Tips (and gripes) on using video in learning

Video learning came to mind as I was thinking about how e-books and digital textbooks don’t have to just be a text-dump copy of the paper book. Since the digital format of an e-book allows for interactive elements, video, and other digital assets to aid in comprehension, why wouldn’t we take advantage of the technology? A few months ago, I worked on a project that was merely a proof-of-concept for myself for creating a pdf e-book with embedded video. Through my experience with that, and related academic study, I have collected some thoughts on how to best do video for learning.

In the mainstream, there are a ton of do it yourself (DIY) and self-help videos on the internet that will show you how to fix or make just about anything. For example, if you had never fixed a flat tire on your bicycle before, you could grab a patch kit and read the instructions. But why not access the collective knowledge of the internet? Go to YouTube, and… 380,000 results later(!) you know how to fix a bike tire.

Video instruction is very valuable for something like fixing a tire on your bike. Through visual instruction, psychomotor skills are easily transmitted through video. Video lectures are a more focused learning experience than the traditional study of a textbook. The learner can see how it works, and can listen to narration guiding them through it. Many of us have had very good experiences with video instruction.

However, there really are 380,000 YouTube results for “how to repair a bike tube”. This is a ridiculous number. What this indicates is that there are more people interested in making videos than there are people watching them. We only need one! Or realistically, maybe a couple dozen to account for different kinds of bikes, but even then, the other 379,976 of them are not really needed. Lesson one: why reinvent the wheel?

there are more people interested in making videos than there are people watching them.

Reading is one of the fastest ways of receiving information. For another example, perhaps I’ve got a halogen houselamp with a burned-out bulb. I want to take the old bulb to the store in order to buy the correct replacement. Do I unscrew the old bulb (it seems stuck) or do I push-and-turn? Back to the internet, where the first three hits are helpful people that will show me with video! But I don’t need to waste time watching video to answer what really doesn’t need video to explain in the first place. All I need is someone to say, “push the bulb in, and turn counter-clockwise.” That’s all. Lesson two: Don’t use video when simple words will suffice. Words are always faster.

Which brings me to the next point, that of video length. If there is only a simple task to accomplish, there’s nothing worse than having to sit through a 15 minute video. If I’m reading written information that I am already partly familiar with, it is easy to skim through. But unless the video software has a transcript or bookmarking feature, there’s no easy way to fast-forward without potentially missing out on the information you are looking for. Lesson three: keep it as short and concise as possible. It’s important that videos exclusively target what the student needs to learn. If I load a YouTube video and the narrator says enthusiastically, “Hi there! My name is Bill, and today, I’m going to show you how to change a lightbulb. But before we get started, I’ll first show you what tools we are going to need in order to…”  *click. That was me, quitting the video. My life’s too short. If you want to go into detail, do a quick overview first, then go back and get into the fine details and troubleshooting tips.

What about TED talks? These are very informative, and run upwards of fifteen to twenty minutes. And we all like watching them, right? Well, yes, we do. Because they are entertaining. TED makes sure that the presenter is highly prepared, and that the topic is concise, interesting, and entertaining. Keep in mind however that simply presenting information in a stimulating and interesting digital video format will not automatically lead to in-depth learning. Lesson four: if we have lots of information to cover in one video, inspiration and enthusiasm won’t fix everything, but it helps. I’m not a big fan of the term, “edutainment”, but there’s a nugget of truth to it when it comes to video instruction.

We know that video isn’t the best method for instruction in every case. Some other options instead? Written word, flow charts, tables, infographics, transcripts, or screenshots. Save the real-time audio and video instruction for when it’s most useful. There’s no denying the amazing power of showing a complicated, visual task with video. Just don’t get so enamoured with it that you use it for everything.

