How educational video impacts learning, engagement & critical thinking

How educational video impacts student learning, engagement & critical thinking


Educational video

Educational or instructional video is being used more and more frequently in organisational learning scenarios. The use of video in educational and training context is not new, with the earliest known classroom augmented teaching via film being used during the Second World War. However, recent advances in internet and online technology has meant that there has been an explosion in the use of video and ‘online’ courses over the last few years.

New research

A new review of research (the full research briefing was sent to members in April 2018) looking at the latest research into the educational use of video has just been published by a group of researchers in the UK and the US looking at the impact educational video has on student learning, student engagement and the development of critical thinking.

Flipped Class Room

In organisational and higher educational circles the use of educational video has created what has been termed as the “flipped classroom”. In many higher educational institutions the traditional method of using lectures is to introduce a topic or subject, followed by a seminar in which the students engage with a deeper level of learning to solve problems and think about the issues raised in the lecture. During the follow on seminars, students are often shown video or other media, as part of their deeper engagement following a lecture.

In the flipped classroom however, students engage with video before engaging in seminars, small group work or any form of face-to-face learning.

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The challenges of the flipped classroom

The emergence of the flipped classroom and extensive use of educational videos is creating a series of challenges, not just in universities, but also across organisations around the world. Questions abound around how best to use blended learning techniques incorporating video learning.

The research

The study at hand looked at 41 primary research studies published since 2010 to establish what effect educational video has on students’:

  • learning
  • engagement
  • critical thinking development.

Using educational video for learning

Transporting students out of the learning space

The study found that video is particularly effective for developing case studies and problem-based learning scenarios. Video is extremely useful for transporting students out of the classroom and into technical work environments in a controlled, phased and safe manner, so that topics, themes and learning points can be revealed in a structured and sequenced manner.

Access to demonstrations and experts in the field

Additionally, it was found that educational video is excellent at providing access to demonstrations and experts in the field, for example, using video to highlight a particular working practice and then breaking it down into its component parts, knowledge and skills. In this way, expertise in a particular industry, discipline or organisation can be widely disseminated and structured in a way that makes that expertise accessible to critical analysis and understanding.

This use of video to unpick good practice has been found to reduce the ‘cognitive load’ involved in classroom-based attempts to create pictures in the minds of the students whilst teaching them about a topic or subject.

The importance of credibility

Also, educational video enables the expertise of people within an industry or organisation to be slowed down, dissected, analysed and evaluated. A study from 2016 found that using or videoing experts has a significant impact on the learning of the student. The study found that students have a bias towards the credibility of the expert in question.

In an experiment where video was made of identical material by both an expert and non-expert, it was found that students gravitated towards and learnt more from the ‘expert’ video than from the non-expert presentation of the material. Credibility, it seems, has a significant impact on student learning.

Ubiquitous learning

Lastly, video provides the opportunity of what is known as ubiquitous learning. This refers to the ability to provide instructional and learning material anywhere, at any time, in a cost-effective and location/time free manner. This means that workers and students can engage in the learning process, but only at a time of their choosing and within organisational contexts, whilst they are trying to solve a problem or deal with an issue.

This ‘contextual branding’ has a significant and positive impact on student engagement, learning and retention. This is particularly the case with ‘how to’ videos.

Increasing student engagement

Engagement in terms of learning refers to the

  1. behavioural participation
  2. cognitive effort
  3. emotional engagement

of an individual in a learning experience. Many studies have found that how a student feels about the experience of learning has a significant impact on their learning. Additionally, the ability to decipher and develop emotional engagement (interest, excitement, a feeling of connection, sense of concern, feelings of satisfaction, curiosity, a sense of achievement and fulfilment) is critical in any learning process. It has also been found that these emotions predict occupational engagement and whether or not the learning will be transferred to the workplace.

The impact of growing up with the internet

Studies in 2014 and 2016 found that high levels of student satisfaction correlate with access to video learning material. Additionally, studies in 2012 and 2016 have found that students who have grown up with internet tend to have a preference of learning through video, compared to learning through text based media such as papers, workbooks and books.

The 3 keys to good educational video

The key however is that educational video needs to be:

  1. intellectually stimulating
  2. useful/relevant to the students needs
  3. motivating, in that it invokes a sense of curiosity and achievement.

Barriers to engagement

Lack of social involvement in educational video

One of the big issues with the provision of learning through educational video is that, unless part of an integrated wider learning event with access to tutors and other students, video can become an isolating experience.

