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Ask before you watch: How to get the most out of learning videos

Tanya Gupta's picture
Welcome to the fourth blog of the technology aided gut (TAG) checks series. In our last post we showed you how to be reasonably confident that the information you find from an online resource is accurate, especially when you do not have the subject matter expertise to ascertain its correctness. In the next two blogs, we will take a closer look at educationational videos - arguably the “hottest” format for knowledge exchange.
This is a pragmatic blog for providing technical knowledge to adult professionals. So we are not going to address big questions like: The debate rages on while the trillion dollar online education industry blossoms.
No matter which side of the aisle you are on in this big debate, if you are in the need to learn something useful (quickly) and you are choosing a web source to learn from- remember these five critical factors - and then decide whether to use a video or some other source. These factors may not guarantee the success of a learning session but ignoring them will most likely ensure the session’s failure.

Five questions you need to ask before choosing a video to learn something

  1. Are the videos too long? If the video is very long, then text may be a better alternative. The optimal video length varies, but around 6 minutes is roughly best.
  2. Is the video presenter trying to interact with you? Video in its present form is not interactive, it is a one way interaction. If there appears to be a lot of interaction needed to view the video or if the material contains a large number of interactive elements, it will be more difficult than material with a smaller number of elements and/or with a low interactivity (Intrinsic cognitive load)
  3. Is the video using terms and concepts you are not familiar with? To be effective for your learning needs, the video should not introduce too many unfamiliar concepts. In a previous blog, we talk about asking precise questions.
  4. Does viewing the video mean it will take you longer to learn than reading? Surprisingly, reading may be more effective for learning in if the material is long and if your reading comprehension and speed is advanced. “Readers...construct mental models of the situation a writer or speaker is describing. This is the basis of language comprehension” (Bower & Morrow 1990 pdf). Fast readers do not have the same advantage when it comes to video which is inherently sequential and does not allow you to skip material.
  5. Do you need to multitask while learning? Modern tools allow us to multitask. However, the attention required to watch a video for learning leaves no space to multitask. Viewing a video for learning requires more attention than viewing a video of say, a meeting where you are one of many participants. While multitasking is difficult when you are reading as well, it is not that difficult, and you can leave a book and come back after some item without worrying about pausing and replaying video.

Before we say goodbye - till next month

In this blog we focused on those who use videos for learning and shared five questions you should ask before you choose video over text, audio or other media. In our next blog, we will use these five questions and score several videos, and invite you to share your opinion with us.
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Photograph by Joi Ito via Flickr


Submitted by MIT School of Distance Education on

Thanks for sharing these five questions. It will help us when we create distance learning courses videos for students.

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