Traditional instructional videos are often long, address a variety of content, or lack meaningful opportunities for students to engage with the content. Long videos can make it challenging for students to remain focused and attentive. Content-heavy videos can be difficult for students to digest; they may feel overwhelmed by the amount of material they are being asked to process at once. Additionally, videos that simply require students to watch and listen can make it tough for students to retain the information and monitor their understanding. So, what is a good alternative? Enter microlectures.
What are microlectures?
Zheng (2022) defines a microlecture as “a short video, usually produced by the instructor, that explains a single key concept or a specific skill.” Unlike traditional lecture videos that are often long and comprehensive, microlectures are bite-sized instructional videos that focus on one chunk of content. For example, a teacher education professor might create a concept-based microlecture that explains the backwards design model, or a skills-based microlecture that demonstrates how to craft measurable objectives for a lesson plan.
Microlectures have three key characteristics (Zheng, 2022). First, they are brief (typically shorter than 10 minutes). Second, microlectures are personal (that is, they convey a sense of “instructor presence”). Third, microlectures are interactive. Zheng (2022) explains that instructors can incorporate interaction into their videos through the use of “pause points” where they prompt students to pause the video and complete an activity (e.g., a reflection, quiz, writing exercise, or note taking activity).
Why are microlectures beneficial?
Scagnoli (2012) has identified several important benefits of microlectures for students:
- Microlectures allow for self-paced learning. Because microlectures are recorded, students can easily pause, play, and rewind as many times as needed in order to review and process the content.
- Microlectures allow for learning on-the-go; students can easily watch or listen to microlectures from any location or at any time, such as when they are in transit.
- The brief nature of microlectures allows students to focus on just one key concept at a time.
Zheng (2022) also explains that the interactive nature of microlectures (where students are prompted to engage in active learning activities) enhances student learning.
In terms of benefits for faculty, microlectures encourage professors to break down concepts and explain them in a clear and concise fashion (Scagnoli, 2012). Microlectures are also versatile and can be utilized in any modality (Scagnoli, 2012). For example, online instructors can create microlectures to help students learn about key concepts throughout the course, while on-site instructors can create microlectures to help students preview or review important course concepts. Furthermore, microlectures lend themselves well to the flipped classroom approach, where students are introduced to course concepts outside of class so that they can use class time to focus on higher-order tasks, such as applying and analyzing (Scagnoli, 2012). Professors can also design microlectures so that they inform the class content. For example, a professor could have students watch a microlecture and submit questions before class so that they know what to review or address at the start of class (Scagnoli, 2012). Finally, microlectures allow faculty to create a library of reusable content (Scagnoli, 2012). This can reduce overall prep time down the line.
What are helpful tools for creating microlectures?
There are many different tools that faculty can use to create microlectures. For example, a professor can use the built-in camera on their phone or laptop to record a simple “talking head” video where they are speaking directly to the camera (Scagnoli, 2012; Costa, 2020, 70-71). Professors can also create narrated slideshows using the built-in audio and video recording tools in PowerPoint and Keynote. In addition, professors can create screencasts where they record their screen and include audio narration only, or audio plus video of themselves (Costa, 2020, 73-76). There are a variety of screencast tools available, such as QuickTime, Loom, Screencastify, Screencast-O-Matic, and Zoom. Professors can also create microlectures with edtech tools like Flip (formerly Flipgrid) or Edpuzzle (which allows users to embed questions throughout a video).
iPads are also great for creating microlectures! With the iPad, faculty can:
- Use the Camera app to record a “talking head” video where they are explaining a concept or demonstrating a skill
- Use the Notes app or the new Freeform app as a digital whiteboard, and create a narrated screen recording of the content
- Use the Clips app to record a microlecture that includes special effects and captions
- Use the iMovie app to create a microlecture using one of the storyboard templates
- Use the Keynote app to create narrated lecture slides with live video, annotations, and/or animations
What is the process for making microlectures?
In my work with faculty, I recommend a five-step process for making microlectures: Plan, Create, Record, Caption, and Share.
- Plan: First, faculty determine what they will address in their microlecture. I have created a Microlecture Planning Template to guide faculty in this process. The planning template includes the following sections:
- Pre-planning: Here, faculty select a course, identify the specific topic the microlecture will address, develop student learning objectives, and determine an appropriate assessment.
- Beginning, Middle, & End of Microlecture: Here, faculty outline the content they will teach and interaction opportunities they will provide during the beginning, middle, and end of the microlecture. The planning template includes guiding questions to consider at each stage, along with links to specific active learning strategies that can be utilized.
- Next Steps: Here, faculty determine the format they will use for the microlecture, the recording tool they will use, and any additional materials that are needed.
- Create: Once the planning process is complete, faculty create or gather the necessary materials (e.g., slides, digital handouts, etc.).
- Record: Faculty record the microlecture using a tool of their choice.
- Caption: Faculty ensure that the microlecture is accurately captioned.
