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Creating effective learning videos - lessons I’ve learnt


imageI’ve just recently finished delivering an online course for my colleagues, where I used Office Mix to create resources (Office Mix is an add-in to PowerPoint, and a set of smart web services that make it easy to create an online learning resource, mixing PowerPoint, video, audio, assessment questions and other interactive resources). And I found that creating effective learning videos is much more than just pointing a camera at me and a screen, and starting to talk. I’ve never been a teacher, however I’m often asked to talk in lecture-style settings, and I’ve learnt that doing an effective in-person presentation to a room of 100 people is a very different challenge from making online learning more effective.

Fortunately, I knew about Philip Guo’s research from 2013, which is still the largest study completed on effective student engagement with online learning videos. The research team studied nearly 1,000 online learning videos on edX, and analysed the interactions of over 100,000 students watching nearly 7m video sessions. From this research, they created a set of really good guidelines for creating effective online learning videos. What it helped me to do was createa series of mini tutorials, breaking down 60 minute sessions into three or four short 6-8 minute videos, with the extra material turned into optional reading\watching.

I believe it’s valuable advice that is worth sharing, so I wanted to shared the findings from the research that really helped me. I’ve also made some notes about how it applied to me when I was trying to create effective learning videos for my colleagues

    1. Shorter videos are much more engaging. Engagement drops sharply after 6 minutes.
      Recommendation: Invest heavily in pre-production lesson planning to segment videos into chunks shorter than 6 minutes. This is the most significant recommendation!
      Knowing this was the most critical advice, it meant I had to go back to the materials I was using, and work out how to break it into key chunks. It also made me realise that some content was designed to fit a certain length of time - like a 45 minute presentation - and there was plenty of ‘filler’ that could go. I still didn’t manage to get all the resources under 6 minutes, but the more times I had to go through the process, the better I became at it. In fact, my challenge now could well be when somebody asks me to present for an hour at a conference!
    2. Videos that intersperse an instructor's talking head with PowerPoint slides are more engaging than showing only slides.
      Recommendation: Invest in post-production editing to display the instructor's head at opportune times in the video. But don't go overboard because sudden transitions can be jarring. Picture-in-picture might also work well.
      This thing was really easy because of PowerPoint Mix, as I could easily record the video, and have slides and video mixed - and I could also mix the two in the same screen, and adjust the size and format of the ‘talking head’ element.
    3. Videos produced with a more personal feel could be more engaging than high-fidelity studio recordings.
      Recommendation: Try filming in an informal setting such as an office to emulate a one-on-one office hours experience. It might not be necessary to invest in big-budget studio productions.
      I actually recorded all my learning videos at home, partly to reduce background noise, and partly to help me feel like I was talking one-to-one with somebody. I also chose to make some of them in the evening, when I knew I would be a bit more relaxed with less interruptions.
    4. Khan-style tablet drawing tutorials are more engaging than PowerPoint slides or code screencasts.
      Recommendation: Introduce motion and continuous visual flow into tutorials, along with extemporaneous speaking so that students can follow along with the instructor's thought process.
      This is another benefit of Office Mix - I could use my stylus to draw on my slides in real-time, so that as I talked about ideas I could handwrite notes on the slide, or underline concepts - in the same way we used to do with overhead projectors. And I also used the technique of starting with a blank slide and drawing the concepts from start to finish, so that people could see an idea being built at the same time as I was talking about it.
    5. Even high-quality prerecorded classroom lectures are not as engaging when chopped up into short segments for a MOOC.
      Recommendation: If instructors insist on recording traditional classroom lectures, they should still plan lectures with the MOOC format in mind and work closely with instructional designers who have experience in online education.
      This was a tough thing for me to learn. In the past I’d been able to share recordings of presentations (pretty similar to lectures, I think), but it was still ‘sage on the stage’, with me talking to a big audience. I’m aware, from the online learning courses that I’ve taken, that it feels better as a student if it feels like a 1:1 moment, rather than a member of a large audience.
    6. Videos where instructors speak fairly fast and with high enthusiasm are more engaging.
      Recommendation: Coach instructors to bring out their enthusiasm and reassure them that they do not need to purposely slow down. Students can always pause the video if they want a break.
      I was so relieved to see this advice, as it’s one of my biggest presenting flaws that I’ve had to work hard to suppress. I still sometimes talk too fast in a large audience, but on video, I know that people have pause\rewind controls they don’t get in real life!
    7. Students engage differently with lecture and tutorial videos.
      Recommendation: For lectures, focus more on the first-time watching experience. For tutorials, add more support for rewatching and skimming, such as inserting subgoal labels in large fonts throughout the video.
      Everything I created was the first style, rather than tutorial style, so it didn’t really apply to me, but I can see how this advice impacts how you prepare materials.

All in all, I found the learning process I went through was intensive, as I critically reviewed what I was creating, and judged it by the rules above. Hopefully the research is helpful to you too!

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