Video: The power and the story

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I was working as learning resources manager at a large nursing college several years ago when a colleague arrived red faced at my office door. He asked me if he could borrow a video cassette from my library to show to his group of students. As he hurriedly browsed the selection he asked me if there were any that were 90 minutes in duration. I was curious and asked him why he wanted a video that was exactly 90 minutes long. He explained that a visiting speaker had just phoned to tell him that she was unable to present her lecture. He needed a video to ‘fill the gap’ so that the student nurses had something to do for an hour and a half.

I was appalled. As politely as I could, I explained to him that making his students sit through a full 90 minutes of video was not particularly good pedagogy. Notwithstanding the student attention issues, I explained that video can be at its most effective when it is used in short bursts as a stimulus to enrich and extend learning, to promote discussion, encourage collaboration and to challenge students’ thinking – but definitely not as a replacement for the teacher. Perhaps he thought I was moralising. He patiently listened to what I had to say, thanked me for my time, and then took the video cassette, walked into the classroom and played it in its entirety anyway.

Why video?
Video seems to be deeply embedded into the toolkit of educators, because it can be a powerful medium, but whether it is used effectively is open to debate. The story above represents a poor example of how video might be used. There are many more effective methods in which video can be used to engage, inspire and motivate students.

In a recent poll, 92% of teachers reported using video because they believe it increases student satisfaction with the learning experience, while 84% think it improves student achievement. By far the highest use of video in institutions was in the classroom with 92% of institutions showing videos to their students (Kaltura, 2018). Why are educators so enamoured with video?

One reason teachers use video in the classroom may be because it is familiar, a commonly used medium at home for entertainment and information purposes. We can sit for long hours absorbing this medium, but we must not forget that the vast majority of content we consume at home is entertainment. It can usually hold our attention for a great deal longer than formalised educational content. That said, there have been great improvements in the production of educational video in recent years. But there is a lot of difference between watching a blockbuster movie and a documentary on the physiology of the human body.

The psychology of perception
The way we perceive video and multimedia is varied and complex. However, there are key elements of video that we can focus on to ascertain how effectively video can be applied in education. According to Brame (2015) there are three important factors. The first is cognitive load – i.e. the amount of information we can process and absorb through our primary senses; in this case, our audio and visual channels. Second are other, non-cognitive factors, such as the duration of a video, the style of the video presentation, and the level of content and whether it is enough to extend the knowledge of students. Third is the facility of active engagement – to what extent are students prompted to delve deeper into knowledge or encouraged to ask questions, because of the video?

A closer look at cognitive load theory (Sweller, 1988) reveals that human processing relies predominantly on visual and auditory stimuli, but this is limited. Overload of these senses can limit the amount of information we can remember. Furthermore, on-screen cueing or ‘signalling’ – elements such as graphics and text that highlight important aspects of the presentation; and ‘segmenting’ – the process of breaking content down into digestible chunks so that memory and recall are easier; are two of the vital components in the success of an educational video. These are important design principles in all media, and are particularly important in educational video.

I will write more on these ideas in a future post.

Video today
In the digital age, where social media and mobile devices abound, it has never been easier to access video on just about any subject. There is an abundance of knowledge available on the medium, thanks to online services such as Daily MotionYouTube and Vimeo. But these platforms are often riddled with intrusive and distracting pop-up adverts and can be plagued with other issues such as undesirable content or abusive comments. It’s somewhat hit and miss. Furthermore, many schools block their use, generally because of the above issues. One new service offers a growing range of educational videos for download that is free of commercials. Boclips for Teachers was set up to provide teachers with safe and seamless content to use directly in classrooms. Sign up is free (teachers – sign up by June 30th and receive a free account for an entire year running to June 30, 2020) and the service can also offer teacher-curated content. It looks like a very useful resource for educators everywhere.

Next time: The future of video in education

Brame, C.J. (2015) Effective educational videos, Available online at: (Accessed 24 April, 2019)
Kaltura (2018) How Video Is Used In Education, Available online at: (Accessed 24 April, 2019)
Sweller,  J. (1988) Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive Science 12, 257-285.

Creative Commons License
Video: The power and the story Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Video: The power and the story
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