May 20th, 2013

From Passive Viewing to Active Learning: Simple Techniques for Applying Active Learning Strategies to Online Course Videos



From Web-enhanced face-to-face courses to MOOCs, flipped, blended, and fully online courses, videos are an integral component of today’s educational landscape—from kindergarten all the way through higher education.

But there’s a big difference between watching a video and learning something from it. Videos are great for presenting visual information and emotional appeals, but not particularly effective at diving below the surface of non-visual theoretical or abstract topics or for driving critical thinking. What’s more, any video presented in class must compete for attention and memory with the five-plus hours the typical student spends outside of class watching television programs, movies, and other onscreen entertainment. (Nielsen, 2013)

To help increase the educational effectiveness of an online course video, consider applying one or more of the following active learning strategies.

1. Video as guided lesson. The goal here is to help ensure that students watch videos actively—in other words, giving it their full attention. You also want to help draw students’ attention to (and reinforce) the most important concepts being presented. Here’s how:

a. Pose a question at the beginning of each video to give students an idea before they watch of what to expect, what to look for, and what might be worth thinking about. Example:

Q. Why might prehistoric man have diverted precious time from survival-based activities to make art? Think about that as you watch the following video: The Caves of Lascaux (5:10)

b. Present videos in an outline-like structure using concise, descriptively labeled links that include running times as shown below. Doing so:

i. Puts information into context for students automatically. In the example below, students don’t have to be explicitly told that Orientalizing is one of three important styles of ancient Greek vase painting; the structured presentation of video clips implicitly conveys and reinforces this—and similar—contextual relationships.

Art in the Ancient World (2:18)
  Middle and Near East (1:54)
  The Aegean (2:01)
  Greece (3:15)
    Vase painting (1:48)
      Geometric (2:15)
      Orientalizing (1:46)
      Archaic (1:57)
    Sculpture (2:11)
Art in the Middle Ages (3:00)

ii. Sets expectations. Like a well-worded chapter heading, a descriptive video link such as “Middle and Near East” delivers students to the content already actively thinking about what they know (or don’t know) about the topic.

iii. Encourages video viewing (and reviewing). Nontraditional students must fit their studies around work and family, taking advantage of unexpected bits of downtime throughout the day; including video running times helps them do so.

c. Embed short graded or self-assessments either in the video itself, or at the end of each video. Including one or two multiple-choice questions or requests to post to a forum—either between scenes (using a post-production editing tool such as Camtasia or Captivate) or after the video—alerts students to the “take homes” they should be getting from the material. It also helps teachers assess, at point of contact, whether students understand the major concepts.

2. Video as springboard for in-depth discussion. This strategy encourages students to make a personal connection between video content and their own existing knowledge. It also encourages student-student collaboration, which is a critical component of any successful online course. To use video as a springboard for discussion:

a. Assign a video.

b. After viewing the video, have each student post the following to a discussion board:

i. A concept that was new to him/her.

ii. A concept that s/he found confusing (and why).

iii. A concept that, in the student’s opinion, relates either to the course text or to a previous class discussion (and how).

iv. A response to at least two classmates that attempts to define or explain the concept classmates found confusing (based on independent research if necessary).

3. Video as springboard for critical thinking. Ideally, students come away from a class not just having memorized material, but also having understood it well enough to discuss and apply it to novel scenarios. To apply this strategy:

a. Assign two or three videos.

b. Have students identify, compare, and contrast the concepts presented in each. How are the concepts similar? How are they different? Which are substantiated or refuted by the course text (or other course materials)?

c. Optionally, have students post their work to a discussion board and comment on their classmates’ comparisons.

4. Video as a way to strengthen online research skills while driving conceptual understanding. To apply this two-fold strategy:

a. Assign a video.

b. Have students locate online and present to the class a second video that (supports, defends, opposes, elaborates…) the original video. If students need scaffolding to complete this exercise, provide guidelines for searching the Web and vetting sources.

c. Use students’ “found” videos as the basis for class discussion. Ask students to comment, via discussion board, on how well the clips shared by their classmates met the selected criterion.

The Nielsen Company, Free to Move Between Screens: The Cross-Platform Report, March 2013.–free-to-move-betwe.html.

Emily A. Moore, M.Ed., is an instructional designer in the online learning office at Texas State Technical College – Harlingen Campus.

Add Comment

17 comments on “From Passive Viewing to Active Learning: Simple Techniques for Applying Active Learning Strategies to Online Course Videos

  1. Great post. I will implement a number of these pointers in a fully online course I will be delivering in September.

  2. Thanks for the interesting post, Emily! As a language teacher, I use videos all the time in class and for homework and am always looking for new ways to incorporate videos into my courses. Although I often use outlines as strategy for guided note-taking, I never thought about adding the running time to the outline so that students can better manage their time and follow along. I am going to try this out this week and am looking forward to getting feedback from my students as to whether this helps.

    • Jennifer, I like your idea of using outlines for guided note-taking. It's new to me–but one I will suggest to the online faculty I work with who are teaching language arts. Thank you!

  3. I'm not familiar with the software Camtasia or Captivate. I can see more skills are needed to implement use of videos to the highest level. Currently I try to find relevant UTube videos, and assign the URL for consideration. I have no idea how to edit these. So much to learn.

    • Sending students to YouTube can be problematic; some videos/commentary that students see when they land isn't appropriate for K-12, for example. One option is to use the free service to generate a URL that "strips out" everything but the video you want students to see.

      And yes, there is a lot to learn, and the changes are daily! That's one of the reasons I enjoy Faculty Focus–it does a great job at building a meaningful, supportive community.

    • Ruth,
      It sounds as though you had a great first grade teacher. There's nothing video-specific about these strategies–in fact, because video can be seen as a limited face-to-face interaction, almost any technique that gets students to engage with your content in a classroom will work online (although most will need to be adapted).

  4. Good morning, I enjoyed reading the articel. I do have a queston, I teach large groups (60) what active learning strategy would you suggest for a moderately sized group such as that. arlene

    • Arlene,
      In terms of employing the strategies with large groups, the bottlenecks will be likely be managing forums and grading essays. I suggest breaking students into groups of twenty or fewer for the forum-based activities. For the essays, I suggest employing peer reviews in addition to instructor grading.

  5. "What’s more, any video presented in class must compete for attention and memory with the five-plus hours the typical student spends outside of class watching television programs, movies, and other onscreen entertainment. (Nielsen, 2013)"

    I'm disappointed by the lack of data literacy in your article. The report you site looks at TV watching habits broken down by age and ethnicity but makes no mention of students. It is simply irresponsible to state how many hours of TV a student watches per day based on the data provided. This is how phony stats are born :(

  6. Thank you for those great tips on how to integrate videos and keep students involved. I think that the video as a starting point is a great idea and that discussion and posts from students after viewing are essential.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *