From texts to online videos: Learning revisited

From texts to online videos: Learning revisited

Few weeks ago, an acquaintance of a friend shared her frustration about her son’s schooling in a middle school, encountered difficulty in learning History. She was worried that her son couldn’t remember historical facts that was taught in school and she realized that he was beginning to build a fortress around the subject. Hence, to overcome this situation, she took the initiative to read the son’s school texts and reference books, understanding it and then retold the story to the son based on what she has read. Eventually, this technique works for several topics, but it did not work for other topics gradually. Poor her. Turning me for help, I suggested to her rather than reading and reciting to her son from traditional texts and reference books, she may search for good and constructive online videos about the topic in YouTube as a strategy to assist herself and her son in revising.

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 through 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, often printed or spoken text. As technology were consistently improving, these static images slowly evolved into moving pictures, which enable these images 'brought to live' that changes the approach of learning (and teaching) in classrooms immediately. Today, with the help of applications which are developed and readily available at our disposal, 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 as equally (or more) effective as reading from written and printed texts. In the beginning, videos developed specifically for learning emphasized on instruction and problem-solving; whereby videos contain elements of knowledge creation and generation for learners (or viewers) to understand a subject matter. However, in today's context, these videos must also include elements of entertainment. The ultimate reason: these videos must consistently be engaged with the learner to sustain their attention!

In general, there are three types of online videos designed and produced for learning. Known as lecture capture online videos, it is common and very popular among the higher education. The prominent feature of this video is the recording is undertaken whilst a professor delivers the lecture or a speech in front of a large audience. The online video is normally presented in an angle that the professor is recorded from a distance, with one or two scenes that features a close-up of the professor’s facial expression whilst delivering or the audience that attends the event. In this case, viewers of this online video will realize that there is very minimal eye contact with learners at this point as it 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 to learners to recall and retrieve main information that was delivered during a lecture.

I categorized the second type of online videos for learning as online animated videos. The distinct feature in this type of online video is the 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 picture signifies a screen of a speaker narrating in a single scene is placed side-by-side with another picture that signifies a screen of the learning objects. This type of video is prominently featured in language learning whereby it projects accurate sounds and pronunciation. 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 the voiceover.

I categorized the final type of online video for learning as online screencast videos. In most cases, this online video is produced and designed from an angle that represents a ‘blackboard or whiteboard’ surface. A voiceover shall narrate a text that 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. A professor in Statistics 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.

Based on my observation and analysis, 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, whereby learners are able to generate mental images acquired during the viewing due to the clarity of texts and visuals presented in the video. Do consider the duration of an online video for learning too as learners have limited attention span too. A learner shall not want to watch a 60-minute video to learn the methods of frying 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. Isn’t this is known as effective learning? Therefore, don’t limit watching videos for learning in the online sphere merely for entertainment; rather consider this approach as to complement the current approach of learning.

In learning and teaching of General Studies in Monash University Malaysia, we believe that developing and producing online videos for learning is the most ideal approach to be undertaken. 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 for learning to cater for the learners with diverse and various learning styles.

By Adrian Yao Yong Tat, Lecturer & Coordinator for Malaysian National Subjects & General Studies, School of Arts and Social Sciences, Monash University Malaysia