Best practice in making an instructional video


A lot of research has been conducted into what makes an instructional video effective for student learning and engagement. Below is a summary of some key findings to consider when developing your instructional video or multimedia presentation.

In What Makes an Online Instructional Video Compelling?, Melanie Hibbert and her team analysed engagement with Columbia University's instructional videos and interviewed students to deliver the following recommendations:

  • Instructor presence is essential and can be achieved by using conversational language, humour and drawing on past experiences
  • Tie content in video to assessments/assignments and/or activities such as discussion forum questions
  • Multimedia: Add audio/visual elements to the video to illustrate concepts
  • Short length: Keep the video to a four-minute length

In "How Video Production Affects Student Engagement: An Empirical Study of MOOC Videos" Guo et al (2014) used data from 6.9 million video watching sessions across four courses on the edX MOOC platform to measure engagement and came up with the following findings and recommendations:

Finding Recommendation
Shorter videos are much more engaging. Invest heavily in pre-production lesson planning to segment videos into chunks shorter than 6 minutes. 
Videos that intersperse an instructor's talking head with slides are more engaging than slides alone.  Invest in post-production editing to display the instructor's head at opportune times in the video. 
Videos produced with a more personal feel could be more engaging than high-fidelity studio recordings.  Try filming in an informal setting; it might not be necessary to invest in big-budget studio productions. 
Khan-style tablet drawing tutorials are more engaging than PowerPoint slides or code screencasts Introduce motion and continuous visual flow into tutorials, along with extemporaneous speaking. 
Even high quality pre-recorded classroom lectures are not as engaging when chopped up for a MOOC. If instructors insist on recording classroom lectures, they should still plan with the MOOC format in mind. 
Videos where instructors speak fairly fast and with high enthusiasm are more engaging. Coach instructors to bring out their enthusiasm and reassure that they do not need to purposely slow down.
Students engage differently with lecture and tutorial videos for tutorials. For lectures, focus more on the first-watch experience, add support for re-watching and skimming.

Table 1. Summary of the main findings and video production recommendations that we present in this paper

In addition to the above research, when creating an instructional multimedia presentation, such as a video, it is important to consider cognitive load theory especially as it applies to designing multimedia.  In "A Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning: Implications for Design Principles" Mayer and Moreno outline the following principles:

  • Multiple Representation Principle: "It is better to present an explanation in words and pictures than solely in words. The first principle is simply that it is better to present an explanation using two modes of representation rather than one."  They refer to this as the multimedia effect "The multimedia effect is consistent with a cognitive theory of multimedia learning because students given multimedia explanations are able to build two different mental representations--a verbal model and a visual model-- and build connections between them. "(pp. 2 and 3)
  • Contiguity Principle: "When giving a multimedia explanation, present corresponding words and pictures contiguously rather than separately. The second principle is that students better understand an explanation when corresponding words and pictures are presented at the same time than when they are separated in time"   (p. 3)
  • Split -Attention Principle: "When giving a multimedia explanation, present words as auditory narration rather than as visual on - screen text"…. "on - screen text and animation can overload the visual information processing system whereas narration is processed in the verbal information processing system and animation is processed in the visual information processing system. "  (p. 4)
  • Individual Differences Principle: "The foregoing principles are more important for low - knowledge than high - knowledge learners, and for high - spatial rather than low - spatial learners..." students with high prior knowledge may be able to generate their own mental images while listening to an animation or reading a verbal text so having a contiguous visual presentation is not needed." (p. 4)
  • Coherence Principle: "When giving a multimedia explanation, use few rather than many extraneous words and pictures. The fifth principle is that students learn better from a coherent summary which highlights the relevant words and pictures than from a longer version of the summary. " (p. 4)…"This result is consistent with a cognitive theory of multimedia learning, in which a shorter presentation primes the learner to select relevant information and organize it productively." (p. 5)