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I presented Information Session I-40 (Video Best Practices: Educational videos that work) at the 32nd Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning. The presentation took place on Thursday 11th August 2016 from 12:45-1:30 PM.

You can download a PDF of the presentation handout here.
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Educational video: two words that rightly strike fear in the hearts of many educators and instructional designers (and perhaps some students as well). Video can be an apt and compelling way to help students learn in online, blended, and web-enhanced courses. Video can also be the kiss of death in these courses—tedious, embarrassing, and clumsy. In short, some educational videos suck. Luckily there are best practices and processes to craft educational videos that work.
The Triple Constraint
It is worth noting at the beginning that creating a video is a project, defined by the Project Management Institute as a “temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.” All projects are limited by what is known as the “triple constraint” of time, quality, and cost, with the popular adage that if you want something fast, good, and cheap, you can only choose two of the three.

Today there is a plethora of affordable video apps, programs, platforms, and hardware available to educators. Some enlightened educational establishments even provide skilled video producers to collaborate with said educators, reducing frustration and confusion. Heady with the lure of new tools and technology, some educators rush into knocking out videos. This rush to action can be a mistake. The first step towards crafting educational videos that work is asking if this medium is best for the task at hand. For example, the primary reason students take online courses is convenience. Convenience is the prism through which students decide what to watch and read in online courses. It is not unknown to see pragmatic students opting to skip video lectures if they score satisfactorily in weekly quizzes, assignments, and discussion (and then only watching video lectures if their grades are lacking). For whilst video can be compelling, it can be inefficient. Humans are skilled in scanning and speed-reading. Reading text and pictures allows students to progress at their own speed. With video, the student follows a guided path at the speed and direction of the instructor, removing a certain degree of autonomy. Additionally, video may inconvenience students with a disability in a way that text does not. Thus, video should only be created if it makes learning more convenient for the student.

So let’s approach the task in five stages:

  1. Design
  2. Recording
  3. Editing
  4. Distribution
  5. Review

One: Design

Backward Design
Practitioners of online learning realize the value of backward design—understanding how to successfully assess student learning and proficiency at the culmination of a course, and then working backwards to create the necessary activities and content that efficiently bring a student to that point. This is where course and modular learning objectives come in. Educational video should only exist as the best mechanism to help a student fulfill a stated learning objective.

The fundamental purpose of design is a series of critical questions that dictate what later decisions and actions will be made. The first question for an educator is frequently “Why am I doing this?” and then, hopefully, “Does a video that meets my needs already exist?” It can make more sense to use an existing resource that meets the learning need than to waste time creating something that is ultimately superfluous. Additionally, we need to ask whether video will disadvantage two student groups—students with disabilities and students who may not have access to the required technology to comfortably watch video.

When either planning a new video or evaluating an existing resource, we should think about what will work for the student. According to Carl Wieman, “the research tells us that the human brain can hold a maximum of about seven different items in its short-term working memory and can process no more than about four ideas at once.” This knowledge suggests that video should be short and focused, perhaps leading to an activity that consolidates the learning. Digging in deeper at the design stage, we can draw from the twelve principles that Richard E. Mayer shares in Multimedia Learning (2009):
Multimedia Learning

1: Coherence: “People learn better when extraneous words, pictures, and sounds are excluded rather than included.”

Remove unnecessary text, images, and sounds. In particular, remove all branding and elements that are just clutter. Templated PowerPoint decks with university name, author, and a copyright statement on every slide are an egregious example of lack of coherence. Aim for elegant simplicity.

2: Signaling: “People learn better when cues that highlight the organization of the essential material are added.”

This can be done by using annotation, simple animation, highlighting, and spotlight techniques to show focus to the student. A disembodied voice over static PowerPoint slides is not a compelling experience.

3: Redundancy: “People learn better from graphics and narration than from graphics, narration, and on-screen text.”

This can be an issue if your video displays subtitles automatically. This also means that you want to avoid creating content where you are literally reading off the screen.

