November 26, 2015

Pedagogical roles for video in online learning

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This video is taken from OpenLearn's free Maths unit ` Modelling with first order differential equations `. The full unit is available for free at

The underuse of video in post-secondary online learning

Video is not being used enough in online learning in post-secondary education. When used it is often an afterthought or an ‘extra’, rather than an integral part of the design, or is used merely to replicate a classroom lecture, rather than exploiting the unique characteristics of video.

Many universities and colleges for many years before the advent of the Internet had audio-visual production facilities. With the possible exception of medicine and related health areas, they were generally poorly used, with the focus often being on replicating lectures through video or audio conferencing, rather than creating videos that provided a different role from a lecture. One reason was the high cost of the equipment: cameras, editing facilities, and the time it took to make a professional product. However, in recent years the cost of making video has dropped dramatically, particularly regarding equipment, although high quality production sill requires professionally trained production staff.


Why is video underused?

One can speculate on the reasons for the low use of video in higher education teaching, despite the much lower cost:

  • university education is primarily about abstraction, and text is considered more appropriate for abstraction, general principles, and meta-knowledge
  • it is too expensive or too much work for faculty
  • instructors’ experience of higher education is primarily text-based so they are not aware of the potential of video for teaching

I should make it clear I don’t agree with the first two reasons, but they are ones I have heard used by instructors when video has been suggested. Ironically it should be noted that Socrates (as represented by Plato) disapproved of writing (and hence text) as ‘false knowledge’; in Socrates’ view, ‘true’ knowledge could be acquired only through oral communication, and in particular dialogue. It is hard to let go of previous experience when faced with new media.


Video on the Internet

One of the many unique features of the Internet is that it incorporates multiple media forms such as text, still graphics, audio, video, animation and simulations. Each of these media forms enable knowledge to be represented in different ways, and perhaps more importantly, enable different forms of interaction with learners. Despite the obvious importance of this, there is very little research about the relationship between different media formats and online learning on which to base design decisions.

If anyone knows of research focused on the role of different media within the Internet for teaching, I’d be pleased to hear about it.


Researching the unique characteristics of video

In the meantime, I am going to draw on some pretty old research that my research team and I did when at the British Open University, where courses were deliberately designed with print, audio (both in the form of broadcast radio and specially designed audio cassettes), and video (mainly broadcast television).

The broadcast programs were made by the BBC, whose producers had degrees in the subject matter  that they were making programs for, as well as being trained as broadcast producers with a focus on exploiting the strengths of the media in which they were working.

At the same time, my research team not only interviewed faculty and BBC producers, but also conducted interviews and focus groups with students about how they made use of the media within their studies. From this research, we developed guidelines for the Open University’s Broadcast and Audio-Visual Sub-Committee based on the advantages of television and audio over printed text and home experiment kits. The list was first published in Bates (1984), and reproduced in Bates (2005).



1.         To demonstrate experiments or experimental situations, particularly:

(a)         where equipment or phenomena to be observed are large, microscopic, expensive, inaccessible, dangerous or difficult to observe without special equipment (thanks to Clint Lalonde for directing me to the video example)

(b)         where the experimental design is complex

(c)         where the measurement of experimental behaviour is not easily reduced to a single scale or dimension (e.g. human behaviour)

(d)         where the experimental behaviour may be influenced by uncontrollable but observable variables

2.         To illustrate principles involving dynamic change or movement

3.         To illustrate abstract principles through the use of specially constructed physical models

4.         To illustrate principles involving three-dimensional space

5.         To use animated, slow-motion, or speeded-up video to demonstrate changes over time

6.         To teach certain advanced scientific or technological concepts (such as theories of relativity or quantum physics) without students having to master highly advanced mathematical techniques, through the use of models and/or animation

7.         To substitute for a field visit, to:

(a)         provide students with an accurate, comprehensive visual picture of the site, in order to place their study in context

(b)         to demonstrate the relationship between different elements of the system being viewed (e.g. production processes, ecological balance)

(c)         to assist students to differentiate between different classes or categories of phenomena in situ

(d)          to observe differences in scale and process between laboratory and mass-production techniques

8.         To bring students primary resource or case-study material, i.e. recording of naturally occurring events which, through editing and selection, demonstrate or illustrate principles covered elsewhere in the course. This may be used in several ways:

(a)         to enable students to recognize naturally occurring phenomena or classifications (e.g. teaching strategies, mental disorders, classroom behaviour) in context

(b)         to enable students to analyse a situation, using principles covered elsewhere in the course; or to test students ability to analyse phenomena in context

(c)         to demonstrate ways in which abstract principles or concepts developed elsewhere in the course have been applied to real-world problems

9.         To demonstrate decision-making processes:

(a)         by recording the decision-making process as it occurs

(b)         by dramatization

(c)         by simulation or role-playing

10.         To change student attitudes:

(a)         by presenting material in a novel or unfamiliar perspective

(b)         by presenting material in a dramatized form, enabling students to identify with someone with a different perspective

