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Research-Based Tips for Engaging Videos

How to plan video course content that best reaches students


High quality videos offer an effective method for conveying course content in online or hybrid courses. Research on both student attention span and the cognitive science of learning suggest that the format, length, and nature of video content has a significant effect on how well students retain and apply knowledge learned in videos. This article will offer several research-backed methods for making the most out of your instructional videos.

Planning and Producing Video Content

The first step towards engaging video content is to consider what you want your video to accomplish. Video content can serve as effective introductions to course units, offer insights into required readings, provide detailed explanations of key techniques or concepts, or simply open up a conversation or course discussion. Each of these videos will require a different structure and flow. Here are some useful types of videos that can augment your course.

Unit Introduction or “Check-In”

While online courses offer convenient access to course materials and activities, students miss some of the opportunities to build a rapport with their online instructors. One way to remind students in online and hybrid courses of the presence of their instructor is to create short unit introductions or weekly “check-in” videos. These videos are useful for giving students an overview of the unit topic, highlighting important deadlines, and offering help for students struggling with the material.

Unit introductions and check-in videos are a good place to be more informal and conversational. It is also helpful for the instructor to be visible during the video, allowing students to mentally connect a person to the course materials. Having a face to associate with the course makes learners more comfortable, more likely to participate in course activities, and more likely to think of the course as a valuable use of time. These short, conversational videos allow instructors to simulate verbal communication, build a learning community, and have a social presence virtually and asynchronously.

Lecture or Instructional Videos

Instructional videos are a common method for conveying material. Although Lecture videos can be effective, keeping student attention is the main challenge. When preparing to record lectures, consider what engages people when watching videos. In a face-to-face class, students can focus both on the professor and the lecture outline. Thus, in an online course, helpful and interesting visuals engage students more than text. Research indicates that people retain material better when it is pair with a picture. Thus, think about highlighting key concepts with a relevant graphic or visual aid.

Research on cognitive overload also suggests that shorter videos are more engaging and easier to remember than longer videos. To capitalize on this, chunking content into shorter topics and recording 5-8 minute videos not only makes it easier for viewers, it is also easier to record without making errors. Short videos are also useful for emphasizing content, as they can focus on one to two key points.

Example Videos

Videos are also useful for offering common feedback, explanations, or solutions on course assignments. After the students have uploaded their homework, a quick video can be posted that gives your perspective or a detailed explanation of the assignment. Videos like these let students compare their submission with the instructor’s explanation, allowing them to simultaneously learn from instructor expertise and correct their errors.

When making these videos, consider using a tablet, document camera, or screen capture program to record your work. Seeing the instructor work through an example gives students a real time and re-watchable model to follow.

Additional Readings

Garrison, D. R. (2017). E-learning in the 21st century: A community of inquiry framework for research and practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Atkinson, C. (2018). Beyond bullet points: Using PowerPoint to tell a compelling story that gets results, (4th ed). Redmond, Washington: Microsoft Press.