Does Video Help or Hinder Learning?

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By: Alan D. Greenberg

Oh my, how the times have changed.

At least that’s the case when we start thinking about how the world’s outlook towards distance learning has evolved through the years.

Consider, for instance, how folks viewed distance learning back in the days when Bill Clinton was still U.S. president. Back then – all the way back to 1999 – Dr. Thomas L. Russell of North Carolina State University conducted a comprehensive review of 355 research studies on distance learning. The ground-breaking study, called The No Significant Difference Phenomenon, concluded that distance learning was “no worse than” traditional classroom and training environments.

Boy, talk about being defensive! Certainly, our changing perspective on distance learning can be measured by the questions we’re asking. Back then, the big question was “does it have negative impact?” Today, we ask “what are the positives?” I’ve done my own reviews of more recent research, and here’s a summary of what I’ve learned from those dozens of studies boiled down to three key concepts that address distance learning’s value and direct benefits:

1)      Interactivity with content (the learner relates to visual content, whether verbally, by note taking or thinking, or by applying concepts)

2)      Engagement (the learner connects to the visual content, becoming drawn in by video, whether on-demand or real-time)

3)      Knowledge transfer and memory (the learner may remember and retain concepts better than with other instructional media)

The key takeaway for me? Video matters in distant learning. And there’s a growing pile of research that confirms this.

Here are some random studies that together tell a bigger picture about changing perceptions towards video. I’ll note, sometimes these studies are looking at on demand video, and sometimes one-way broadcast or two-way video. Always constant is that video is an element.

1)      Foreign language acquisition. One research study showed that language classes using web or DVD-based audio/video clips of speakers, visual, or auditory stimuli can allow better comprehension and development of that all-important vocabulary. Another study showed that video can enhance the learning of foreign languages because it dramatizes “cultural context.” In other words, learning a language isn’t just about the words: it’s about the words and the images.

2)      Science education. One survey of teachers found that video was used more in science than in any other subject area. Why? It allows students to expand their understanding of complex concepts by reinforcing the links between abstract ideas and practical applications. (In my humble opinion, that’s why medical and engineering schools were some of the first early fans of “lecture capture,” where Profs are recorded and the content is then accessible after the fact.)

3)      Cognitive skills and higher order thinking. A 2008 study commissioned by Cisco found that adding visuals to verbal (text or auditory) learning can result in significant gains in basic and higher order learning. A separate recent study of 2500 middle schoolers in one of the largest U.S. school districts showed a statistically significant increase in math achievement scores when students used streaming digital video on-demand.

4)      Creativity. One survey of teachers found that 47 percent believe video content stimulates a student’s creativity, and 31% believe it is more effective than other types of instructional resources or content.

5)      Collaborative abilities. One study determined that access to video apparently encourages students to develop their problem-solving abilities via collaboration with others.

6)      Workforce preparation. A recent study by one consulting group shows not only that students learn through video content, but also that video literacy — both the understanding of how to take full advantage of video as a communications tool and knowing how to use technology itself — is considered a core competency when students leave a university. We at Wainhouse Research have been watching many universities adopt digital or visual literacy initiatives, and no less important a body than the American Association of University Libraries has devoted efforts to create visual literacy standards.

Wait, there’s more! We’re talking student satisfaction and (god forbid) enjoyment of learning! Here are a few other stats for you to ponder:

  • Clemson University’s School of Education found that 87 percent of students using lecture capture felt that it was a valuable part of their course materials.
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District found that retest scores on North Carolina’s end-of-year exam for grades 5 and 8 improved by 44 percent when students used streaming video.
  • In a well-publicized study, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell found that 91 percent of students using lecture capture felt it helped them learn course material. That same number of students at U of Colorado-Boulder said the same thing!
  • Bergen Community College in New Jersey found a 10 percent jump in average grades for biology and CAD/CAM courses using lecture capture.

These are just a few of the benefits of video for education. And we note: grades speak. When you start improving grades, or keeping your learners engaged so that they complete courses, you tend to retain your students. So there is an ROI in all of this for schools, universities, and ultimately the recipients of their products: society and the workplace.

This is why the conversation is no longer centers on whether this is a difference. Of course there’s a difference, and the difference is that -when properly applied- video technologies can be a core component to improving education.  This is true whether you are delivering a distance learning program, just a local campus class, or a corporate training program. We are not done “studying” this thing, so more best practices will emerge, more studies will report on the value of video. But I think it’s pretty clear that anyone involved in video for education and training is participating in a grand evolution of thinking about how we teach and how we learn.

Alan D. Greenberg is a Senior Analyst and Partner with Wainhouse Research and can be reached at


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