As higher education institutions worldwide transition to new methods of instruction, including the use of more pre-recorded videos, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many observers are concerned that student learning is suffering as a result. However, a new comprehensive review of research offers some positive news for college students.
The authors found that, in many cases, replacing teaching methods with pre-recorded videos leads to small improvements in learning and that supplementing existing content with videos results in strong learning benefits. The study was published in Review of Educational Research, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.
Study authors Michael Noetel, Shantell Griffith, Taren Sanders, Philip Parker, Borja del Pozo Cruz, and Chris Lonsdale at Australian Catholic University, and Oscar Delaney at the University of Queensland, analysed 105 prior studies with a pooled sample of 7,776 students. The prior studies had used randomised controlled trials to compare the impact of videos (such as recorded lectures or highly edited clips that included audio and visual elements) on learning with the impact of other forms of instruction, including face-to-face lectures, tutorials, or assigned readings.
Studies in which the use of video could not be isolated from other variables–for example, in flipped classrooms where lectures were more interactive due to increased student engagement were excluded by the authors. ‘Overall, when students got videos instead of the usual forms of teaching, the average grade increased from a B to a B+,’ said Noetel, a research fellow at Australian Catholic University. ‘When they got videos in addition to their existing classes, the effect was even stronger, moving students from a B to an A.’
Videos were found to be more effective for teaching skills than for transmitting knowledge. On a skills assessment, videos improved student scores by about five points out of 100. For learning knowledge, videos were about as good as existing teaching methods, increasing student scores by about two points.
The results were robust across different teaching methods (e.g., lectures, tutorials, homework), course subjects, types of video (e.g., case demonstrations, recorded lectures), lengths of the video experiments, and amount of time between the experiments and follow-up assessments of student learning. ‘In a slightly concerning finding for my job as an academic, videos were even better than face-to-face classes with a teacher, although only by only a little,’ said Noetel. ‘Still, this surprised us because we thought classes would more effective, not less.’
‘Obviously, some valuable learning activities are best-done face-to-face, like role-plays and class discussion,’ said Noetel. ‘But our results show many forms of learning can be done better and more cost-effectively via video. Shifting the ‘explaining’ bits to videos allows the rich, interactive work to take up more of the precious face-to-face time with students.’ The authors noted that videos might be more effective than face-to-face classes with comparable interactivity because students are able to engage at their own pace and in their own time, without being overloaded.
‘Because each student is in charge of the controls, videos may allow learners to stop themselves from becoming overloaded, pause to take notes, rewind, or go faster if they’re bored’ said Noetel. ‘Video may also increase student motivation by allowing increased autonomy and self-direction. It’s nice to be able to learn when and where you want; it can fit in better with life.’
The authors noted that videos often show things more authentically than lectures can, by providing real-life demonstrations instead of artificial demonstrations in class. This may explain why the videos in the study were more effective for teaching skills than for transmitting knowledge. According to the authors, college policies should focus on incentivising staff to create and share high-quality video resources, funding the infrastructure for creating quality videos, and supporting students with less access to technology.
‘Even after the pandemic ends, college instructors will find value in incorporating video into their teaching,’ said Noetel. ‘Ensuring that those videos are of high quality and that all students have equal access to them will provide significant long-term benefits.’