Understanding Video Learning

We’ve come a long way from the first days of video. Movies are looking more and more realistic with advancements in visual effects, watching television over the air or on cable is declining while being surpassed by online video streaming, and video is also being used in education. Needless to say, the path of video has changed quite significantly since its inception, with audience demand and consumption habits changing along with it. This has meant that industry needed to follow suit, although not all of them were able to keep pace with the change.

Audiences have come a long way from being huddled in front of a television screen at a certain time so they wouldn’t miss their favourite show. We now live in a world where audiences expect to watch their videos on demand with the advent of platforms such as Hulu and Netflix. On the other side of the spectrum, shorter form, user-created content has become incredibly popular on YouTube. Among the most popular content on YouTube is the “how-to” video.

The how-to video

As much as the term “Google it” has entered the realm of common parlance, “YouTube it” is not too far behind. This is especially prevalent when it comes to tutorials. Audiences are voting with their eyeballs and clearly showing a preference to video tutorials over the more traditional written word. So what does this mean for video learning?

When an advertiser decides to produce a video ad, the most important place to start is understanding the target audience. This is no different when it comes to video learning. The approach taken for a high school student would be different to the approach taken for a busy manager working at a big firm.

According to Philip Guo, an assistant professor of Cognitive Science at UC San Diego, the optimal length of a video is around 6 minutes. This is usually enough time to convey a specific concept in a relatively tightly scripted form. Longer form videos typically see more successful engagement when it is a worked example or exercise that a learner can work through along with the video. Some learners may even skip through to the parts of the video that deals with the part of the example or exercise that they’re struggling with – this is where adding bookmarks to a video can be useful.

Corporate training has also seen a rise in the use of video. There are companies who specialise in corporate training videos, such as Skeleton Productions and Edge Learning Media. Sometimes video is used to provide context or weight to something. For example, the CEO of a large corporation may be included as part of a corporate training video just to emphasise the importance of the training. Video also facilitates the implementation of micro learning opportunities. Have 5 minutes before running off to a meeting? Watch a quick video on the new policy that your department needs to implement. When done well, video can be engaging and less intimidating than a wall of text that you would otherwise need to trawl through.

Video has a passive audience

One criticism often levelled at the use of video for educational purposes is that the audience is passively watching instead of actively participating. What lends credence to this notion is the scientifically proven fact, according to this research paper, that learning by doing is optimal. This type of thinking does tend to miss the point a little though. Whether passively or actively learning, what matters most is engagement. If a learner is engaged, that learner is more likely to understand and retain information. If engagement is the yardstick by which we measure educational effectiveness, then the medium becomes less important.

Of course, certain mediums are inherently more engaging, on average, than others. So a video is likely more engaging than text while a video game is likely more engaging than a video.

The future of video in e-learning

Video is certainly here to stay in the e-learning space. Video consumption in general has been steadily rising, so the audience appetite for the medium is certainly there. There are also some interesting things that can be done with video when it comes to e-learning. Tools such as Camtasia Studio allow quizzes to be embedded into videos – the video would pause at a certain point, requiring the viewer to complete a quiz question or two before continuing.

Another example is the use of a choose your own adventure style video, which gives the viewer some autonomy over the narrative. You can see an example of this here (be sure to turn on annotations in YouTube when watching).

Virtual reality in e-learning

To many, the final form of video exists in virtual reality (immersion into a virtual space, usually by means of a headset) and augmented reality (the superimposing of virtual content on top of the real world. The VR/AR market is set to generate $150 billion in revenue by the year 2020. The biggest players at the moment are Oculus for VR (now owned by Facebook) and Microsoft for AR (with their Hololens project).


While virtual reality filmmaking is still in its infancy, it is a unique experience for an audience in that there is a degree of autonomy – 360 degrees of autonomy to be exact. 360 video is becoming more and more popular online and is already being used in e-learning. You can see a 360 vr e-learning demo here.

There are already universities that are using online video to teach. Stanford and Harvard, for example, each have a YouTube channel on which lectures and other educational videos are uploaded.

We live in an age where video consumption is at an all time high and seeing continuous growth. New technologies such as 360 video, virtual reality and interactive video can be used as compelling learning tools. The future of video is certainly bright, and the learners of today and tomorrow are an audience more ready for it than any before.

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