Student engagement is a big part of independent learning. We want students to actively interact with the learning material, no matter where they are and how they’re learning.

As such, educational videos are nothing new, especially in the world of asynchronous and blended learning. It’s not a big deal since teachers have figured out that they can focus on offering individualized attention to students or in-classroom activities that don’t involve lecturing by pre-recording said lectures.

Now, classroom teaching is different from video teaching. You’re not controlling your students’ environments and distractions. However, it does have many advantages, such as the ability to tailor materials specifically for your students, adapting content to their level of understanding, and, last but not least, reusing some of the materials for future classes.

And while these videos free up some time for other activities, achieving your goal of offering an effective learning experience depends on their quality. Of course, I’m not talking about production quality here either! In the end, what matters most in educational videos is avoiding a long-time arch-nemesis of learning: cognitive load.

Cognitive load and multimedia learning

As we all know, deep learning involves focus and engagement with the material. Consequently, your students aren’t passively watching videos; they’re making a cognitive effort to learn, involving sensory, working, and long-term memory.

Video learning can hinder this effort if the video itself contains distractions such as superfluous information, background music, or “just for fun” animations. Most of all, students’ working memory capacity is limited and differs from one student to another, so distractions unintentionally embedded in the video add to the experience — in a negative way.

The Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (Mayer and Moreno, 2003) also highlights two different aspects of working memory:

  • visual/pictorial channel – responsible for processing visual information, such as ideas on a slide;
  • auditory/verbal channel – responsible for processing auditory information, such as teachers narrating a lesson.

Each channel can become “overloaded”, so that’s why “meaningful learning involves cognitive processing including building connections between pictorial and verbal representations” (Mayer and Moreno, 2003). In other words, these two channels go hand in hand, but keeping a minimalistic mindset for both is going to give you the best results.

What makes an educational video good?

Now that we’ve seen the science behind the videos, let’s have a look at some best evidence-based practices to make your video lessons more engaging and effective:

  1. Short videos work best

    An often-cited study on MOOCs says videos should be around six minutes long. After that, most students gradually lose interest.

    However, this rule has been challenged by subsequent evidence such as this Stanford study arguing that MOOC videos are different than formal education videos. For example, students in college courses are different from the average MOOC learner in that they’ll watch videos multiple times and won’t quit so easily. In addition, there’s more at stake when you’re in school and you have to pass a standardized test.

    So, the lesson here is to keep videos short, but don’t fret about the six-minute rule too much. Even five, seven, or 10 minutes will work, as long as you know your students and can estimate how much information they can handle at a time.

  2. Segmenting information

    The idea behind segmentation is that students should focus on one thing at a time. You can take a larger lesson and create bite-sized pieces of information to avoid cognitive overload.

    Additionally, each student controls how fast or slow they want to go through the video as they can fast-forward, pause to reflect on their learning, or go back and re-watch segments.

    There are many ways to embed these moments in videos. For example, we have:

    • Micro learning: using your LMS’s micro learning feature, you can create bite-sized lessons with mini-videos. Since micro lessons remove all visual distractions from the screen, students will focus on learning;
    • Video tool: using a video creation platform such as Kaltura, you can annotate videos and segment a longer video into bite-sized parts such as introduction, definition, concept one, concept two, conclusion, etc.

    Plus, you can also add quizzes and questions that students can answer before moving on to the next “chunk”.

    Read more: 8 Benefits of using microlearning when teaching students online

  3. Build on previous knowledge

    We all know how students construct knowledge using previous experiences. So, you can remind students to use previous concepts in key moments of the video.

    For example, you can pause the video to say, “Remember when we talked about…” followed by a simple definition as a reminder and then move on to explain new concepts. You can also make this part more fun by showing a “Remember box” in the video so that students can pause the video and take a moment to recall past information.

    Moreover, take advantage of these video pauses anytime you need them to reflect on what you’re teaching.

    Read more: 5 Principles of effective instruction adapted for online teaching

  4. Videos should be goal-oriented

    Imagine that you’re catching up with a friend that is very excited to see you again. They’re often going on a tangent, explaining different things and mentioning many people you don’t know. It takes a lot of focus to keep up with the main points of the story. You’re most likely confused.

    That’s how students feel when they have a lot of information coming at them, especially if they’re not familiar with the subject at all.

    So, even if it’s tempting to add as many details as possible, videos should be short and goal-oriented. Extraneous information needs to get out! To do this, always ask this question: “Is this fact absolutely essential for achieving the learning goal, or will it just add on to the cognitive load?”

    The same goes for distracting elements such as background music, loaded PowerPoint slides, flashy animations, or colorful backgrounds.

  5. Signaling or cueing

    Students already make an effort to pay attention, recall information, and organize this information coherently. However, you can help them reduce cognitive load by signaling what they should pay attention to — something that you probably already do even if you don’t call it “signaling”.

    For example, in this Crash Course video (starting from 2:14), the most important keywords such as “the sky” or “meadows” are highlighted and have symbols attached to them. In this way, students know that they are important keywords that help them interpret the poem, so they must remember them.

    However, you can also do this by simply highlighting words, make them a different color or larger than the rest of the text. You can add animations such as arrows that point to essential segments.

  6. Matching visual and audio

    Remember the two working memory channels: audio and visual? These can work separately but are brilliant together because they increase student engagement.

    For example, your video can show a process such as the natural water cycle, with plenty of images and animations. However, to make this more effective, you can also narrate what is happening in the visual support.

    Also, If you like to be a part of the video and mimic a one-on-one approach, just make sure to show what you’re explaining, even if it’s through a simple whiteboard.


Good educational videos are all about managing cognitive load. To captivate your students’ attention, all you have to do is follow best practices such as creating bite-sized, goal-oriented videos that engage both visual and auditory channels.

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