- Share: Faculty share the microlecture with students.
What should faculty keep in mind when recording microlectures?
When recording microlectures, it is important to consider the quality of the video along with how to keep it “real.” Michael Wesch (as cited in EDUCAUSE, 2020) highlights the importance of good lighting, clear audio, and a stable recording setup. In her book, 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos, Karen Costa (2022) recommends that professors “forget Hollywood” by remembering that their videos do not have to be high-quality productions with all the bells and whistles (Costa, 2020, 68-69). Costa (2022) also recommends avoiding specific references to due dates, holidays, and other term-specific information in order to keep videos reusable (108-109).
Wesch and Costa also emphasize that videos do not have to be perfect, a sentiment that is echoed by Flower Darby in her book, Small Teaching Online. Darby explains:
…students prefer informal videos in which you are authentic to stiff, formal, or professionally edited videos. They want to see and hear you being you. You needn’t record and re-record until you achieve the perfectly polished presentation. Do you always articulate every word perfectly when teaching in the classroom? If not, don’t worry about doing so in your teaching videos (Darby, 2019, 58-59).
Michelle Pacansky-Brock, Michael Smedshammer, and Kim Vincent-Layton (2020) refer to this as a “humanized” approach to video creation. They explain:
When professors portray their imperfections – the ‘ums,’ quizzical expressions, background interruptions like a cat jumping on the desk or a child peeping in the background, and move away from their desks to record in their daily settings – they become real and relatable. In other words, they become ‘humanized.’ Students begin to sense that their online instructor is a real person with imperfections and a busy life, much like them (Pacansky-Brock, Smedshammer, and Vincent-Layton, 2020, 9-10).
What should faculty consider with regards to captioning and sharing microlectures?
Once a microlecture is recorded, it is important to ensure that it will be accessible to all learners. This includes ensuring that the video is appropriately captioned (Zheng, 2022; Pacansky-Brock, Smedshammer, and Vincent-Layton, 2020, 15). Not only are captions essential for students who are deaf and hard of hearing, but they are also beneficial to other learners. For example, they allow students to watch videos when they are in quiet settings (Tobin and Behling, 2018, 73, 95, 100). 3PlayMedia, a media accessibility company, also found that people use captions for a wide variety of reasons, including to strengthen their focus on the content, learn new terminology, and improve their comprehension of the language (Lewis, 2019). Platforms like YouTube can assist with captioning, though it is important to ensure that any auto-generated captions are accurate(Zheng, 2022). Lastly, it is important to consider how you will share your microlectures with students, whether that is by embedding them in your LMS (Pacansky-Brock, Smedshammer, and Vincent-Layton, 2020, 15), or compiling a YouTube playlist (Costa, 2022, 143-144).
Creating microlectures can be a valuable way to enhance student learning, regardless of the modality in which you teach. These brief, personal, and interactive videos provide manageable, connected, and engaging learning opportunities for students. How might you incorporate microlectures into your instructional practices?
Tolulope (Tolu) Noah, EdD, is the instructional learning spaces coordinator at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), where she facilitates faculty development. Previously, she was a senior professional learning specialist at Apple, and an associate professor in the School of Education at Azusa Pacific University (APU). Noah was recognized for her teaching effectiveness by receiving the 2019 Teaching Excellence Faculty Award at APU, and she is a regular speaker at teaching and learning conferences. You can connect with Tolu on Twitter at @drtolunoah or via her website, www.tolunoah.com.
Costa, Karen (2020). 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos: A Guide for Online Teachers and Flipped Classes. Sterling: Stylus Publishing.
Darby, Flower (2019). Small Teaching Online: Applying the Science of Learning in Online Classes. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
EDUCAUSE (2020). “Make Super Simple Videos for Teaching Online.” YouTube video, 10:26, July 24, 2020, https://youtu.be/bfhRpfUi9GY
Lewis, Elisa (2019). “Infographic Survey Results: Closed Caption Use.” 3PlayMedia, June 3, 2019. https://www.3playmedia.com/blog/infographic-closed-captions-use-survey/
Pacansky-Brock, Michelle, Michael Smedshammer, and Kim Vincent-Layton (2020). “Humanizing Online Teaching to Equitize Higher Education.” Current Issues in Education, 21, no. 2: 1-21. https://cie.asu.edu/ojs/index.php/cieatasu/article/view/1905/870
Scagnoli, Norma (2012). “7 Things You Should Know About Microlectures.” EDUCAUSE, November 1, 2012. https://library.educause.edu/resources/2012/11/7-things-you-should-know-about-microlectures
Tobin, Thomas J., and Kirsten T. Behling (2018). Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.
Zheng, Hua (2022). “Short and Sweet: The Educational Benefits of Microlectures and Active Learning.” EDUCAUSE Review, February 17, 2022. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2022/2/short-and-sweet-the-educational-benefits-of-microlectures-and-active-learning