Beyond the screen

Since 2012 and the declaration it was ‘the year of the MOOC’, video content has become the cornerstone of online learning, with platforms and providers relying on them to deliver their learning material. The visual and auditory engagement that videos provide can indeed be powerful tools for teaching. However, while videos have their place, should they be considered the be-all and end-all of online education?

I’ve written about videos in education and learning before, here are some highlights:

The appeal of video as a teaching tool is undeniable. It combines visual and auditory elements, allowing learners to see and hear concepts explained and demonstrated. This multimodal approach can enhance understanding and retention. For example, in subjects like science and engineering, videos can demonstrate experiments and complex processes, making them more comprehensible than static images or text descriptions. Additionally, videos can be paused, replayed, and watched at the learner’s pace, offering a flexible learning experience.

However, the pedagogy of learning from watching videos is not without its drawbacks. Passive consumption of video content can lead to superficial understanding. Without active engagement, such as note-taking, questioning, or applying knowledge, learners might retain information only at a surface level. Cognitive overload is another risk, as video often presents a stream of information without allowing sufficient time for processing and reflection.

Text-based content remains a vital component of online learning. Reading allows learners to process information at their own pace, reflect deeply, and engage critically. Academic articles, books, and written content can complement videos, providing a richer and more nuanced understanding of the subject matter. Text also supports detailed explanations and references that can be revisited easily, something not always practical with video.

Audio-only content offers another dimension. It can be particularly effective for learning to happen during activities like commuting or exercising. Audio content can also convey nuances in tone and emotion that text might lack or be open to misinterpretation, making certain subjects more engaging and relatable.

Interactive elements are another essential facet of online learning. Quizzes, simulations, and discussion forums foster active learning and critical thinking. These tools require learners to apply what they’ve learned, promoting deeper understanding and retention. They also provide immediate feedback, helping learners identify and address their gaps in knowledge.

Moreover, collaborative tools enable peer interaction and group work, which are often missing in video-focused models. Discussion forums, group projects, and peer reviews encourage learners to articulate their understanding, challenge each other’s perspectives, and build a community of learners. This social aspect can be motivating and can mirror the collaborative nature of traditional classroom settings.

Incorporating a variety of media and teaching methods in online learning aligns with the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which advocates for providing multiple means of representation, engagement, and expression to accommodate the diverse needs of all learners. By doing so, educators can create more inclusive and effective online learning environments.

While videos are a valuable educational tool, relying solely on them can limit the depth and breadth of learning. An approach that includes reading materials, video and audio content, interactive activities, peer engagement and collaboration will promote a richer, more engaging educational experience. As we continue to evolve and refine online learning, it is imperative to balance these various elements to meet the diverse needs of all learners.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash