Weeding : you work within the constraints of time and medium forcing elimination redundant information (ideally making it as simple as possible but no simpler).
  • Matching Modality : you use narration to match visualisation (more than just repeating text-on-screen) to convey new information.
    (Mayer and Moreno 2003, p44)

So what is an Educational Video, exactly?

The answer? Just about any video produced with educational intent, observed Winslett.  His meta-analysis review of 703 academic articles highlighted the large scope of video applications in education.  However, one very useful product of the study was a vocabulary for describing video:

Learning objectivesEducational topicVideo Production Types
Show factual and procedural contentAssistive or accessible deliveryFly on the wall: Capturing real life practices and contexts
Directly instruct/describeFlexible deliveryInterviews, testimonials and vox pops
Provide exemplarsResearch pedagogic processesMultiple production types and technologies
Show real life practices and contextsResearch social dynamicsProducing video games
Show complexity and trigger better practicesTo assessRecording and/or transmitting a teaching event
Democratise video productionTo engage learnersSimulating, modelling or capturing hard to see processes and contexts
To move from shallow to deep learningVideo diaries
Video enabled communication/collaboration
Dramatic works: Dramatising, stylising or modelling real life practices and contexts
Mashing up: Manipulating, re-using & modifying existing video materials & repositories
Presenting to the camera: Explanations, instructions and stories

Summary of video production types, learning objectives and educational topics Winslett (2014, p 493).

This same vocabulary would also be useful in conceptualising your own educational video.  On reflecting on the original question, Winslett remarked a better question is “What Makes Educational Video Effective?”  That’s the next post…


Kizilcec, René F., Bailenson, Jeremy N., & Gomez, Charles J. (2015). The Instructor’s Face in Video Instruction: Evidence from Two Large-Scale Field Studies. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(3), 724-739.

Mayer, Richard E., and Roxana Moreno. “Nine  Ways to  Reduce  Cognitive  Load in  Multimedia  Learning.” Educational Psychologist 38, no. 1 (2003): 43–52.

Winslett, Greg. “What Counts as Educational Video?: Working toward Best Practice Alignment between Video Production Approaches and Outcomes.” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 30, no. 5 (January 1, 2014): 487–502.

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