Principles to Improve the Effectiveness of Instructional Videos

The anticipation is over. After months full of nervousness and confusion, I finally know what school will look like for me in the coming semester. Like many around the world, my district decided to begin the fall 2020 school year in the virtual setting. Personally, I am at peace with this decision. I believe it is the safest option for a majority of the students in my community, and I can’t not consider the safety and health of my own family. With a loving wife and three fantastic children at home, I have much to cherish and guard. While I certainly understand many disagree with the choice to educate virtually, and ‘risk is everywhere’ and ‘ you can’t protect them from everything’, I see this as an avoidable risk that not only could impact the health of my family, but of everyone they may have come into contact with during school.

Putting my personal feeling aside, what this means for me as a teacher is that I will be providing my students with lessons online that include, among other things, both live and recorded instructional videos. I am quite the novice when it comes to the creation of instructional videos. I’ve only done it a handful of times, and then it was more for my usage to improve as a teacher than for use as an instructional tool for my learners. 

When designing instruction in my classroom, I try to incorporate strategies having research supporting the effectiveness of the strategy. It just makes sense to me that I want to teach my students using methods that support student learning in an efficient and effective manner. Since I will be required to create and use instructional videos pretty much daily in the coming semester, I became interested in locating best practices for constructing videos. Luckily, Dr. Molly Metz happened to post a fantastic article in the Society for the Teaching of Psychology Facebook group (see…Facebook is good for something) that was ideal for the classroom teacher.

Below is a review of the article (Five Ways to Increase the Effectiveness of Instructional Video). I love it because it provides reasonable recommendations and provides accompanying evidence, theory, and implications for each of the five effects mentioned. For those who are not too versed in reading technical journal articles, this is a good one to read; incredibly well organized and straightforward.

So, here are five evidence-based principles for improving the effectiveness of instructional videos:

  1. Dynamic Drawing Principle

“…people learn better from a video lecture that shows the instructor drawing graphics as she lectures rather than referring to already drawn graphics.”

The ability of the student to be able to see the person (or at least the hand) leading the instruction provides powerful social cues and can assist with guiding learners’ attention. To be honest, before reading this article, I was planning on using software (screencastify) to record my screen and voice without providing even a picture of myself while talking. The dynamic drawing principle has me reconsidering this decision and I’m thinking through acquiring the proper tools for recording my whiteboard while talking through instruction.

  1. Gaze Guidance Principle

“People learn better from a video lecture when the onscreen instructor shifts gaze between the audience and the board while lecturing rather than looking only at the board or only at the audience.”

It seems to me that if you’re going to follow the dynamic drawing principle above, you’re also probably going to follow the gaze guidance principle. I mean, I guess you could draw your graphics on the board and discuss its implications without ever looking at the camera, but I cannot imagine doing that myself. 

In my estimation, following these two principles seems to make the instructional video more natural and not so sterile. What stands out to me is that these two principles mimic what live lecture might look like in face to face classes. Although not mentioned by the researchers, that may be something to keep in mind when creating instructional videos; make it as much like face to face instruction as possible.

  1. Generative Activity Principle

“People learn better from a video lecture or demonstration when they are asked to engage in generative learning activities during learning…behaviors that the learner performs during a lesson with the intention of improving learning…taking summary notes, or writing an explanation, or physically imitating the instructor’s demonstration.”

Promoting generative activities during videos can prime three cognitive processes:

  • Selecting – focusing on the important information
  • Organizing – mentally building a coherent structure
  • Integrating – using relevant prior knowledge 

Engaging in these processes during learning supports later performance on transfer tests and promotes deeper learning. The researchers mention that the generative activity principle is particularly effective with low-knowledge learners. 

  1. Perspective Principle

“…people learn better from narrated video of a manual demonstration when it is filmed from a first-person perspective rather than a third-person perspective.”

The first-person perspective (the image on the left) is intended to make students more involved in the demonstration. This perspective is also true to what the learner would experience, if he/she were to complete the demonstration. The perspective principle is more likely to be applied during how-to videos or perhaps when demonstrating particular lab assignments in science classes.

  1. Subtitle Principle

“People learn better from a video documentary in their second language when the words are printed (or printed and spoken) rather than spoken.”

Native speakers will learn better when images are presented with spoken language than if images are presented with text. Attempting to view both the image and the subtitles will create a competition of sorts for attention.

Learners viewing an instructional video in their second language will benefit more from images presented with text, than with spoken language in that second language. Speech is transient, while written words are generally on the screen longer and can more easily be revisited. 

The researchers also provide for a principle to avoid: 

Seductive Details Principle

“People do not necessarily learn better when interesting but extraneous video is added to a multimedia lesson.”

Seductive details are irrelevant words or graphics that are added in an attempt to make lessons more interesting. More often than not, these additions only really serve as distractions and may confuse students. This may cause a learner to engage in extraneous cognitive processing, permitting less working memory capacity available to commit to the processing of relevant information. Avoiding this principle is especially difficult for me as I love to insert a quick witted joke or story that may not directly assist with explaining the material to be learned.

At first, the thought of creating instructional videos can seem a bit daunting. Hopefully, the research above can provide a few ‘to-dos’ as well as a ‘to-don’t’ as many embark on a new semester that will likely look quite different. 

How might these principles change how you create instructional videos?


Feature Image by Sam McGhee on Unsplash

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