Mobile or not? How students watch Video Lectures

Mobile learning in education is a hot topic. What really is mobile learning? In the context of our college’s online program, ‘mobile learning’ means offering our prerecorded lecture videos to students in a mobile friendly format. Though I hesitate to call this mobile learning, I see this format as a way to allow our students to learn ‘anytime and anywhere’.

This week we are analyzing student feedback through the anonymous course surveys we collect at the end of each undergraduate [for credit] course within our online program. One area of focus for this sessions feedback is the prerecorded lecture videos. How do students watch the lectures, i.e. via a mobile device or streaming video? How effective are the lecture videos in delivering content?

Our plan for gathering this data was to determine how students watch the prerecorded video lectures we have for each of our general education classes, and how effective the videos are in delivering the course content (from the student’s perspective).

The purpose of gathering this data was to find out how our students interact with the content – in order that we can be more effective in reaching our students and delivering content that uses a meaningful and relevant medium.

In this post I’ll share what our analysis revealed with respect to our students viewing patterns and in a future post I’ll explore how effective the lecture videos are in communicating course content.

To put this data into context, the majority of our courses have prerecorded lectures, (filmed 3 to 4 years ago) which feature traditional face-to-face class room lectures that have been edited for sound, color contrast etc. Each video is approximately 45 minutes in length. Our more recent model for filming [within the last 2 years] uses shorter videos, 20 minutes on average, and features the lecturer speaking directly to the camera, not within a live class.

Options we offer students for watching
One of our goal’s for 2012 is to meet the needs of students seeking to learn ‘anytime and anywhere’ by offering more convenient lecture delivery formats. About one-third of our courses now provide the student with 4 options to choose from for watching the lectures, (described below), while the remaining courses offer 2 options (streaming and downloadable files).

The Feedback: This question was included in the end of course survey – “Please tell us the most common format you used to watch the video lectures for this course“. The options students could choose from are listed below. I’ve displayed the compiled responses after each, though we’ve included only the results from classes that had all 4 options available [n=48].

  1. I watched the lectures on a computer/laptop without downloading the lecture files. [students need a high-speed Internet connection]  –  48%
  2. I downloaded the lecture files, and then watched them on my computer/laptop. [once downloaded an Internet connection is not required] –  25%
  3. I watched the lectures on a smart phone/tablet device without downloading the lectures. [lectures can be viewed on a web-enabled iPhone or Android device]14.5 %
  4. I downloaded the lecture files, and then watched them on my smart phone/tablet device. – 12.5%

Student Comments: I’ve included a selection of student comments which were gathered from the open-ended question, “Comments about the video lectures (optional).” My own observations are in blue.

  • A lot of the video’s we couldn’t see their presentation and was a weird angle instead of just leaving the camera facing the center…” [quality is important, the critical aspect is a non-distracting setting. See  the article below by EDUCAUSE for helpful video recording tips].
  • Being able to make the lectures portable GREATLY helped me to get my work done with my schedule. Thank you so much for making things so much easier!”
  • The internet where I am for the summer is slow, making it slow for me to stream the videos. The ability to download the videos improved the experience greatly.” [one significant drawback to offering the streaming option only – the student’s bandwidth capabilities. This is the main reason for offering the downloadable format].
  • “The lectures were very brief and didn’t complement the readings that related to the quizzes very well. They seemed to cover random topics that weren’t followed up on. There were some good aspects of the lectures but overall seemed not very beneficial” [this comment illustrates the importance of a well designed course strategy, when the course is not following a cohesive instructional strategy, the course can appear disjointed which may fail to engage students].
  • “It was very helpful to see some notes during the lecture, so I could pose [pause] a minute and write them down.”

The mobile format has great potential for making learning more accessible for students. Though the majority of our online students use the streaming video via desktop/laptop, this format has limitations for students without access to high-speed Internet and adequate bandwidth, which drives the need to provide alternate delivery formats. Our goal is to provide options that will help students learn anytime and anywhere, and by offering these options, and obtaining feedback from students, we can determine what works and doesn’t work for students so we can provide relevant and viable delivery formats. Mobile is a viable choice which our college will continue to explore and research. In a future post I’ll address the effectiveness of video for delivering course content.

Cool and credible Web video: Old Rules, No Rules, or New Rules? EDUCAUSE. Peter J. Fadde and Patricia Sullivan

Read the follow-up post, Are Video Lectures effective in Online Courses

5 thoughts on “Mobile or not? How students watch Video Lectures

  1. How did you convince lecturers to allow the recordings? I meet a lot of resistance from staff because they cant/won accept the arguments of the benefits to this type of learning ,they think it will harm attendance.


    1. An interesting question. Our Academic Dean had the idea of offering a selection of our courses online (though not a full degree at this point) and presented the idea to each respective faculty member. Each were paid well for the filming and the use of his or her course materials. In some cases these professors were not the ones that ultimately instructed the course, as many did not have an interest in facilitating the course. This presents its own challenges. There is still much skepticism in our institution about online learning, though there are several that are coming around and embracing the idea. Thanks for your question!


  2. When iPod Classics first introduced video, I managed to get a set for my class. They didn’t quite pan out (too difficult to manage) but I found it remarkable how focused students were when watching video on them (much more so than watching video up on a screen at the front of the room; and these are older high school students, by the way). I finally figured out that there is a photography analogy here: when students watch something on a small screen (i.e. mobile device), because it is held closer to their face / eyes, everything around them is blurred out; by focusing so closely, everything else goes out of focus, much like when taking portrait photographs, you zoom in a lot to blur out the background (rather than standing close when everything else is also in focus). And this close focus (with everything else out of focus) minimizes distractions. Imagine now the opposite: sitting ten feet away in a classroom seeing a screen at the front of the room. Everything is in focus (much like a landscape photo) and so everything becomes a potential distraction.


    1. This is an excellent observation that has implications for studies in mobile learning. Thanks for sharing this. How interesting this is to consider that a smaller display, can provide less distraction – perhaps it also has something to do withe the fact it is more ‘personal’ in that the student has his or her own learning display? Thanks for taking the time to share and comment.


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