4: Spatial Contiguity: “People learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near rather than far from each other on the page or screen.”

This is an area where the design of graphs and charts can be greatly improved. Look to reduce the use of separate legends and indexes in favor of direct labels. This helps reduce cognitive load.

5: Temporal Contiguity: “People learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively.”

Here you can break processes down into component parts and use animations and transitions.

6: Segmenting: “People learn better when a multimedia lesson is presented in user-paced segments rather than as a continuous unit.”

Worth noting here is the concept of incorporating activities with video that reinforce learning. However, the segmentation needs to match the expertise of the audience—otherwise you may fall foul of the expertise reversal effect (Slava Kalyuga, 2007) in which expert learners need less guidance than novice learners.

7: Pre-training: “People learn better from a multimedia lesson when they know the names and characteristics of the main concepts.”

This might consist of a guide or glossary that students encounter before the video or a contextual statement that outlines the purpose and learning objectives of the video.

8: Modality: “People learn better from graphics and narration than from animation and on-screen text.”

Pictures and printed words can overload the visual system, but operating on verbal and visual channels simultaneously can lower this burden.

9: Personalization: “People learn better from multimedia lessons when words are in conversational style rather than formal style.”

In online learning social presence is a powerful mechanism to motivate students and to reduce feelings of disengagement. Similarly, a conversational style of talking will help convince the student that the educator is connecting to them as a real person.

10: Voice: “People learn better when the narration in multimedia lessons is spoken in a friendly human voice rather than a machine voice.”

Hopefully this goes without saying.

11: Embodiment: Students learn better when there is human gestures, eye contact and facial expressions”

Non-verbal communication can add nuance.

12: Image: People do not necessarily learn better from a multimedia lesson when the speaker’s image is added to the screen.”

A constant talking head can be a distraction from learning, particularly if the educator is displaying micro expressions of terror and distraction (being on camera is, after all, a somewhat nerve-racking ordeal for many). The process I typically suggest is for the educator to introduce the segment on camera as a means to personalize the video and demonstrate social presence, but then to fade away as the learning material is shared.

The last part of the design stage is the creation of a script and visual materials with the consideration of how the video ultimately will be shared. Streamed video, behind the password protection of a learning management system, affords a greater degree of shelter via the TEACH Act of 2002 than a downloadable video that has the potential to break copyright laws if the material of others is incorporated.

Two: Recording

Recording is where panic sets in. Suddenly you are in the moment, and you are going to be recorded for posterity. Fortunately, there are proven techniques and best practices to follow. Firstly, with an educational video, you don’t need to be on camera all the time. Richard E. Mayer’s research suggests that a constant presence on camera can be a distraction to the student, so only include yourself if your nonverbal communication and presence truly adds value. As mentioned earlier, social presence is a very importance concept here. In the same way that online courses are successful because students perceive presence, you have to be present in the recording. You want to be yourself, talking in a friendly way in which your passion for the subject matter and teaching is easily apparent. Practicing your script and delivery, as well as your physical position and posture, can help greatly. Perch on a stool or stand so you are comfortable and relaxed, with your diaphragm uncompressed.

If filming yourself via a webcam, the camera should be at your eye level. To look good on camera, use three-point lighting and wear solid colors. Eyeglasses can reflect lighting, so are best avoided if possible. Wear professional but comfortable clothes. If you never wear a tie normally, then wearing one on camera will make you uncomfortable. Avoid items of clothing that have fluffy edges, such as mohair sweaters. If you do want to wear a jacket of some kind, again, solid colors are best—nothing extremely bright, no checks, extreme stripes, or dramatic herringbone patterns, as these tend to moiré, or appear to vibrate, on screen. If you choose to wear a tie for your video, again, solid colors are best; strong stripes can cause problems. For shirts, creamy off whites or solid (but not too bright) colors such as blue or yellow work best. Avoid large, shiny pieces of jewelry like dangling earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, as they tend to be reflective and shimmer. If you have long hair, you may want to pull it back or tie it up. Longer hair can sometimes interfere with the microphone reception.