When there are no social elements involved in learning there is a significant increase in disengagement and the abandonment of the learning.

High drop-out rates

It is also been found that self-study courses involving video have a significant dropout rate, largely because of the lack of social contact and a lack of ability by the students’ to regulate their own learning capability.

Too factual

Video that presents information in a factual lecture-based matter has significantly lower levels of engagement than material that is intellectually stimulating. Intellectually stimulating videos tend to be based around opinion, argument, problems and questions and story lines as opposed to bullet points of facts.

Critical thinking

Video rarely develops critical thinking

It has been found, however, that, in order to develop critical thinking skills, blended learning, a mix of face-to-face and video-based learning, has significantly better outcomes than ‘video only’ learning. This appears to be because the development of critical thinking requires instant feedback and access to the mind of an expert critical thinker. The development of critical thinking is an iterative and live process which pre-recorded educational video rarely, if ever, achieves

Developing critical thinking

The study found that there is a significant gap in the research literature around the use of video for the development of critical thinking. However, it has been found that video can be an effective medium to present different viewpoints, whilst developing critical thinking.

The development of critical thinking, or the ability to be able to successfully evaluate situations, is best done in the presence of an expert mind – someone who knows how to think about the topic in question.

Interrogation, discussion, evaluation and the development of argument are central to the development of critical thought. Therefore it is important to have live interactive access to an expert so that the learner can test and correct their thinking in the moment. 

The availability of live feedback from a credible expert (someone who knows how to think about the material) has been found to be a crucial element of critical thinking development.

Mayer’s cognitive theory of multimedia learning

The review found that much of the more recent research literature tends to use Mayer’s (2014 and 2016) ‘cognitive theory of multimedia learning’ as a framework. There are three principles that the theory rests on:

  1. That people process multimedia learning material primarily through two cognitive channels:
    1. visual
    2. auditory
  2. Each channel has limited capacity. As such, they can only process and retain limited amounts of information in any time frame.
  3. Active processing, that consolidates the material, is required for learning.

These principles lead to six multimedia learning design axioms

The 6 axioms of multimedia learning design

  1. Providing words with pictures enhances learning over and above that provided by text only. This principle includes:
    1. audio with pictures/video
    2. audio with text
    3. pictures / video with audio and text (subtitles / captions etc.)
  2. Audio is more effective than text in a learning context.
  3. Axiom 1 is more effective when the audio / images/video and text occur in close proximity, rather than being spread over time.
  4. There is a redundancy principle. Only key text should be included. Word for word text detracts from the learning process.
  5. Coherence (that there is a progression of ideas or a story) is more important than flashy transitions and graphics with movement. These usually reduce learning.
  6. Using a conversational (informal and relaxed or casual) style provides a better and deeper learning experience than formal presentation of material.

The presenter

  1. Studies in 2016 and 2017 have found that students engage significantly better with educational videos that include images of the presenter and even better again when that image is video. Exposure to the facial expressions and body language of the presenter appear to be particularly important in promoting engagement.
  2. It has been found that watching the presenter can lead to greater credibility being placed on the presenter and this further increases engagement.
  3. The confidence of the student tends to increase when they can see the presenter. Confidence has been found to be an important factor in learning and retention.
  4. Video modelling, whereby an instructor performs a task on video, has been shown to increase the competence of students so that they believe they can also perform the same task.

The ideal length of educational video

A number of recent studies (2016, 2017 and 2018) have found that the median engagement time of a learning video is 6 minutes. Videos of 9-12 minutes tend only to be watched to a midway point and videos of 12-40 minutes rarely get played beyond a quarter of the length of the video, with retention and engagement primarily being in the first 4-6 minutes.

A study in 2015 found that video learning (longer videos) are best broken down into shorter segments to reduce the cognitive load.

What are MOOCs cMOOCs and xMOOCs?


Carmichael, M et al (2018) Assessing the Impact of Educational Video on Student Engagement, Critical Thinking and Learning: The Current State of Play Sage White paper

Clark, R.C. and Mayer, R. E. (2016), e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning 4th Ed., Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons,. Inc

Horbal, A. (2018). Instructor use of educational streaming video resources. The Journal of Academic Librarianship44(2), 179-189.

Mayer, R. E. (2014). Multimedia instruction. In J. M. Spector, M. D. Merrill, J. Elen, & M. J. Bishop (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology (pp. 385-399). New York: Springer

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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page