Are Video Lectures effective in Online Courses?

  “The instructor-made videos helped me understand the material better.” (Rose, 2011).

100% of the students taking an online course indicated some level of agreement with the above statement. Though the research study was small, the findings are consistent with what we discovered when surveying our own students in an anonymous end-of-course survey that asked a similar question. In my previous post, Mobile or Not? How students watch video lectures I reported the viewing patterns of our students when watching the prerecorded lectures inherent to each credit course within our program. In this post I’ll share the student response results to a question asking about the effectiveness of video lectures in communicating course content. I will also discuss factors that institutions should consider when implementing video lectures within their own online courses.

Our college uses prerecorded videos in two ways, 1) for course welcome messages, a 2-minute clip where the course instructor introduces the course and gives an overview, and 2) (the topic for this post) as the primary method to deliver the course content to the student. To put this into context, each of our courses has between 20 and 30 prerecorded lectures.

What the Students Say:
The following question was part of the recent student survey, and I’ve included the results after each choice in blue text. Though the goal of this question was to identify how effective the lectures videos were in facilitating content delivery, we acknowledge that this method is one-dimensional, that there are multiple methods and approaches to assess effectiveness of prerecorded lectures. An accurate and efficient method is an assessment in the form of a quiz, given to the student immediately following the lecture. This is the method used by Coursera, which I’ve experienced while taking a course this summer. Our program is not capable of implementing this method currently, though I do like this option and plan to explore this at a later date.

Question: The video lectures were effective in communicating the course concepts and content. [Student Respondents n = 76]

Strongly Disagree: 0%
Disagree:  6%
Neutral: 4%
Agree: 33%
Strongly Agree: 57%

Even more helpful in determining lecture effectiveness, are the responses to the following open-ended question which followed the above question. Record any comments about the video lectures below (Optional).

  • I liked that there were notes and power points that could be used to follow along with the lectures.” [Students seem to appreciate either an accompanying note packet or copy of presentation slides]
  • “I found the lectures to be very relevant and interesting! They addressed important issues and made me think!” [Mission accomplished!]
  • “No matter how good my internet connection was, it paused a lot or sometimes just started back at the beginning randomly…this caused frustration!” [This comment illustrates how technical difficulties have the potential to negatively impact student learning. Having a technical support system in place when offering media rich courses is essential. We also began offering lectures for download which partially solves this problem, though we are still working on other alternatives]
  • It would be nice to have higher quality video to download. The new iPads have very high-resolution and iPhones and iPads can be plugged into HDTV’s. Watching low res on any device is not as nice as watching good quality.[Another example of the technology ‘demands’ of students. Institutions need to be responsive to new technological devices and student consumption capabilities. On the other hand, higher quality videos are large in size, posing a problem for students with low-bandwidth. No easy solution]

Other Content Delivery Options
There are other options for delivering the ‘content’ or the ‘meat’ of the course, in addition to prerecorded lecture videos. The online courses I completed as a student at GWU used primarily text-based materials, though often these were supplemented by other methods, which included:

  • Prerecorded audio lectures streamed, or available for download
  • Recorded interviews
  • Live lectures using Elluminate Live. An interactive platform with professor lecturing in real-time, or prerecorded. Presentation slides are used. Students could ask questions in the live lectures. Lectures were two-hours in length, and recorded for later reference, or for students not able to participate.

Other online programs use media in innovative ways to enhance the program and engage students. One such program, developed by Douglas Hersh at Santa Barbara City College, called the Human Presence Learning Environment is quite interesting.  I’ve included the link below of the article describing the program with further details.

Video lectures are one tool of many for delivering course content, as mentioned in this post. It is during the process of creating a comprehensive instructional strategy in the course design phase, where the instructor will select the best content delivery method. However, not to be ignored is the value the video has when the course instructor is featured and ‘speaks’ to the student. It is a visual image which makes the instructor a real person – a person that the student is able to make a connection with. Research does support the effectiveness of the video in creating a sense of presence, which further supports social and cognitive presence which are critical components to a successful learning experience.


17 thoughts on “Are Video Lectures effective in Online Courses?

  1. nkorkmaz

    This is still a great article! Are the videos in the courses at your institution instructor-produced or professional produced? If professionally produced, how do you do it? Do you have multimedia department or are you contracting with a company? Thanks.


  2. Chris peterson

    Video conferencing technology has immensely helped education sector in terms of flexibility of classes, reduced costs, better student teacher interaction etc. Tools like webex, R-HUB web conferencing servers, gomeetnow, gotomeeting etc. are widely used by colleges, universities, etc. globally for conducting video conferences.


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  4. pax

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  5. Steve Tla MacRae

    i’ve participated in online classes with downloaded lectures for two years. WIth some professors, the assumption is that learning takes place when the student sits through a 13 minute presentation. no notes, no transcript, just headline, photo on the slide and talking talking talking. I find it more effective when the teacher types out the lecture, reads it to us and then asks questions that require us to contact each other or contact the professor one at a a time. Just sitting through a lecture, either online or in person, even with questions, does not appear to lead to long-term learning. I have found great value in the 17 points listed by Barack Rosenshine and underlined by Richard E. Clark. mentioned in Clark’s piece in Jan. 2012 American Educator


    1. Debbie Morrison Post author

      Hi Steve,
      Good points about the lecture, which is literally a passive learning experience unless students are encouraged to do something with the knowledge presented. Thanks for providing the links to those two articles – they are excellent! Very much appreciated Steve! Debbie


    2. Debbie Morrison Post author

      HI Jenna,
      I agree with you that the MOOC model provides a great opportunity for personal and professional development.In fact much of the preliminary data shows that the majority of MOOC students already have a bachelor’s degree! However there are some institutions experimenting with the MOOC model, and giving credit in some instances. Also Georgia Tech recently announced it will be offering a masters degree in Computer Science at a cost of only $7000 using the MOOC format. It will be interesting to see how the model will evolve. Debbie


  6. Diane Kasselhut

    “I liked that there were notes and power points that could be used to follow along with the lectures.” Does this mean that the lectures in this study just included video of the instructor talking to the camera with the presentations as a separate file? Or did some incorporate the presentation materials with the audio lecture?


    1. Debbie Morrison Post author

      Hi Diane,
      Thanks for your question. After the lecture was recorded, in some cases the videos were edited to include the power point slides at the appropriate times, or at least refer the student to the appropriate slide # that he or she could follow along when the professor was speaking about them and showing them in class. Hope that answers your question Diane, if not let me know.


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  8. Mountain Laurel

    I seem to recall some dated research that suggested that long videos were actually detrimental to student learning. Are you familiar with any more recent research that addresses the issue from a student learning aspect (rather than student perceptions)? Thank you!


    1. onlinelearninginsights Post author

      Hi Laurel. This is a point worthy of consideration – the optimal length for instructional videos. I haven’t come across any research on this yet, however you have now piqued my interest, and I’ll be looking into this further. However I do know that the trend is appears to be moving to video lengths of under 20 minutes. I length of videos in our program are too long in some cases, and we are moving towards the 20 minute length. Thanks for you question and comment. Very good point!


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    1. onlinelearninginsights Post author

      Hi Lana,
      Excellent point! Yes I failed to mention this aspect, but what you say is consistent with much research that reports f2f students very much in favor of lectures that have been recorded in traditional lectures that can be reviewed later. It seems many universities are doing this now which allows for students to review and review again as needed difficult concepts. Thanks for highlighting this important point!



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