Last week I attended a government-sponsored training on instructional video that began with three weird reasons for why teachers should use more instructional video:

  1. Instructional videos cater to students’ learning styles
  2. Instructional videos are more popular with students (i.e., they like them) than alternative methods
  3. Instructional videos are the future of learning

I’m sure fans of this blog will immediately see the problems with each of these “reasons.” The first one is false because learning styles do not exist and tailoring instruction to non-existent learner characteristics is unlikely to be effective. A generous interpretation of the presenter’s intent is that videos can include visuals that, when paired with verbal information, help to make the information more concrete. It would have been more appropriate to describe how teachers can design videos that incorporate principles of dual coding.

The second reason – that students prefer instructional videos – might be true whenever videos are a novelty, but we know that novelty quickly fades (Willingham, 2010). Besides, students are not always the best judges of teaching and learning effectiveness. Students tend to think multimedia helps them learn, even when it just distracts them from the message, and, more generally, they prefer materials that they can consume passively rather than effortfully (Carpenter et al., 2020). It seems odd, given this evidence, that we’d base our decision on whether to instruct with video purely on student opinion of instructional video.

The third reason – that videos are the future of learning – implies that instructional videos haven’t been in schools for several decades. This is just another example of education’s fetish for futuristic stuff – a pro-innovation bias – that permeates our discourse and rarely leads to the outcomes that are advertised. Sadly, teaching is not a serious profession that draws upon a body of research, but one in which even government-sponsored trainings are full of erroneous claims and questionable advice.

The actual reason why instructional videos have a place in the classroom is not because they are groovy or support visual learners, but because they present information. When information becomes integrated into the contents of students’ long-term memories, we’ve succeeded at doing our jobs. Instructional videos are particularly useful sources of information whenever live whole class instruction cannot take place, such as when students are at home, or just a few students require an additional presentation of the material. This is so obvious to teachers that it’s hardly worth mentioning, but what is not so obvious is how we can improve the design of instructional videos. Mayer and colleagues’ (2020) six principles is a good starting point for how to design effective instructional videos:

  1. *Dynamic drawing: People learn better from a video lecture when the onscreen instructor draws graphics on a board while lecturing rather than referring to already drawn graphics
  2. Gaze guidance: People learn better from a video lecture when the onscreen instructor shifts gaze between the audience and board while lecturing rather than looking only at the audience or board
  3. *Generative activity: People learn better from a video lecture when they are asked to engage in summarizing during learning
  4. Perspective: People learn better from a video lecture that is filmed from a first person perspective than a third person perspective
  5. Subtitle: People learn better from a video documentary or show in the learner’s second language when printed subtitles are added or used to replace spoken words
  6. *Seductive details: People do not learn better from a multimedia lesson when extraneous video is added

Of these six principles, I have *starred the three that I’ve been working on lately.

To implement the Dynamic Drawing principle, I’ve had to work hard at improving the clarity of my hand-drawn examples. I use simple line drawings (i.e., stick figures) and with each elaboration to the drawing I pause to allow think time, pointing each time with my drawing tool or hand towards the part students are to attend to. This video by Adam Boxer is well worth watching.

To implement the Generative Activity principle, I make sure that all of my videos (and live lessons) are broken up with opportunities to make sense of the material, such as requiring students to answer a question, solve a problem, or write something down. I personally use a tool called EdPuzzle, which forces students to answer multiple choice or essay questions about the material before they’re allowed to watch the rest of the video. If you don’t have access to EdPuzzle or a similar tool, you can simply incorporate verbal prompts into videos (e.g., “Please press pause and do X on your paper”) and hope your students don’t ignore you.

Finally, to implement the Seductive Details principle, I try to exclude irrelevant information from my narration and drawings (even if it’s really interesting) so that students’ limited working memory resources are allocated to the key information; Something that is easier said than done.


Carpenter, S. K., Witherby, A. E., & Tauber, S. K. (2020). On students’ (mis)judgments of learning and teaching effectiveness. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.

Mayer, R. E., Fiorella, L., & Stull, A. (2020). Five ways to increase the effectiveness of instructional video. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(3), 837–852.

Willingham, D. T. (2010). Have Technology and Multitasking Rewired How Students Learn? American Educator, 34(2), 23–28.

2 thoughts on “Instructional Videos: Perfect for Learning Styles, Popular with Students, and THE FUTURE of Education!

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