ELearning/Course building/Video production

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Syllabus and module guides | Video production | Storyboarding and scripting | Animated lectures and presentations | Programmed interactions

First, we need to appreciate that video is a visual form of communication. As such viewers expect visual action on the screen, even when audio carries the the majority of the message. When this is not the case, viewers' attention wanders and they begin tuning out or multitasking. This is especially true of web-based video.


Here are a few guidelines for planning the video production (from Halls, 2012):

  1. Aim for one learning objective. The more focused your content, the stronger it will be and the more likely your viewers will stay with you to the end.

  2. Plan many visuals. Complete a task analysis for the learning objective, then plan the action, photos, graphs, etc. involved in each task. Think carefully about how each shot will convey your message. The camera is your viewer's eye, so ask yourself where your viewer would stand or sit is she were learning the task in a live setting. Would she rather be close in to see details (close-up) or further away (wide shot) or, perhaps a birds-eye view is best. Much of the time, you will want to use multiple shots to keep the screen action moving. This is the process of storyboarding.

  3. Minimize the use of text and maximize visualization. Don't forget the rules of managing cognitive load.

  4. Keep your video as short as possible. This is not the medium of choice for conveying highly detailed content. Refer viewers to a document or web page for more information.

  5. Shoot with a tripod to stabilize the camera. Wobbly-cam is highly distracting.

  6. Use special effects sparingly unless your purpose is to entertain. They distract from the message.

  7. Use manual camera functions by setting focus, exposure, and audio manually. Auto controls may or may not produce usable results.

  8. Use an expernal microphone. Most cameras come with built-in mics, but few offer good sound quality. If your camera has no plugin for an external mic, position your camera as close to the sound as possible.

  9. Edit out mistakes, pregnant pauses and, if possible, the uhms and ahs in the audio. Cut and paste clips in the best order for learning regardless of the order of recording. There is much to be said for scripting, rehearsal, and short takes. This way, the editing process - post-production - becomes your opportunity for making the best possible educational videos.

Here are some others from Gao et al. (2014), targeted specifically at MOOCs, based on user data from four edX courses.

Table 1. Main Findings and Video Production Recommendations (Gao et al., 2014)
Findings Recommendations
Shorter videos are much more engaging. Invest heavily in pre-production lesson planning to segment videos into chunks shorter than 6 minutes.
Videos that intersperse an instructor's talking head with slides are more engaging than slides alone. Invest in post-production editing to display the instructor's head at opportune times in the video.
Videos produced with a more personal feel could be more engaging than high-fidelity studio recordings. Try filming in an informal setting; it might not be necessary to invest in big-budget studio productions.
Kahn-style tablet drawing tutorials are more engaging than PowerPoint slides or code-filled screens. Introduce motion and continuous flow into tutorials, along with extemporaneous speaking.
Even high-quality pre-recorded extended classroom lectures are less engaging when chopped up for online viewing. If instructors insist on recording classroom lectures, they should still plan with the online format in mind.
SVideos where instructors speak fairly fast and with high enthusiasm are more engaging. Coach instructors to bring out their enthusiasm and reassure that they do not need to purposely slow down.
Students engage differently with lecture and tutorial videos. For lectures, focus more on the first-watch experience; for tutorials, add support for re-watching and skimming.

Optimal video length

Phillip Guo (2013) examined video usage data collected from thousands of edX learners taking math and science courses. Unsurprisingly, students engaged more with shorter videos, as we see in Figure 1 below. According to Guo, the average engagement time of any video maxes out at six minutes, regardless of its length. For example, students spent an average of 3 minutes on videos longer than 12 minutes - meaning they engaged with less than one-fourth of the content. An important difference he found was that students seeking certification for their learning were more likely to stay engaged than those who were not.

1. Viewing time for different length videos.

Adding interactivity

Geri et al. (2017) recorded viewing time and completion rates for long (11 min. or more) and short (under 11 min.) video lectures before and after adding interactive elements such as multiple-choice questions, quizzes, or "other". They found significant (p<.0001) increases in viewing times and completion rates for both categories (see Figures 2 and 3 below). The authors conclude, as do we, that adding interactive elements to video increases learner engagement. Note that this study did not measure learning outcomes, only engagement.

Video completion percentage, before and after interactivity Average viewing time, before and after interactivity
Figure 2: Video completion, before and after interactivity Figure 3: Average viewing time, before and after interactivity

How to improve "talking head" video

Make no mistake, nothing is going to save a video with a dull message. However, new eyetracking research from Nielsen Norman Group shows that, even in a talking-head video, some simple video-producing techniques can capture users’ visual attention (Pernice, 2017). "The single most important technique for keeping visual interest is to frequently change the visual." However, there are other elements that will help maintain interest even when the lecture gets boring. These methods will keep the viewer from leaving. Here are specific tips for improving your talking-head video lectures:

  1. Be animated, and smile when it's appropriate. Viewers are attracted to the smile.
  2. Include visually attractive background elements that don't distract from the message. Use simple props like flowers and abstract art.
  3. Use the real estate (white space) outside the video frame to include relevant links, content, and site navigation.
  4. Use pans, angles, and closeups to vary the speaker's look.
  5. Use related graphics as overlays in the video

Refer to these articles and sections for more on videos.