Incorporating Video into Online Courses

By Dr. Tim Kochery

videofilmandclapboardThe prior E-Zine edition (April 21; Issue 05) contained an article entitled “Enriching Online Courses with Videos.” That article presented information which demonstrated many benefits of using videos in online courses. Video is a very powerful form of multimedia communication that adds visual and auditory information to text-based content. Through the combination of these media, video offers multiple pathways and sensory channels for additional processing of information. There is evidence that using videos engages students, plus positively effects their learning performance (Lloyd and Robertson, 2012; Hsin and Cigas, 2013).

Video stimulates and engages students creating interest and maintaining that interest for longer periods of time, and it provides an innovative and effective means for educators to address and deliver the required curriculum content.    

                                                                                 (Zane Education)

This article examines some valuable methods for effectively applying videos in an online course. Currently, there is ever-increasing availability to a wide range of informative video materials from various repositories, from YouTube to the Library of Congress. Video is a very vivid and robust mode of communication that creates added perceptions and dimensions for the delivery of educational content. It is a very flexible medium which allows students to view content at their own convenience, as well as provides options to start, stop, rewind, and review the flow of information. This capacity to pause or review content affords students with the capability to learn at their own pace and timeframe.  With the enormous growth of computer laptops, tablets, and cell phones, video affords a mobile and portable means for presenting educational content that is readily available. Students frequently report that they find videos to be engaging, stimulating, and often motivates an increased interest in the subject matter (Willmot et al., 2012; Guo et al., 2014).  According to a summary of current research and surveys, educational videos can:

  • Reinforce reading and lecture material
  • Aid in the development of a common base of knowledge among students
  • Enhance student comprehension and discussion
  • Provide greater accommodation of diverse learning styles
  • Increase student motivation and enthusiasm
  • Promotes teacher effectiveness

(Cruse, 2010)

In order to increase the effectiveness of using videos, there are some best practices that should be applied. It is important to carefully consider the specific information that needs to be conveyed, and the learning objectives that you want to achieve. Be sure to examine and define what the learners should be able to do or know as a result of watching a particular video clip.  As much as videos can enhance learning they can also be very distracting, and students can often lose track of the intended information, content materials, and learning outcomes.  Viewing videos is also a very passive learning experience and requires instructional strategies to stimulate interactions and deeper processing. Furthermore, in our culture, many video programs (television and movie recordings) are most frequently used as a means of entertainment and relaxation. This form of video viewing is not usually predicated on information gathering, nor studying the content. In essence, most people “tune-in” to television and various video recordings, in order to “tune-out”. Neil Postman discusses how our prominent recreational use of the video media through television and other formats has created a strong influence on how we habitually use and perceive the video medium:

Entertainment has become the content of all of our discourse, so that the message itself is less important than the entertainment value of its delivery. There are inherent biases that television has as a medium – it demands rapid-fire editing, non-stop stimulation, and quick decisions rather than rational deliberation… (Postman, 1963)

Therefore, in order to promote attention and learning, it is important to add some questions or earning activities as a direct follow-up to a video assignment. These questions can be provided to the students for use as they are watching the video, as review exercise, or a quiz. Another method is to assign the students a brief essay to write about the major themes of the video, or have them generate a reflection paper or summary. Additionally, you can require that the Questionmarksstudents view certain videos as the basis for an online Discussion activity, where they can share their perspectives and insights about the video content.

There are many different questioning techniques that can be very effective for advancing student processing of the desired video content. Bloom’s Taxonomy provides a framework to develop questions intended to promote student learning about the desired learning objectives, and on different levels of cognition. In addition, there are two major types of questions that can lead to different learning outcomes. Closed-ended or convergent questions are mainly intended to generate specific answers. This type of question mainly focuses on lower-levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy such as basic knowledge and comprehension (recall or recognize information). Whereas, open-ended or divergent questions work best to elicit higher-order thinking, which entails synthesis and evaluation (critical thinking, reasoning). These divergent questions may not lead to absolute answers, but they work best to stimulate discussions and encourage multiple perspectives.  Both of these question types are effective ways to prompt student learning, and one of the best methods for applying these inquiries is to provide students with “guided questions”. These questions can be provided to the learners before or during the time that they will be viewing a video. Using “guided questions” is a very helpful strategy for directing the learner’s attention to the prominent information that you want them to learn. A study by Lawson (2006) demonstrated that students who were provided with question cues or instructions, performed significantly higher on follow-up tests. Of course good questioning techniques are instrumental to good instruction: “Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers.”  (Josef Albers).

