By Marisa Graser
Online learning increasingly becomes a part of the University learning experience. This often includes a mix of synchronous (real-time) conferences via Zoom or Skype, and asynchronous videos that are pre-recorded. Both approaches stimulate the auditory and visual system simultaneously, which - according to the cognitive theory of multimedia learning - is the most effective way to present information (Mayer, 2008). Whilst the effect of synchronous teaching has been readily explored, the effects of videos on learning in higher education are less well known. So how do videos compare to other asynchronous media like textbooks or static websites?
Noetel et al. (2021) conducted a systematic review to answer this exact question. They identified and analysed over 100 randomised trials that used video in higher education and found that the majority reported better learning outcomes when compared to other methods.
Two factors seemed to be most important: From a teacher’s perspective, editing the videos before dissemination to distil important key points helped to convey learning objectives in a targeted way. From a student’s perspective, the ability to control the cognitive load by pausing and rewinding appears to greatly enhance learning.
Most research Noetel et al. (2021) identified suggested that editing is an essential process to optimise the advantageous effects of videos. For this, it is helpful to make content coherent and add design principles, i.e. by timing key points with slides or highlighting important information.
Noetel et al. (2021) also strongly advise to keep videos as short as possible by reducing them to core content that is important to meet the learning objectives. Scaling down the content in videos might be even more effective than covering the same information in a longer class, as Rey (2012) suggests: It removes “seductive details”, i.e. irrelevant information that occupies part of the students’ working memory.
Noetel et al. (2021) noticed that videos were most effective in an interactive environment. Obviously, direct peer- and student-teacher interaction are limited in asynchronous videos. However, Noetel et al. suggest integrating online discussions into videos or embedding questions, for example through H5p or EdPuzzle.
They also recommend that even if technically not required, videos should be used in addition to traditional face-to-face classes. Some might fear that students will skip lectures for online videos. However, Noetel et al. (2021) stressed the strong positive effect videos have on student learning and that they would complement traditional lectures well. They therefore suggest implementing additional measures like frequent formative assessments to ensure that students remain engaged.
According to Noetel et al. (2021) the success of videos comes down to giving control to the students. With the asynchronous setup, students can study at their own pace with the option to pause and rewind when they don't understand something. It essentially allows them to control their own cognitive load. Additionally, videos also allow for an authentic perspective of real skills, for example when showing videos of a surgery through the eyes of a doctor for medical students. This can be particularly beneficial when teaching skills rather than knowledge.
Overall, videos can have a high impact on learning outcomes and are a great tool to implement not only into online courses but also as a supplement to traditional in-person lectures.
[Source] Noetel M, Griffith S, Delaney O, et al. (2021) Video Improves Learning in Higher Education: A Systematic Review, Review of Educational Research, 91(2):204-236.
 Mayer, R. E. (2008). Applying the science of learning: Evidence-based principles for the design of multimedia instruction, The American Psychologist, 63(8), 760–769.
 Rey, G. D. (2012) A review of research and a meta-analysis of the seductive detail effect, Educational Research Review, 7(3), 216–237.