Postscript: I have spoken to a number of friends and colleagues about this topic, and I would like to disclose that I may be a bit of a grumpy-britches when it comes to video. There are many people who like to learn via the slower pace of a video instruction. They like the teacher to take the time to establish a rapport instead of going straight to the action. And if they are presented with the option of reading instructions, or watching a video, they will choose the video. However, I hope that what I’m saying makes sense, and that perhaps as educators, we can find the best ways to make use of video instruction in the future.

Brecht, H. D., & Ogilby, S. M. (2008). Enabling a Comprehensive Teaching Strategy: Video Lectures. Journal of Information Technology Education, 7, IIP71–IIP86.

Karppinen, P. (2005). Meaningful Learning with Digital and Online Videos: Theoretical Perspectives. AACE Journal, 13(3), 233–250.

Twitter for pedagogical reflection?

After participating in the #digped chat on Twitter today, I have been thinking about how best to use Twitter in the classroom setting. The topic of the chat was specifically about the use of hashtags, but near the end of the chat, a conversational exchange took place that would end up capturing my thoughts for the next few hours.

One of the primary goals of setting up a ‘backchannel’ in Twitter is to benefit people who are not in attendance. We see this commonly at events and gatherings such as conferences and workshops. But during the chat, I also shared that I was keen to create a backchannel for students that would be attending a face-to-face class this fall. Not for the benefit of outside parties, but for ‘reflection’. I used the term reflection a bit off-the-cuff, and if you have participated in a Twitter chat, you know that (at least for an INTJ like me) keeping up with an active chat robs you of the time you need to find ‘just the right word’. One of my MA classmates, Danielle, (who is much sharper than I, and not an INTJ, I’m sure) immediately questioned my suggestion of using Twitter for student reflection, when other tech tools such as blogs, wikis, or message boards would be more appropriate, due to the opportunity for longer-form writing. (Side note: make friends with people who are willing to disagree with you. It advances your learning wonderfully.)

She’s absolutely right, and this became my catalyst for deeper thinking on the subject. A Twitter post is not a good place for thoughtful self-reflection. In fact, what I hadn’t managed to say in 140 words at the time was that my strategy this fall with my new students IS to get them using blogs for reflection and self-assessment. However, my thinking is that some low-level ‘ideas generation’ on Twitter might be just the thing to get the process started. Enter my idea for using a backchannel. In choosing the word reflection, I was thinking about it in the ‘internal’ sense. What goes on inside the head of the learner. Of course, the formal activity of written reflection and the forming of advanced ideas through constructive thought is just not going to happen inside 140 characters. But that intrinsic ‘spark’—a little nugget of a question, could that kick off the process? Alison picked up on that and shared:

Process is a key part of adult learning. As Knowles, Holton, & Swanson (2005) state in The Adult Learner, “the [traditional] content model is concerned with transmitting information and skills, whereas the process model is concerned with providing procedures and resources for helping learners acquire information and skills” (p. 115). For me, encouraging the students to begin a process of discovery by starting with some short thoughts in Twitter, then progressing to a longer, more formal reflection on a blog or class message board makes sense, and contributes to andragogical process.

In order to wrap up this short train of thought, what really brought this all home was this tweet:

As Jesse points out, a Twitter chat is a living process where ideas flow, and are formed by, the participants. It is often true that one leaves the chat with some new insights that they may not have expected to gain from simple 140 word exchanges. As I write this, it’s easy to see that this whole exercise is in itself, meta: I voiced an opinion on Twitter, and had it examined and processed by others who then added to the discourse. I took that information away, thought about it some more, and then wrote this blog post about it. I can always tell when its been great Twitter chat, because my web browser has numerous tabs open to sites with topics I want to explore further. That is exactly the type of experience that I would like to create for my students. Twitter may not be the right tool for formal written reflection, but it is a great pedagogical (andragogical) tool to stimulate such further reflection.

Thanks to @jessifer for hosting a thoughtful chat, @ebooks_dani and @alisonseaman for your thoughts, and to all of today’s participants for their insight and expertise.

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2005). The adult learner : The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. Burlington, MA: Elsevier.