Hello From the Other Side

By Jennifer Eng | January 29, 2016

With the endless availability of video tutorials and classes on YouTube and platforms like Khan Academy and Lynda.com, videos are an undeniably excellent source for teaching and learning. People can learn nearly any skill through video. In fact, this gold medalist is self-taught almost entirely through YouTube videos.

However, simply watching a video doesn’t always translate into learning. So how can videos be leveraged to yield better learning? With video at the core of our platform, we are constantly researching and thinking about how we can better leverage video. Over the years, we’ve amassed a good amount of information on the topic. This month we collected some of the more interesting things we’ve found on video learning and shared them in this post. Enjoy!

What Works
What kinds of video help learners effectively grasp new concepts and develop skills? A study by edX and MIT CSAIL analyzed videos used in four edX courses and determined seven key components that create engaging videos:

• Shorter videos are much more engaging.
Videos interspersed with the instructor’s talking head is more engaging than just showing slides.
Videos produced with a more personal feel are more engaging than a high-fidelity studio recording.
Khan-style tablet drawing is more engaging than PowerPoint slides or screencasts.
High-quality pre-recorded lectures are not as engaging when chopped up into shorter segments for a MOOC.
Videos where the instructor speaks fairly fast and with high enthusiasm are more engaging.
Students engage differently with lecture and tutorial videos.

The research findings cited above are themes we saw over and over this past year. For example, we learned about one professor’s quest to ensure her lectures
jive with short attention spans and how kids are generally the canaries in the coal mines with what types of videos work best for increasing engagement.

We also learned over and over that Talking Heads isn’t just a rock band; it’s a great way of making a video feel more casual and intimate. Using talking heads in a video can help learners feel that the experience is more personal, almost as if the student is learning directly, even one-on-one with the instructor.

In addition to all the great ways to create engaging videos, we also learned how some instructors improve learning by providing video feedback. Instructors at Monash University found that their students felt video feedback was more honest and clear than written feedback.

Focus and Efficiency
Video is a natural fit for MOOCs, bringing a social aspect to an otherwise isolated online learning environment. Barbara Oakley, the creator of one of the most popular MOOCs, “Learning How to Learn,” presents a compelling case for video as a strong tool for learning: while traditional lectures are out of tune with the way our brains work, watching online videos “allow students to do what their brains are naturally geared for – focusing, replaying the toughest parts of what they’re trying to learn, then taking a break.”

Like Professor Oakley, Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich of Wharton have leveraged videos to ensure maximum learning in their courses. They have found that video can be especially efficient as part of the flipped classroom model. Comparing a traditional live classroom to a blended classroom, these professors have compressed the traditional classroom time by 50% when leveraging online media.  

Case Studies
How are some institutions and organizations successfully using video to enhance learning?

Harvard Business School has created its classroom of the future where students attend class virtually through a sophisticated, real-time live feed. MIT’s Sloan School of Management got creative during Hurricane Sandy and set up a virtual classroom. The innovation sparked by Hurricane Sandy has withstood the test of time. MIT has continued to use virtual classrooms in several of their executive education courses. Instead of standard email updates, Dunkin’ Donuts uses short, engaging videos to connect with its franchisees and keep employees trained and motivated.

As you think about your next Practice exercise, refer back to these tips to ensure that your videos will keep learners wanting more. Ready for your close-up?


Jennifer is the Digital Marketing Manager at Practice. She has a publishing background and taught high school English in Takamatsu, Japan through the JET Programme. Jennifer was a creative writing major and currently volunteers with literacy/gender equality nonprofit Room to Read.