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Create engaging video lectures
Create engaging video lectures

Explore research and recommendations to help you produce the most effective video lessons for your learners.

Laurie Garcia avatar
Written by Laurie Garcia
Updated over a week ago

If you're accustomed to teaching in-person, perhaps in a classroom setting or in training seminars, it's natural to think that you can record that teaching and upload it to an online course and expect the same results you get offline. 

However, research and experience has shown that taking certain steps to adapt your teaching for the online environment can greatly improve learning. 

Video production can be daunting, and you may wonder if it's really worth the effort. We think it is, and we've put together a brief guide with some of the most significant points we've learned about online video lectures. Let's dive in. First, we'll take a quick survey of common video styles.

Video Lecture Styles

1. Back of the Classroom Lecture

This is simply a video camera in the back of the class: by far the easiest format to produce, and the most attractive to teachers who are already teaching in an in-person situation.  

2. Stage Lecture

This is video from a dynamic lecturer with audience interaction and high production: difficult to produce and relies on a dynamic, well-rehearsed presenter. This lecture has over 5.8 million views on YouTube and is likely the most viewed lecture of all time.

3. Khan-Style Lecture (or "Over the shoulder")

Developed by Sal Khan from to tutor his nephew and niece on YouTube, this format is now used to teach millions of students all over the world. Sal Khan's TED talk about how video can revolutionize education is well worth watching (you'll see examples of his video style in the first minute).

4. Studio Lecture

This is a hybrid of a class style format (you see the teacher) and a more polished version of Khan-Style lectures. It's fairly easy to prepare but relies on heavier post production.

5. Animated Lecture

You hear or occasionally see the teacher, but they are tightly scripted with animated text and illustrations highlighting their points visually. Requires tight scripting and significant post-production work.

6. Interview Style Lecture

This is a fairly new format that's easy to produce but takes some coaching and practice to pull off.

Now that we've explored some possible styles, let's see what the research says we should aspire to when creating online teaching videos. 

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What does the research say?

The following key points are taken from How Video Production Affects Student Engagement: An Empirical Study of MOOC Videos by Philip J. Guo, Juho Kim, Rob Rubin. 

This paper discusses the results of the largest study done on video engagement in the online environment. Researchers measured engagement by the length of time students watched the videos and whether they attempted to answer assessment questions after watching the videos. 

1. Shorter videos are much more engaging. 

Engagement drops sharply after 6 minutes.

Invest heavily in pre-production lesson planning to segment videos into chunks ranging from 6-12 minutes. This is the most significant recommendation.

2. Videos that intersperse an instructor’s talking head with PowerPoint slides are more engaging than showing only slides.

Invest in post-production editing to display the instructor’s head at opportune times in the video. But don’t go overboard because sudden transitions can be jarring. Picture-in-picture might also work well.

3. Videos produced with a more personal feel could be more engaging than high-fidelity studio recordings.

Try filming in an informal setting such as an office to emulate a one-on-one office hours experience. It might not be necessary to invest in big-budget studio productions.

4. 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 so that learners can follow along with the instructor’s thought process.

5. Even high-quality prerecorded classroom lectures are not as engaging when chopped up into short segments for an online course.

If using recordings of traditional classroom lectures, you should still plan lectures with the online format in mind and work closely with instructional designers who have experience in online education.

6. Videos where instructors speak fairly fast and with high enthusiasm are more engaging.

Take any means necessary to bring out your enthusiasm and be assured that you do not need to purposely slow down. Learners can always pause the video if they want a break. Consider having a small live audience if you do your best with audience feedback. 

7. Learners engage differently with lecture and tutorial videos.

For lectures, focus more on the first-time watching experience. For tutorials, add more support for re-watching and skimming, such as inserting subgoal labels in large fonts throughout the video.

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Armed with these findings, how do we translate this into some practical strategies that you can apply to your course? 

Adapt to your learners' environment

In contrast to a classroom lecture, a video lecture is static and can't be adapted for a group of learners without expensive production. With this in mind, we recommend that teachers:

  • Narrow down the video lecture to just the essential information. It's usually best to exclude any discussion or exercises you would normally use in class from the recorded video.

  • Instead, include discussion and other exercises before or after each video. You can much more easily adapt a discussion question, assessment, or other application exercise to your distance class.

Help your learners stay focused

Here are a few tips for helping your learners focus on a video lecture:

  1. Keep videos short.

  2. Talk at a fast pace with energy.

  3. Show, don't just tell. Learners will be much more engaged seeing visualizations of what you're describing.

  4. Deliver the video lectures in a system that keeps only the content they're learning in view.

  5. Use a video player with a transcript or closed caption option.

  6. Use a video player that allows the learner to adjust speed.

Have the right tools

We've provided some tips for filming, scripting, and editing your own videos using basic hardware and programs in Tips for creating your own videos.

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Finding Your Style

To establish the best style for video lectures in a course, we always first:

1. Consider the teacher's style

Teachers all have unique approaches to their topic and lecture style and it's important to preserve that in the video format. For example:

  • A dynamic, theatrical teacher will warrant more on-screen time, although visualizations are still helpful. (However, we should note that even the most dynamic teachers often struggle if they're only teaching to a camera – an in-studio audience is often required.)

  • A teacher who incorporates socratic dialogue or relies heavily on classroom interaction during his in-class lectures will likely do very well with the interview-style lectures mixed with visualizations.

  • A less interactive teacher who relies more on demonstrations and visualizations will likely do well with the Khan-style lecture and be very effective with it.

2. Consider the topic

Some topics naturally lend themselves to more visualization, more interaction, or more formal delivery. For example:

  • A language course will benefit from showing the instructor speaking as well as including on-screen a written version of what is being said, such as a whiteboard, or captions. 

  • A counseling course could naturally include an interview style approach to demonstrate various counseling situations.

  • A literature course will benefit from seeing the professor markup and make connections with the text itself.

  • A history course will benefit from lots of visuals: timelines, historical photos, etc.

  • And so on...

Now that you know the various style options, have reviewed the research for how to adapt your teaching to the online environment, and have considered both your teaching style and topic, you should have a pretty good idea of what to create. Still have questions? Contact us! 

Or, read this next: Tips for creating your own videos.

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