From Texts to Online Videos: Learning Revisited

By: Adrian Yao, Lecturer and Program Coordinator, General Studies
School of Arts and Social Sciences

Few weeks ago, an acquaintance of a friend shared her frustration about her son’s difficulty in learning history. She was worried that her child who is in middle school was not able to remember historical facts taught in school. She also realised that he was beginning to build a fortress around the subject. To overcome the situation, she read his textbooks and reference books, and subsequently retold the story in her own words. She found that although this technique worked in certain instances, it did not work for everything. When she related this to me, I suggested that instead of reading and retelling the lesson, she can try searching for good online videos, related to the topics. She was elated when through this, her son showed marked improvement in his mid-term examination scores.

Learning through online videos is quite common today, particularly among the current generation of learners. With technology at our fingertips, learning is not just confined to written and printed texts, but through electronic media as well. The Internet has transformed the paradigms and approaches of learning (and teaching) definitely. Believe it or not, learning through videos in education has been undertaken as early as in the 1920s. In those days, strips of static images were placed in sequence and accompanied by a background narrative, printed or spoken text. As technology is consistently improving, these static images slowly evolved into moving pictures, which enabled these images to be 'brought to live', and ultimately changing the approach to learning (and teaching) in classrooms. Today, with the help of applications which are developed and readily available, one can create, design and produce videos for learning almost instantly even on mobile devices, and then share it online with the rest of the world.

Substantial research has proven that learning through online videos can be equally (if not more) effective as reading from written and printed texts. In the beginning, videos developed specifically for learning emphasised on instruction and problem-solving – videos contain elements of knowledge creation and generation for learners (or viewers) to understand a subject matter. However, in today's context, these videos also include elements of entertainment. Which translates to engaging with and sustaining the attention of learners.

Generally, there are three types of online videos designed and produced for learning.

Lecture capture online videos is commonly used in higher education. The video is a recording of a live lecture. This video is normally presented in an angle that the professor is recorded from a distance, with one or two scenes featuring a close-up of the professor’s facial expression while speaking or the audience that attends the event. Viewers of the video has very minimal eye contact with the lecturer as video is normally shot from an angle which is not directed to the viewers watching the video. In learning, this type of online video is helpful when learners want to recall or retrieve main information.

Online animated videos is the use of animation or movement of learning objects; audio, texts or visuals etc in a sequential manner. The animation reflects and entails a specific and precise choreography of in-out or fade-in and fade-out sequences to signify a flow of storytelling. Also known as picture-in-picture videos, the video of a speaker narrating in a single scene is placed side-by-side with another video of the related learning objects. This type of video is prominently featured in language learning where accurate sounds and pronunciation are projected. It is believed that this type of online video can generate a ‘human impression’ to the learner rather than learning with robotic and monotonous tone from a voiceover.

Online screencast videos are produced and designed from an angle that represents a ‘blackboard or whiteboard’ surface. A voiceover narrates and is usually accompanied by scribbling, jotting or pointing of learning objects simultaneously. This scenario makes learning very personal. Screencast videos are popular among STEM-related subject areas as the video can project procedures or methods to explain and elaborate a solution for a problem distinctively. For example, a statistics professor may explain a formula by scribbling and jotting on the device (normally a tablet) whilst the device records the scribbling and voiceover simultaneously. Online screencast videos are also popular to explain a concept in social sciences or even narrating the significance of a historical event in history.

An effective online video for learning, regardless of the types, that distinct itself from the rest, should consist of a systematic approach of presentation with clear instructional message and appropriate and related use of texts and visuals. Upon watching, good online videos for learning should also be able to evoke realism and fidelity, where learners are able to generate mental images acquired during the viewing due to the clarity of texts and visuals presented in the video. The duration of an online video should also be considered as learners have limited attention span. It is best to keep it short and succinct. After all, no one would want to watch a 60-minute video on how to fry an egg.

It is evident that upon watching these videos, a learner must be able to demonstrate their ability to transfer and apply the knowledge into practical situations that generate solutions. Therefore, don’t limit watching videos for learning in the online sphere merely for entertainment; rather consider this approach as a complement to the current approach of learning.

In the teaching and learning of General Studies in Monash University Malaysia, we believe that developing and producing online videos for learning is the most ideal approach. Rather than undertaking an approach to produce and design a single type of online video for learning, we experiment on various types of online videos to cater to learners from diverse and various learning styles.