Another significant consideration for implementing videos is to be careful about providing videos that are too long. Repeated studies have shown that the attention span for most learners is about 6-10 minutes, and many results actually show that 2-4 minutes may be the most productive timespan for attending to and comprehending video content (Hibbert 2014; Ibrahim 2012; Zhang et al., 2005). One way to overcome this attention restriction, and to avoid an excessive “cognitive load”, is to make sure that the video provides viewer controls for re-winding, pausing, or stopping the video for future viewing.

Whenever possible,videolength it is best to edit the video into more manageable portions or chunks of information. Another option for longer videos is to provide some timeframe intervals so the viewers can scroll through the video to watch certain parts that contain the most crucial and relevant information. This segmenting of the video information helps the learner maintain a deeper focus on the content that is being delivered. It also can be used to eliminate some of the extraneous information that can be very distracting to attaining the desired learning outcomes. Lastly, smaller chunks of video content align with the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia which states that “meaningful learning” is first attained by paying close attention to the presented content. In addition, the learner needs time to process and organize that material into a personal cognitive structure, as well as assimilate new information into their existing knowledge schema (Mayer and Moreno, 2003; Ibrahim et al., 2012))

An additional strategy for improving student learning from video materials is to describe the main content of the video that you want the viewer to concentrate on. This will help the learner better understand the objectives of this activity and anticipate where to focus their attention on the stream of video information. Also, providing the length of time for a video to playback helps learners manage their time and expectations.  A useful naming protocol is (Video, approx. 13:27 mins, CC). The “CC” tag is to show that the video has “closed captioning” which has become much more prevalent and is required for ADA compliance.  Additionally, videos that contain closed captioning benefit the learning process for all students, by providing the choice to read text, listen to, or watch each presentation.  The added capacity to combine these diverse media formats and sensory channels has been shown to increase comprehension and retention (Dual Coding Theory).

Video can be an exceptionally rich and robust media format. The merger of audio, visual, and text information is a very effective means of communicating information and can improve different forms of learning. The fact that videos incorporate so many sensory channels makes this media format very engaging and stimulating.  There are certain methods and best practices that should be implemented in order to enhance the effectiveness of video as a learning tool.

Be aware of the learner’s attention span by delivering the videos that are short and concise (2-6 minutes).  Make sure that the videos communicate additional information that aligns with specific assignments, assessments and learning objectives.  Provide cues and guides to the important elements of a video by providing guiding points and exercises that draw attention to those most pertinent video portions. Overcome the passive nature of video viewing by increasing interactions with the content through questions and activities that apply and induce deeper processing of the information content. Applying some of these methods for incorporating videos into your online course will increase their effectiveness and improve the learning experience.


 Cruse, E. (2010) Using Educational Video in the Classroom, Theory, Research and Practice.  Retrieved from:

 Guo PJ, Kim J, and Robin R (2014). How video production affects student engagement: An empirical study of MOOC videos. ACM Conference on Learning at Scale (L@S 2014); Retrieved from:

Hibbert, M. (2014). What Makes an Online Instructional Video Compelling? Retrieved from:

 Ibrahim M, Antonenko PD, Greenwood CM, and Wheeler D (2012). Effects of segmenting, signaling, and weeding on learning from educational video. Learning, Media and Technology 37, 220-235.

Lawson TJ, Bodle JH, Houlette MA, and Haubner RR (2006). Guiding questions enhance student learning from educational videos. Teaching of Psychology 33, 31-33

Mayer RE and Moreno R (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational Psychologist 38, 43-52.

Mayer, R., Gallini, J (1990). When is an illustration worth ten thousand words? Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(6) (715-726)

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Postman, N. (1985). Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Elisabeth Sifton Books/Viking

Sweller J (1994). Cognitive load theory, learning difficulty, and instructional design. Learning and Instruction 4, 295-312.

Zhang D, Zhou L, Briggs RO, and Nunamaker JF Jr. (2006). Instructional video in e-learning: Assessing the impact of interactive video on learning effectiveness. Information & Management 43, 15-27.

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