11.         To demonstrate methods or techniques of performance (e.g. mechanical skills such as stripping and re-assembling a carburetor)

12.         To interpret artistic performance (e.g. drama, spoken poetry, movies, paintings, sculpture, or other works of art)

13.         To analyse through a combination of sounds and graphics the structure of music

14.         To teach sketching, drawing or painting techniques

15.         To demonstrate the way in which instruments or tools can be used; to demonstrate the skills of craftsmen

16.         To record and archive events that are crucial to the course, but which may disappear or be destroyed in the near future (e.g. Internet reportage of the Arab Spring)

17.         To demonstrate practical activities to be carried out later by students

18.         To synthesize, summarize or condense contextually and media rich information relevant to the course.

It should be noted that such applications would normally include some text, still graphics and probably an audio commentary within the video, and the video would usually be linked to other media, such as text in web pages.

The video at the start of this post could be considered an example of application (2) –  To illustrate principles involving dynamic change or movement, but might also fit other applications.


A challenge

I started to provide links from each application to actual examples on the web, but in some cases, I did not have the subject knowledge to be sure that the example really worked. So the challenge is:

Can you provide a link to an open educational resource that would be in your view an excellent example of any of the above applications of video?

Here are some criteria I will be applying for inclusion:

  • the example is well produced (clear camera work, good presenter, clear audio)
  • it is short and to the point
  • it demonstrates clearly a particular topic or subject and links it to what the student is intended to learn.

I have to say that most of the examples I found on the Internet do NOT meet all three of these criteria! The video highlighted at the start of this post does, but then it is produced for the Open University. Can university in-house media departments meet this standard? I believe that some do, but I need examples!

Once chosen, I will add the link with an acknowledgement to whoever provides me with the link. In the meantime, I will look for my own examples.

My second set of questions is perhaps more of a challenge:

This list was developed initially from broadcast television.

How well do these functions apply to the use of video on the Internet? 

Are there other educational applications of video on the Internet that are not on this list?

Let’s make this an opportunity for upgrading the extent and the quality of video in online learning.



Bates, A. (1985) Broadcasting in Education: An Evaluation London: Constables (out of print – try a good library)

Bates, A. (2005) Technology, e-Learning and Distance Education London/New York: Routledge


Models for Selecting and Using Media and Technology: 6


This post is no. 6 in the series. The others are:

  1. The challenge,
  2. A (very) brief history of educational technology,
  3. Broadcast or communicative?
  4. Synchronous or asynchronous?
  5. Media or technology?
  6. Pedagogical roles for video in online learning
  7. Pedagogical roles for audio in online learning


  1. I wrote a post about the Periodic Table of Videos project a couple of years ago ( that looks like it would fit your first criteria wonderfully. I love the energy of the participants, and once you see the professor in action…well, he’s a bit of a character, which helps make the videos more interesting.

    The Periodic Table of Videos was put together by video journalist Brady Haran and Professor Martyn Poliakoff at the University of Nottingham.

    And a true OER to boot!

    • Thanks, Clint – great examples and a great post from you on the topic. It looks like the professor dropped sodium on his hair when he was washing it!

  2. Colin Madland says:

    Hi Tony,

    Derek Muller is a Canadian who completed his PhD at the University of Sydney in Australia. The title of his dissertation is ‘Designing Effective Multimedia for Physics Education’ available at

    His findings are summarized very concisely at

    An example of one of his videos which I think meet the criteria for applications 2-6 and the parameters of your challenge would be

    Another example:

    A key pedagogical strategy that Muller employs is that he includes a discussion of common misconceptions in his videos, a practice in line with his findings that videos which address misconceptions, while more difficult to follow, are more effective at helping students attain learning outcomes compared to videos which do not.

    The only question I have is whether the videos at are open source…


    • Colin Madland says:

      It appears that the link to Muller’s dissertation didn’t come through properly…cut and paste the whole url to the end of ‘pdf’…

    • Hi, Colin

      These are great examples. I was totally blown away by what happened when a tennis ball was hung on to the slinky and then dropped.

      However, it will be an interesting challenge for a teacher to ‘convert’ the videos into a ‘physics’ explanation. Your examples illustrate you can do physics at several different levels: observation, analysis and prediction. The challenge then is to move from the more surface ‘observation’, which these video do extremely well, to the deeper analysis and prediction. Somewhere in this process math is going to be needed!

      This again is a good example that often different media need to be used together for deep understanding to be achieved.

  3. I consider this video a fantastic example of using the power of video and graphics to help explain and teach a concept in Photography:

    • Thanks, Mordy – yes, a good example, but then photography does lend itself to this kind of presentation; it’s more difficult with more abstract topics. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent use of the medium.


  1. […] Here Tony critiques on the pedagogical roles for videos in online learning, where he suggests the application of 3 criteria: […]

  2. […] an earlier post I complained that video is not being used enough in online learning in post-secondary education, […]

  3. […] A. (2012) Pedagogical roles for video in online learning, Online Learning and Distance Education […]

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