Old wine in new bottles

There remains an event-driven approach to teaching.  This is evidenced by the 80-minute average length of recordings in the RePlay service.  The need to now cater for remote learners means a move away from events and towards accessible, chunked content.  Presence, as we have learned, can be achieved through asynchronous means, while simply ‘moving everything online’ without consideration of the affordances of technology enhanced learning is woefully insufficient. 

There are obvious challenges in comparing content designed for a remote cohort with no barriers to entry with lectures recorded for the purpose of providing opportunities for review and increased accessibility.  Nevertheless, research into MOOC design and engagement can inform flexible education practice.

What research tells us

The answer to the question of optimum video length is 6 (six) minutes.  The average engagement length of any video peaked at six minutes, and decreased thereafter.  Learners watched only three minutes of videos which were over 12 minutes in length.

Guo, Philip & Kim, Juho & Rubin, Rob. (2014) undertook the largest empirical study of Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) engagement.  6.9 million viewing sessions of 128 000 learners enrolled upon four MOOCs were analysed.  Several findings emerged from the findings, of which the following are key:

  • shorter videos are much more engaging
  • videos produced with a more personal feel could be more engaging than high-fidelity studio recordings
  • videos where teachers speak fairly fast and with high enthusiasm are more engaging
  • students engage differently with lecture and tutorial videos

Mayer (2001) describes principles of learning that are relevant to learning through video:

  • segmentation: learning is improved when content is presented in segments rather than as a continuous unit
  • signalling: learning material should be organised with clear outlines and headings
  • personalisation principle: a conversational style is better than a formal style for learning

Mayer & Moreno (2003) proposed a theory that humans possess separate channels for processing pictoral and verbal information, and that meaningful learning involves making connections between the two. These channels have limited capacity and are subject to several cognitive overload scenarios, including where:

  • the visual channel is overloaded by essential information
  • both channels are overloaded by the need to process esssential information
  • one or both channels are overloaded by the need to process extraneous information


Design for engagement

  1. Invest in lesson planning to deliver your video content in short chunks
  2. Recording from home is fine; but ensure your audio is of the highest quality
  3. Adopt a direct personal approach; use first and second person language such as “we” and “you”
  4. Let your enthusiasm for your subject shine through; you do not need to purposely slow down your delivery
  5. For lectures, focus more on the first-watch experience; design for a continuous flow of information
  6. For tutorials, design for re-view, skimming and scanning; provide visual clues in the content to support this

Avoid cognitive overload

  1. Structure, chunk and clearly signpost your content
  2. Use spoken words rather than text to explain diagrams; don’t be tempted use both simultaneously
  3. Weed out non-essential content; this can either be discarded or offered in another video

Manage your workload

  1. Recording in small chunks spreads the effort of producing content
  2. Uploading small video files is quicker (and less tedious) than large ones; smaller chunks are also easily streamed by learners
  3. Recording small chunks reduces and often eradicates the need for editing

Posted by Martin King

Senior Learning Technologist; MOOC Producer; Moodle, Turnitin, Grademark, Peermark, Panopto, Turning Technologies expert.

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