Design considerations for video as a learning resource

There is obviously a long history of incorporation of video as a learning tool in higher education, and of course over the last two years during the P-word, the use of video as a teaching resource has exploded. I had started a preamble on whether this was a good thing or not, but that became so long that’s going to be a separate post. (Hint: it probably isn’t.) Here the focus is on the use of video in a way that benefits learning.

The challenge of video of course, is that while it’s a very good teaching tool – we can explain a complex processes because we’re able to engage video, audio, dynamics, and so on – the format means we risk presenting learners with a high amount of what’s called transient information. Transient information is described as information that is presented to learners in a fleeting way, but demands quite a lot from them cognitively as they try to process it. We can imagine video scene with a verbal explanation of a complex diagram. Once the scene moves on, learners are left trying to process it without recourse to the information itself, as they might have in a static-based resource such as a book (Wong et al., 2019, pp. 80-81).

So video can be a highly efficient teaching tool, but that doesn’t mean it’s an efficient learning tool. From a cognitive load perspective, learners need time to go through and understand what’s being presented, and to make it their own. Mayer has also written about this load being imposed by transient information leaving very little capacity for what is now called generative processing: that work students will do to make meaning out of what’s been presented (Mayer, Fiorella and Stull, 2020).

Advocating pausing or scrolling back explicitly

All of this means I was interested to see this article focussing on the design of video to include explicit guidance to learners about what they call learner controlling mechanisms, or more simply: pause and scroll back (Lin, Liu and Kalyuga, 2022). It’s a very simple study, but really identifies the need to be quite explicit in how we get students to use video. In this experimental study, the authors have looked at the differences between when a group of students are told explicitly that they can pause and/or go back if some concept being presented is very difficult or challenging, and a group to whom no such guidance is provided. The group that were offered guidance generated a lot more pauses and scrollbacks in the videos watched, and consequently performed a lot better post-experiment knowledge tests when compared to students who did not get the guidance. Quite something!

And these are, thankfully, not introductory psychology students (who tend to bear the brunt of all of these studies), but students who were studying the operation of a nuclear power plant. So one can imagine it involves lots of scenes where there is a complex diagram and associated verbal explanatory text (the manuscript offers one example scene). The authors are unfortunately not very detailed on what the kind of explicit guidance actually is regarding the advocating of pausing or reversing, save to say there was guidance, so this does leave open queries about how that should be incorporated. One tempting suggestion might be that in scenes we know as teachers to be challenging, and where learners may need some time to process what it is being explained, we could enforce a systematic pause (that is one built into the timeline). Another paper by Liu shows that the jury is still out on that whether or not either a learner pause or a systematic pause is more beneficial; there was no difference in scores of students (Liu, Lin and Kalyuga, 2021). My own feeling is that this restrictive approach would not be an appropriate direction to pursue.

Building video literacy

For me this issue goes deeper. I think it’s much more around “video literacy” and the building of students’ capacity to use these learning resources in the first place, scaffolding their approaches to using video and learn from video as a resource right through to generating their own video (Gallardo-Williams, Morsch, Paye and Seery, 2020). Building in prompts and structures that students can learn how best to learn from these resources seems to be an appropriate way forward. The hints from Lin et al (2021) are that some observed differences may be due to whether it is novices who are using video versus whether it is experts, which emphasises the need for scaffolding, and the kind of explicit signalling that has been suggested as beneficial.

This tallies with the idea that students need support in engaging with these resources in a meaningful way. And as I mentioned, Mayer has a nice paper advocating five of his general e-learning principles that I’ve summarized previously here (one of my most popular blog posts). And one of those is around the generative activity principle, which I think is what this study is connecting with: building in capacity for students to make meaning of the materials.

Interested to hear thoughts…

Slide shows suggestions: Encourage pausing: suggest generative prompts at moments with high transient information “What do you think will happen if...?” “Which option do you think is the correct one?” “Suggest two advantages of this approach.” Prompt review of material: promote active listening “Listen back over the previous section and summarise five key points about...”
Pedagogic design considerations supporting students’ use of video as a learning resource


  • Gallardo-Williams, M. T., Morsch, L. A., Paye, C., and Seery, M. K. (2020) ‘Student generated video in chemistry education’, Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 21, 488-495.
  • Lin, Y.-C., Liu, T.-C. and Kalyuga, S. (2022) ‘Strategies for facilitating processing of transient information in instructional videos by using learner control mechanisms’, Instructional Science, 50(6), pp. 863-877.
  • Liu, T.-C., Lin, Y.-C. and Kalyuga, S. (2021) ‘Effects of complexity-determined system pausing on learning from multimedia presentations’, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 38(1), pp. 102-114.
  • Mayer, R. E., Fiorella, L. and Stull, A. (2020) ‘Five ways to increase the effectiveness of instructional video’, Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(3), pp. 837-852.
  • Wong, M., Castro-Alonso, J., Ayres, P. and Paas, F. (2019) ‘The effects of transient information and element interactivity on learning from instructional animations’, in Tindall-Ford, S., Agostinho, S. and Sweller, J. (eds.) Advances in Cognitive Load Theory: Rethinking Teaching: Routledge.