When done right, videos are powerful learning tools

Rp Learningblog Story Based Videos

“The power of digital stories comes from the fact that they are natural vehicles for understanding and reflection, and for creating meaning. They are about valuing experiences as they happen in the present and are about reflecting on, reviewing and articulating what did and did not work.”

J. Lambert, Digital Storytelling: Capturing lives, Creating Community. 4th Edition (2013).

50, 80, 1,000,000: These three numbers tell a story about living in the age of video.

Three elements make connecting video to learning experiences a useful teaching tool

Since it’s clear that video captures people’s attention, connecting it into learning experiences is a no brainer. But do videos really help people learn better?

The answer is yes – if the videos are designed and implemented properly, according to Cynthia J. Brame, Assistant Director of Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching.

In her article on effective educational videos, Brame explains that in order for a video to be a useful teaching tool, three elements must be considered:

  1. Cognitive load
  2. Active learning
  3. Affective engagement

Cognitive Load

In her discussion of the first element, she explains how scientists believe that our memory banks are comprised of three components – sensory memory, working memory and long-term memory. In short, information we experience with our senses is first collected by our sensory memory bank, which is basically a processor with no storage capacity. Our sensory memory bank essentially acknowledges the information and decides if it’s important enough to pass along to the next bank, our working memory. This bank, which is designed to make sense out of the information, has some storage space, but not much. So in the process of making sense of the information passed along by our sensory memory, it also decides whether the information is important enough to deserve going to our long-term memory, which has virtually unlimited capacity.

But how do the first two memory banks decide whether the information is important enough to make it into the long-term bank? For one thing, video stimulates both our visual and auditory senses. Brame explains that this is important because scientists believe that our working memory has two channels for acquiring and processing information – a visual channel and an auditory one. Since video stimulates both, there’s a better chance that our working memories will pass that information along to our long-term memories. This is the cognitive load piece of the puzzle.

Active Learning

Next, we have active learning. Since watching a video can be as much of a passive experience as reading a book, to make the most of our educational videos, we need to help our audience do the processing and self-evaluation that will lead to the learning we want to see. That means creating videos that incorporate features that check for understanding and provide opportunities for feedback such as quizzes, surveys, short projects and chances for discussion with fellow learners.

Affective Engagement

Affective engagement is perhaps the most important key to making videos impactful in teaching. Yale University School of Medicine physician and science journalist Ashish Ranpura explains it this way:

"We form memories [when] consolidation, attention and emotional arousal work together to determine what features of an event are important, and therefore what features will be remembered."

In other words, if the videos don’t make our audience feel something, they won’t remember them. And what’s the best way to pique their emotions? By telling them a good story.

While you aren’t charged with producing feature films, you can still craft learning videos that use stories with three dimensional characters, engaging conflicts and suspenseful plots that engage learners, without putting them to sleep.

Videos absolutely deserve a place in your learning stack.

It's your job to make sure their stories are engaging, and the activities alongside them are interesting.

When crafted with care, videos are incredibly powerful learning tools. On the other hand, if they’re not interactive and emotionally affective, they are as dry and boring as conventional book learning. By creating engaging stories and interesting activities to go with them, we can accomplish our goal by leveraging the medium our audience enjoys most.


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