Which of the following reasons describes why you use videos in your online courses?
A) Because they’re fun
B) Because everyone else is doing it
C) Because you know how to use them to impact learner success
If you picked C, then you’re already ahead of the game. An empirical study published in 2014 outlined the ways that video production decisions in eLearning directly impact learner engagement—a factor that is tied closely to optimal learning outcomes.
The study, which examined nearly 7 million video sessions in four MOOCs, is the largest video engagement study to date. Since it’s not entirely possible to precisely measure learner engagement at this scale, the researchers based their measurements on two outcomes: the length of time learners spent with a video, and whether or not they attempted assessment questions after the video ended.
Their seven main findings shed light on the relationship between videos and course success, and for each finding they offer a recommendation for course developers and instructional designers who want to integrate video into their online courses.
1. Shorter videos are more engaging.
The most significant factor in learner engagement was the length of the video. Videos shorter than three minutes had the highest engagement, but the median engagement time was about six minutes. Few learners made it all the way through videos over nine minutes. Likewise—and probably because of this—learners were least likely to answer assessment questions after longer videos.
Recommendation: Keep videos under 6 minutes, or chunk larger videos into brief sessions.
2. Learners like talking heads.
The appearance of an instructor’s face increases learner engagement, perhaps because it gives the video a more intimate feel. Nearly half of learners attempted the follow-up questions after a talking head video, while only 33% did after videos in other formats.
Recommendation: Pop the instructor’s head in every so often during slide lectures, matching the voice with a face.
3. Learners prefer intimacy over production value.
One MOOC simply filmed the instructor sitting in his office, talking informally to the camera. Another course had its instructor present the lesson in a professional studio, with high-budget lighting and sound. Learners far preferred the office setting, despite its lower production value—most likely because the intimate setting gave the lesson a personal feel, and the instructor felt more comfortable in his natural setting.
Recommendation: Invest in ambience, not in big-budget studio productions.
4. Tutorials should be done Khan-style.
Learners engaged twice as long with tutorials that are done in the style popularized by Khan Academy (where the instructor draws on a digital tablet that appears in the video, sort of like drawing on a blackboard) than those that are done with slides or code screencasts. One expert called this the “bar napkin” style of explanation, which again creates a sense of intimacy and one-on-one interaction.
Recommendation: Use Khan presentations when possible. Make sure your tutorials have motion and a visual flow.
5. Pre-planning is crucial.
Two courses invited instructors to give lectures in discrete chunks that could be separated into lessons. One instructor carefully planned for and rehearsed the presentation, while the other course ended up splicing together videos from different lectures. Learners were more likely to stick with the first course, which highlights the value of pre-planning a lesson, rather than trying to piecemeal a lesson together from different sources.
Recommendation: If you want to use a classroom lecture—prepare, prepare, prepare.
6. Instructors who speak faster are more engaging.
Perhaps because they convey more enthusiasm or energy, instructors who spoke faster than 160 words per minute were much more likely to engage learners than those that spoke more slowly.
Recommendation: Ask instructors to project more enthusiasm and don’t force them to slow down.
7. Tutorials and lectures are used in different ways.
Learners tend to turn off a tutorial after 2 minutes, no matter how long it is, but are likely to return to that tutorial multiple times. They’re far more likely to jump to parts that are relevant for them than they would with a standard lecture, which they have stronger expectations for a continuous watching experience.
Recommendation: Add signposts and bookmarks to tutorials to aid skimming; make lectures powerful enough to create an optimal first-watch experience.
Video production can be costly and time-consuming, and you want to make sure you’re using this tool in the best way possible. As more empirical evidence surfaces, a clearer picture is painted of the learner experience—and the better online instructional videos can be.