Pragmatic video heuristics for academics

Does videos for learning need to be the same standard as a Brian Cox documentary? What’s the point in appearing in video?

Given the harsh reality of time, budget, video kit and the pressure to DIY eLearning, what we really want to know is…

What’s the short cuts to making effective video for learning?

The good news is – it is achievable and it is worthwhile.  Good subject design is the foundation to anything elearning, including video.  However the next step is to design your video.  Work the following ideas into your videos to maximise the learning value of your videographic efforts:

Pedagogical strategy

  • Addressing misconceptions or dialogue between tutor and tutee has 203 times the effect of direct exposition (Muller, 2008).
  • Students engage differently with lecture and tutorial videos: For lectures, focus more on the first-watch experience; for tutorials, add support for rewatching and skimming (Guo 2014).
  • Segmenting : chunking and sequencing learning topics. with opportunity to pause and control the pace of learning (Mayer and Moreno 2003, p44).
  • Videos with a direct connection to subject assessment usually correlates with high numbers of views (Hibbert 2014).

Communication strategy

  • Videos where instructors speak fairly fast and with high enthusiasm are more engaging (Guo 2014)
  • Use a personable, conversational language as well as drawing on experience and humor (Hibbert 2014).
  • Khan-style tablet drawing tutorials are more engaging than PowerPoint slides or code screencasts (Guo 2014).
  • Well structured online video instruction can close the emotional distance
  • Weeding : elimination redundant information, making it as simple as possible but no simpler (Mayer and Moreno 2003, p44).

Presentation strategy

  • Videos produced with a more personal feel could be more engaging than high-fidelity studio recordings (Guo 2014).
  • Including the instructor’s face in instructional videos reduces cognitive load for the majority of students (Kizilcec et al, 2015).
  • Signalling : bringing additional visual cues to highlight only the essential elements (Mayer and Moreno 2003, p44).
  • For MOOCs, more would drop out during a “video transition” – make transitions less abrupt (Kim et al, 2014).
  • Matching Modality : using narration to match concept visualisation (rather than narration and text script) to convey new information. This can be enhanced with ‘pretraining’ ie breaking down the concepts (Mayer and Moreno 2003, p44).
  • Basic production values are adequate: the content and presentation style are more important (Hibbert 2014).

Production Strategy

  • MOOCs video watching dropout rate increases with video length. Approximately 5 minutes has 53% dropout; 20 minutes 71%.
  • Stable video is more important than  – avoid distracting video cuts or effects (Hibbert 2014)
  • Audio clarity dramatically enhances the engagement with the video. Avoid environmental noise, use a good microphone (Hibbert 2014)

As inspiration, let’s look at a couple of the above ideas in a little more depth:

To appear or not appear.

It is very confronting to film yourself, presenting a topic. Unpacking the mechanism by which it works, hopefully provides you with inspiration.

That is the same question Kizilcec et al (2015) sought to answer in two studies of an Educause MOOC focused on students learning with video instruction.  The first had a simple choice of with or without lecturer.  The second study used a video presentation style that blended  showing and hiding the lecturer.  Hiding removed distraction; Showing provided visual social cues. At the same time they measured at Cognitive load, Social presence, and Learning preference.

Did the blended or fixed styles impact on learning outcomes? No. But what it did impact was cognitive load.  They discovered, for most, having the lecturer presence:

  • it served the two-thirds majority better to have the lecturer always appearing.  The blended style caused an increased cognitive load and had a minor negative effect on engagement towards the end of the subject.
  • it confirmed the benefits of signaling, coherence, and personalisation
  • For the blended style, the salience of the instructor’s face seemed to be increased
  • helped learners’ focus and feel more connected

What does that mean? Your presence in the video is meaningful.  It signals to the student what’s important.  It builds that sense of learning community.  It reduces the effort of learning.  Keep it simple, and don’t by shy.


Syndrome to Mr Incredible: You sly dog.  You had me monologuing!?

Are two heads are better than one?

Monologues are the downfall of many villains of the big screen.  The question for Chi, Kang and Yaghmourin (2017) is monologuing the downfall of the a lecture? More precisely, can videoing a a tutor and tutee rescue the video approach?

In short, yes.  The unscripted dynamic of peers collaborating – by asking and answering each other’s questions; elaborating and/or challenging each other’s comments they were co-constructing knowledge while dialoguing.  Students learning from this video, they saw the learning process unfold.

What was the impact of this learning approach?  Students observing the dialogue had almost as good learning outcome as traditional face to face learning.


There is little doubt about it effectiveness of video.  Your advantage is that substance is as important as delivery; the technical  is not so important.  The good news there is, it is all achievable with a modest consumer level set up and the right mindset.  With the judicious use of tips, you will better results for both you and your students.

Just takes practice… But that’s another post.


Costley, J., & Lange, C. H. (2017). Video lectures in e-learning. Interactive Technology and Smart Education, 14(1), 14-30. Retrieved from

Guo, Philip J., Juho Kim, and Rob Rubin. “How Video Production Affects Student Engagement: An Empirical Study of MOOC Videos.” In Proceedings of the First ACM Conference on Learning @ Scale Conference, 41–50. L@S ’14. New York, NY, USA: ACM, 2014.

Hibbert, Melanie. “What Makes an Online Instructional Video Compelling?” EDUCAUSE Review, July 4, 2014.

Kim, Juho, Philip J. Guo, Daniel T. Seaton, Piotr Mitros, Krzysztof Z. Gajos, and Robert C. Miller. “Understanding In-Video Dropouts and Interaction Peaks in Online Lecture Videos.” Association of Computing Machinery, 2014.

Kizilcec, René F., Jeremy N. Bailenson, and Charles J. Gomez. “The Instructor’s Face in Video Instruction: Evidence from Two Large-Scale Field Studies.” Journal of Educational Psychology 107, no. 3 (2015): 724–739,.

Lee, Hye-Jung, & Rha, Ilju. (2009). Influence of Structure and Interaction on Student Achievement and Satisfaction in Web-Based Distance Learning. Educational Technology & Society, 12(4), 372-382.

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

Muller, D.a., J. Bewes, M.d. Sharma, and P. Reimann. “Saying the Wrong Thing: Improving Learning with Multimedia by Including Misconceptions.” Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 24, no. 2 (April 1, 2008): 144–55.

Winslett, Greg. (2014). What Counts as Educational Video?: Working toward Best Practice Alignment between Video Production Approaches and Outcomes. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 30(5), 487-502.


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