Last week we began an in-depth exploration of why video-based learning works from a cognitive, psychological and learning theory point of view. I looked at research by Prof. Richard Mayer of Santa Barbara University, California and I promised we would explore more of his work.

Today we will look at specific pitfalls of creating multimedia and video-based learning content based on principles extracted by Prof. Mayer from his many, many experiments in his cognitive psychology lab. I wrote the blog primarily using Prof. Mayer’s Harvard lecture here. I would also recommend watching this video before you start, as it is a short introduction to the learning theory assumptions that Prof. Mayer builds on.

So the rest of blog may present quite technical, but I guarantee even the novice video-based teacher will find really insightful and helpful ways to add not only dimension and interest to their content, but also radically increasing its effectiveness.

There are three key steps to creating highly effective video-based learning, specifically for “non-prior knowledge learners” (students who come to the topic for the first time):

  1. Reduce extraneous processing
  2. Manage essential processing
  3. Foster generative processing

Reduce extraneous processing

This is just another way of saying: Stick to the point. Here are four principle to follow in order to do that:

  • Coherence principle

    Delete all extraneous information from the content. This may sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how tempting it is to add additional images, information and graphics to “liven” up the video, which will in fact have a dramatic negative effect on uptake.

    Also, carefully edit the number and type of examples you choose to use. Adding what Prof. Meyer calls “seductive details” has been empirically shown to depress transfer test performance, as students tend to remember the interesting example, and not the process or concept it illustrates.

  • Signalling principle

    So we all know the benefit of bold type, or using a highlighter in terms of text. Prof Mayer suggested the same principle in multimedia, called signalling. Signaling to students what information is important is a balancing act because Prof. Meyer has also discovered that flashing arrows, spotlights, vibrant animations etc. to signal an important fact also depress results. So while signalling is important, it is best to use it in your onscreen text and using intonation and pacing in your narration to highlight important points.

  • Redundancy principle

    I found this really interesting: turns out that students learn more deeply when they are exposed to learning with narration and animation, rather than narration, animation and text (which repeats the narration). Again this is an example of how subtle changes can make real differences to learning outcomes.

  • Temporal contiguity principle

    It may again be tempting to repeat information in your video, for instance presenting the narration followed by the animation — effectively repeating the content. Turns out this is death to transfer test results, and that in all circumstances tested Prof. Mayer and his team discovered that presenting narration and animation at the same time is optimal. In fact, even having the narration off by 5 or 10 seconds has a negative cognitive result.

Removing extraneous material from our multimedia and video lessons is actually more complex than it seems, as we are always tempted to add highlights, repetitions, and duplications in order to make the point. But it turns out much of this additional content is extraneous, and negatively affects recall and application in transfer tests.

Manage essential processing

So once you have fully removed all extraneous material from the content, you may still be left with quite compound and complex content to teach, all of it essential. These three tools will help you to manage that complexity.

  • Segmentation

    Simply put: breaking down the lesson into learner paced modules deepens learning outcomes. The key here is allowing learners control over the pace of the lesson, so the inclusion of pause button triggers and continue buttons, or simply creating separate videos, will enable better learning.

  • Modality

    Learning occurs more deeply with graphics/animation plus narration, than graphics/animation plus text. This is because you are splitting the learners attention when asking them to read and watch an animation at the same time, rather put one load on the visual and another on the audial, and you’ll increase processing capacity.

Foster generative processing

This principle applies to making your content attractive and socially engaging, and is, by Prof Mayers admission, more social than cognitive psychology, but his experiment results are nonetheless revealing. Here two principles apply when it comes to video-based learning:

  • Personalization principle

    Turns out using conversational, everyday language in an easy, friendly style enables deeper learning. One way to do this is to use either first or second person, rather than third person: e.g. saying “when crossing the road you should look right and left” instead of “…people should look right and left.”

  • Voice principle

    Here Prof. Mayer and his team discovered that a human, rather than machine voice, has a statistically significant impact on learning outcomes.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to grips with why video-learning works, and I hope it has inspired you to try your hand at this highly effective teaching method. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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