Audio quality is often overlooked or ignored, but it greatly impacts how video is perceived. A decent microphone, properly positioned with pop-filter is key. Record in a quiet location where you will not be disturbed, with your smartphone switched off and colleagues, family members, and pets safely out of the way. Carpets and fabric wall-hangings can reduce the background echo, which otherwise could make your voice sound harsh and constrained.

When recording with a smartphone, take care to record in landscape rather than portrait mode, as your produced video will work best for your audience in landscape.

Three: Editing

Joe Dante once said “editing is where movies are made or broken. Many a film has been saved and many a film has been ruined in the editing room.” There is a great deal of truth in that statement. Ideally, editing is akin to carving a sculpture, where you release the essential truth and beauty from a slab of stone. Your audience is well-versed in the language of cinema, and given enough time, you can leverage these techniques. However, you probably don’t have time, so your prime concern is to efficiently remove dead air and distractions from the video. At this point you can also work on the metadata that will allow you better archive, update, or replace your video in the future. The key considerations here are a logical filename for the video (“video 1” should be avoided), a meaningful title that the students will see (“lecture 1” should be avoided), the date of editing, keywords to categorize the video, your name as creator, and a date for review.

Four: Distribution

When teaching in the classroom, we know the environment. We know how students will encounter and interact with the teaching material. Video, however, is little more complicated. Students may be interacting with video on a smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop computer, VR headset, or television. Additionally, their environment could be anywhere—at home, at the gym, in the library, at a coffee shop, or even in the traditional classroom. Hopefully you have a degree of knowledge here to inform your decisions, but past a certain point you no longer have control over how your video can be watched.

To aid students with disabilities or different primary languages, you want to provide a transcript and/or subtitles. Generally, subtitles are more beneficial to students with a hearing disability, but preferences can be individual. If you were working from a script, then transcription and subtitling is straightforward. Uploading your recording to YouTube as an unlisted video is a free and relatively easy way to achieve transcription and subtitling if your learning resource tends towards the extemporaneous. YouTube can automatically start to apply speech-to-text processing on your video, but some editing will be required.

Your video can be distributed in multiple formats and delivery mechanisms. As mentioned earlier, you should have already decided between streaming and downloadable video. Students are likely to prefer the availability of both mechanisms, as this provides an alternative if one option does not work or Internet service is restricted. However, the data shows that streamed video is what the majority of students consume. Additionally, streamed video better provides copyright protection as well more data on how the video is watched by students.
Flash and HTML5
Flash is a video technology that was once near ubiquitous on platforms and devices but has in recent years been discarded. To avoid student support issues, use a more current video technology like HTML5.

At the design stage, you considered how your video will help your students achieve a learning objective. Thus, you want to provide context when you distribute your video. This can be done via accompanying text that explains the purpose of the video (learning objective) and the assignment that follows.

Five: Review

Think you’re finished after all this? Not by a longshot. Your role as an educator is to assess your ability to help students learn, so you need to assess the impact of your videos. If using a learning management system or a video hosting platform, you have the opportunity to view data, and this data can help you understand how (if at all) your videos are being watched. You may see that students exit videos early, which may indicate a need to chunk these videos into shorter segments, as students are leaving due to boredom or to research a concept you have introduced. You may see that students watch the same videos again and again, which could indicate that they don’t understand the material. Ideally, you can contact students directly to find out what you need to improve. However, you can automate your data collection by adding surveys and pre- and post-video tests to provide a better understanding of effectiveness. If teaching multiple sections of a course, you also have the opportunity to run A/B tests to see whether your videos are really improving student learning.


Garrison, D. R., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating Cognitive Presence in Online Learning: Interaction Is Not Enough. American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3), 133–148.

Kalyuga, S. (n.d.). The Expertise Reversal Effect. Managing Cognitive Load in Adaptive Multimedia Learning, 58–80.

Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia Learning (Second ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Picciano, A. G. (2002). Beyond student perceptions: Issues of interaction, presence, and performance in an online course. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 6(1), 21–38.

Tufte, E. R. (2013). The visual display of quantitative information. Cheshire (Connecticut): Graphics Press.

Wieman, C. (2007). Why Not Try a Scientific Approach to Science Education? Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 39(5), 9–15.

DePaul Resources


Please use these checklists as means to improve the quality and effectiveness of your educational videos.

One: Design

  • What is your learning objective?
  • Why is video the best option here?
  • Is there an existing video you can use instead of recording a new video?
  • Will video disadvantage any of my students? If so, how can I fix this?
  • What activities will my students engage in after watching the video?
  • How do these activities meet the needs of the learning objective?
  • 1: Coherence: Remove extraneous words, pictures, and sounds.
  • 2: Signaling: How will you cue essential material?
  • 3: Redundancy: How will you reduce redundancy and prevent yourself reading off the screen?
  • 4: Spatial Contiguity: Place corresponding words and pictures nearby.
  • 5: Temporal Contiguity: Place corresponding words and pictures are simultaneously.
  • 6: Segmenting: Segment content according to the level of your audience.
  • 7: Modality: Where appropriate, use graphics and narration.
  • 8: Multimedia: Use narration and pictures (possibly movement).
  • 9: Personalization: Plan a conversational script.
  • 10: Voice: Plan to use your voice (or that of a suitable human narrator).
  • 11: Embodiment: Can you use non-verbal communication to add value?
  • 12: Image: Only appear on camera where this adds value.
  • Do you have a script? Use simple, conversational language when possible. Write to the level of your listeners. Define terms the listener may not understand. Read aloud the written script. Adapt it as needed. Re-write tongue twisters and phrasing that is difficult to say aloud. If you need to make reference to events, do so by referring to the date they took place rather than how long ago.
  • Do you have visual materials?

Two: Recording

  • Are you ready to record?
  • Have you practiced your script?
  • Are you sitting (or standing) in a comfortable position?
  • Are you relaxed?
  • Is your webcam at eye-level?
  • For clothing, choose solid colors – dark blues, greys or browns. Avoid items of clothing that have fluffy edges, such as mohair sweaters.
  • Wear professional but comfortable clothes. If you never wear a tie at work and then you put one on for an introduction it can make you uncomfortable.
  • If you do want to wear a jacket of some kind, solid colors are best. Nothing extremely bright, no checks, extreme stripes or dramatic herringbone patterns - they tend to moiré on screen (appear to vibrate).
  • If you choose to wear a tie for your interview. Solid colors are best. Strong stripes can cause problems.
  • For shirts, pure white is not always best. Instead look for creamy off whites or solid colors such as blue, or yellow (not too bright).
  • Glasses can shimmer and give off light kicks. However, if you need glasses to see and that’s the way people know you, wear them.
  • Avoid large shiny pieces of jewelry like dangling earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, as they tend to be reflective and shimmer.
  • If you have long hair, you may want to pull it back or tie it up. Longer hair can sometimes interfere with the microphone reception.
  • Bring a bottle of water to drink.
  • Switch off your cellphone.
  • Does your microphone have a pop-filter?
  • Are you able to record in a quiet environment?
  • Record in a environment that reduces echoes.
  • If recording with a smartphone, take care to record in landscape rather than portrait mode.

Three: Editing

  • What is the title of your video?
  • Metadata: date
  • Metadata: keywords to categorize the video
  • Metadata: your name as creator,
  • Metadata: date for review
  • What can you trim from your video?
  • Have your created subtitles and transcript?

Four: Distribution

  • Are you using a video technology that works for your audience?
  • What is the context for your video?
  • What activity will your students follow after watching the video?
  • Will your video be public or behind a LMS
  • Downloadable and/or streamed video?

Five: Review

  • How can you assess usage of your video?
  • Can you run an A/B test?
  • What type of analytics are available to you?
  • Can you survey your students?
  • Can you run a pre- and/or post-test?
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