April 5, 2016

Educational Video for eLearning

I’m a little bit obsessed with MOOCs and OERs and other online learning mediums. But if I had to pick one teeny, tiny thing that bugs me about online education, it’s the proliferation of talking head videos. The go-to approach for educational video seems to be recording a lecture to camera. I’ve never been a fan of lecturing. No one wants to be that instructor who lectures for 90 minutes while students snore at the back of the room. So, I’m not sold on this idea that we should take one of the things that’s very wrong with face-to-face education and pop it up on the web.

There are occasions where the talking head does make sense and is done well. In introductory pieces, the learners do need to put a ‘face’ to their instructor, and it often is a positive thing to have that person on camera early-on to build some sort of connection. Here’s an example of the talking head done well:

Talking Head

The MOOC is great, too, if you have the chance to take it. The instructor on this course is likeable, natural in front of the camera, and the production values are good. The pop-over graphics are a really nice touch, as is the clean background. Often, these are straight recordings of a lecture in a 300-seat lecture hall, or poorly-lit video of an instructor in a cluttered office. Yikes!


Some subject areas don’t lend themselves to particularly innovative display, though. Sometimes you just need to show the equations. Here’s a video that uses a lecture approach, but does it well.


First-Person POV with Interaction

The next two videos manage to turn passive video watching into an active learning opportunity. These immerse the learner in a narrative, making the learning material feel more personal, and creating a memorable experience that improves retention. Win-win!

While not an educational video per se, these Metropolitan Police videos remind me of those Choose-your-own-Adventure books I used to read as a kid. You can’t help but go back and choose another path to see how the story might end.

As a Spanish learner myself, I really took a shine to this approach. It manages to feel personal but doesn’t use any expensive tricks – just a simple pause in the action.

BBC – Mi Vida Loca

Live Action

This MOOC did a brilliant job of its videos. If they run it again, do take it. The course creators took the fascination that many of us have with crime serials on television, and got us hooked on a course in much the same way as we’d binge on a crime show on Netflix. The consistent, dramatic narrative is the reason why this works so well. Though this technique wouldn’t work for all subject matter, if you have an opportunity like this, use it!

FutureLearn – Identifying the Dead (trailer)


If you haven’t seen the treasure trove that is TED-Ed and you’re a teacher, go there now — I’ll wait. You won’t be disappointed! These videos cover tons of great material that you can use in the classroom, in a far more engaging way than a lecture will. They’re short and sweet, and the graphics are very well done. Here’s but one example:

Data-Driven Animation

Perhaps one of my favourite data visualisations from recent memory, this animation presents a ton of data in a very engaging way. If you watch the interactive version on the website, you’ll also find that the the video stops playing so that the user can interact with the piece.

Animation with Live-Action

Teachers, here’s another great find for you. CrashCourse produces videos that combine animation and (well-done) talking heads to explain just about everything, from History to Economics to Astronomy. Their YouTube channel is a goldmine of great stuff, and the production values extremely high.


A variation on the animation, these whiteboard videos are made great by the illustrations used. If you like this style, you’ll also enjoy taking Sketchnotes. By translating the voiceover into visual material, these videos appeal to the over 65% of us who are visual learners, making the material easier to digest and remember.

Interactive Video

This video mixes a talking head with the lecture-style you saw earlier, also incorporating interaction. This mixed media approach tells an engaging story while allowing the user to find out more about items that interest them. In doing so, it holds the user’s interest for longer than a standard video would, and gives them options about the path they take, creating a more personal and memorable experience.

PBS – A Perfect Terrorist


If you’re doing software tutorials, screencasts are likely to end up in your course material. This is the ideal way to show learners how to do something, step-by-step. When doing this, make sure you have decent audio equipment (muffled speech is all too common on these). Move a little more slowly than you normally would, so that viewers can keep up, and have room to pause.


Bonus: While not actually a video itself, this gives you an alternative option. I’ve seen instructors take their PowerPoint slides, record an audio lecture to go along with it and then bundle this as a video. These are ill-advised for two reasons. One, learners can read slides faster than the instructor can read them, and, two, good slideshow presentations are rare. Many of these are so full of text and clipart, that the whole thing is rather cringe-worthy. As an alternative, I’d recommend Prezi (as long as you don’t move too quickly and make your audience nauseous). This particular presentation is very well done, graphically, and really takes advantage of what the tool can do.

Have you seen an educational video techniques that I’ve missed? Let me know, and I’ll update this list with your favourite examples.