Educational video may take a variety of formats: documentary, dramatization, panel discussion, news broadcast, game show, or talking-head lecture. It may also break from the familiar commercial forms and adopt a strictly instructional form such as drill and practice, simulation, demonstration, job aid, or tutorial. Educational video presentations often use more than one format as a way to introduce variety and sustain viewer interest. For example, a lecture may be followed by a dramatization or a documentary related to some point in the lecture.
Little research has been done on the effectiveness of different program formats. What the findings do suggest is that maintaining consistency and predictability within the chosen format helps sustain the viewer’s attention and increases learning (Morris, 1984). Thus, the effectiveness of a particular format is more closely associated with how well it fits the learner’s needs than with any particular feature of the presentation itself.
In general, the research tends to suggest that simpler, more straightforward formats are preferable to complex or elaborate formats in terms of viewer attention and understanding. Researchers found that programs that develop a single topic are better attended and result in better immediate understanding than programs with short, magazine-style formats (Wright, 1987). Similarly, most studies found that dramatization of content is less effective than a straight expository video presentation.
However, the evidence is not uniformly against the use of dramatization. Kraft (1987) found no significant differences in the number of discussion points recalled or the overall quality of a written paper produced by adolescents who viewed either a television documentary or a television dramatization. Dramatization has been shown to produce better immediate learning compared to both a live lecture presentation and a televised presentation in which no visuals were used (Morris, 1988). Dramatization also appears to be more effective in presenting affective attitudes than direct expository presentations using on or off-screen authority figures (McCullagh, 1986).
A major concern in the use of a dramatic format is the consistent finding that the effectiveness of a dramatization is closely associated with how the audience views the actors’ credibility, competence, or status and accepts the accuracy of the story, setting, and intended message. Studies also suggest that when actors portray a character of higher status or expertise, they are more readily believed than when they portray a character of lower status, even when the content of the message remains the same (McCullagh, 1986). Dramatization also relies partially on creating an emotional response as a way to persuade the viewer to accept the intended message.
Narrative video is commonly used in learning a language. In this domain, Caspi argues that “narrative video is useful and effective because it presents the learner with a full communicative and cultural context of language alongside its lexical and grammatical aspects” (p.32). White, Easton and Anderson (2000) argued that learning a language through narrative video creates a low-anxiety learning environment; in addition, narrative video also accounted for increased student motivation. When it comes to linking language form to meaning, video aids in conceptualizing language. Studies have indicated that video is more effective in teaching unknown vocabulary than a still picture. Video builds better mental models and has the advantage of presenting a combination of different modalities (Al-Seghayer, 2001).
Within in the genre of expository formats, no major differences appear to exist in terms of immediate learning. Viewers were found to have learned about the same amount of information from a simple expository presentation as from a debate format; from a lecture, interview, and panel discussion format; and from a variety of newscast formats (Bates, 1983). Although the effectiveness of specific formats with respect to immediate and long-term learning differs little, there are differences in viewer preferences. Learners have been found to prefer dramatization over simple expository presentations, and to prefer interview and panel discussion formats to a lecture format, even though these formats have no advantage in terms of learning (Wright, 1984).
Commercial video uses a rapid pace to sustain viewer interest in the program. However, instructional video favours a more deliberate pace intended to give the viewer time to digest and integrate the information as it is presented. Research findings have tended to confirm the relationship between learning and the pace at which information is presented (Kozma, 1991).
However, the proper pace at which information should be presented is also determined by the particular content and the viewer’s needs and current skill level. Most of the studies that examined the effect of pacing involved verbal learning, which seems to be sensitive to this effect. Al-Seghayer (2000) reported that video was especially effective for low-achievement students since it enabled them to match learning pace with their own needs. This, in turn, led to improved grades and motivation. Other forms of content, such as learning visual material or psychomotor skills, appear to have a slightly different profile (Bates, 1983). For the learning of psychomotor skills, a differentiation can be made between the learning of technique and the learning of timing. The former skill is more readily learned through a slow presentation of correct movement and positioning. Once these skills have been developed, presentation at normal speed is preferable for learning timing (Williams, 1987).
The other major time effect relates to the effect of presentation length and the relative rise and fall in viewer attention during a program. The matter of program length has not been widely researched. The available studies tend to favour shorter presentation periods, with an upper limit of 25 to 30 minutes. The research also suggests that younger viewers are less able to sustain interest in a longer presentation than older viewers (Wright, 1984). Based on the “serial-position effect,” viewer attention and learning is greatest at the beginning of a program and gradually falls off through the middle portion. Overall comprehension appears to decline over a longer period of exposure to a program, suggesting that important points should be made earlier rather than later in a program (Bates, 1983).
Al-Seghayer, K. (2001). The effect of multimedia annotation modes on l2 vocabulary acquisition: a comparative study. Language, Learning & Technology, 5.1, 202-216
Bates, T. (2005) Technology, e-learning, and distance education. Routledge.
Koumi, J. (2006). Designing video and multimedia for open and flexible learning. Routledge.
Kraft, R. N. (1987). Rules and strategies for visual narratives. Percpetual and Motor Skills, 64, 3-14.
McCullagh, P. (1986). Model status as a determinant of observational learning and performance. Journal of Sport Psychology, 8, 319-331.
Morris, J. D. (1984). The Florida study: Improving achievement through the use of more dynamics in TV production. T.H.E. Journal, 12, 104-107.
Williams, J. G. (1987). Visual demonstration and movement production. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 65, 825-826.
Wright, J. C. (1984). Pace and continuity of television programs. Developmental Psychology, 20, 653-666.