sealPurdue News

June 1995

Expert battles 'couch-potato' response to educational videos

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- If this were an instructional video (zoom to close-up of a student walking across a campus) about desktop publishing and corporate newsletters (dissolve to chart that shows how many designers use Quark vs. PageMaker), it already would have been a miserable failure.

The unrelated images, the distracting camera work, and the complexity of the words and the information all interfere with the message. Most of the viewers would have lapsed into that comfortable -- but inattentive -- "couch potato" state of mind that takes over when they're watching TV.

That problem fascinates Katherine S. Cennamo (SIN-a-moe), assistant professor of instructional development in the School of Education at Purdue University and a former producer of instructional videos. She has devoted much of her professional and academic career to studying how to overcome the couch-potato syndrome, how to make instructional videos more instructive.

"The couch-potato response may be appropriate for TV as entertainment," she says, "but we have to get the learner to play a more important, more active part when we're using video for instruction. We have to overcome the viewer's expectation that television is a passive cognitive activity."

Her research has applications well outside the campus and the classroom -- for example, she says a 1993 survey found that 95 percent of business and industrial trainers used video to instruct employees. She says she suspects that few of the trainers know how to make the most effective use of the videos.

Cennamo published articles about video instruction last year in the Educational Technology Research and Development Journal and in Performance Improvement Quarterly. She has studied research in communications, educational psychology and education and conducted her own research to develop these suggestions for improving video instruction:

The viewers, too, can make a video interactive. "Before the video begins, ask the instructor what you're supposed to learn from it and how that fits into other course content -- things you've learned in previous class sessions," she says. "And ask if you can interrupt the video presentation if you have questions or if something isn't clear. You might even ask the instructor to replay a particular segment, to give yourself another chance to absorb the material. Nobody's satisfied if you're just another couch potato."

Source: Katherine S. Cennamo, (765) 494-5675; Internet,
Writer: Frank J. Koontz, (765) 494-2080; Internet,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Copies of the journal articles mentioned in this story are available from Frank Koontz, Purdue News Service, (317) 494-2080. To receive the text of this news release via e-mail, send an e-mail message with the text "send punews 9503ep1" to this address: Purdue News Service also maintains a searchable data base of faculty experts and posts news releases, experts lists and story tips on a web server at and a gopher server at

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