My son, a grade 5 student, recently watched a video about the gold rush in his classroom. As he sat at his desk, his teacher projected the video onto a smart board, playing it non stop for 45 minutes. After watching the video, he answered comprehension questions. When I asked him how he had done, he said that “it was hard to remember everything and I got really tired because the video was so long.” Unfortunately, this is how most learners in formal educational contexts experience a video presentation, as a steady stream of dense content fed to them at a rate they can not control.
One of the primary considerations when designing and developing educational materials, including video, is cognitive load (Brame, 2016). In the case of learning from video, learners can process only small portions of the large amounts of visual and auditory stimuli received. Therefore, a continuous flow of information provided by a video is liable to generate a very heavy cognitive load, especially in young or novice learners. According to Mayer and Pilegard (2014, pp. 316-344), one solution for managing essential processing and avoiding overload is to segment the video.
Segmenting, also known as chunking, is when “learning material is broken up into several segments of information to help students process one cluster of related information elements before moving to the next one” (Ibrahim, p.3). In text, this is accomplished with headings, subheadings, paragraphs and a table of contents. In video, however, information is transient, so segmentation usually involves breaking up a long video into shorter sections resulting in separate videos files.
Segmenting a video presentation gives the learner time to process information from one segment before the next segment is presented which is particularly helpful for learning procedures (i.e., learning to perform a series of actions to achieve a particular goal). As Biard (2018) points out, “Students are able to perceive changes in state, and can watch the movements being physically performed, instead of having to perform them mentally, as they would have to do if they were shown static images” (p.411).
While most studies of video segmenting have focused on procedural knowledge, segmentation can also help build declarative knowledge. In a study by Ibrahim et al. (2012), university students learned about the life cycle of ants from watching a video. Chunking 32 minutes of continuous video content into five coherent video segments reduced the cognitive load on the students. Students who viewed the segmented video performed better on tests of retention and transfer than students who viewed the same lesson as a single video.
One obvious way of managing the transient information conveyed by videos is to give learners some form of control, such as using a pause button. However, according to Wouters et al (2007), this type of interactivity may prove problematic for novices, who do not know where or when to apply learner control. If they have no prior knowledge of the content being presented, they may not know when to pause the video to enhance their learning. In fact, video may require higher levels of cognitive processing to make sense of the message, especially for students who have little or no domain knowledge to guide their attention. As Ibrahim points out, “a key challenge to using video as an instructional device is how to direct learners’ attention to relevant information and decrease cognitive load.”
Implications for Practice
When I was a language teacher, I would often use commercial or broadcast video in the classroom but it was always a challenge to know when and where to chunk the presentation because these videos are designed to continuously hook and keep the viewer’s attention through attention-getting techniques such as music, sound effects, dramatic narration, and rapid editing. My students would groan when I would pause the video, interrupting the flow of the narrative and their enjoyment. This mutual frustration was one of the reasons that I decided to produce my one educational videos and I have since learned that production techniques that fulfill the goals of commercial video may be at odds with learning.
So, for educational video producers and instructional designers, video should be scripted with segments in mind allowing for each chunk to have its own introduction and conclusion; otherwise, the teacher or trainer will be forced to impose chunks onto videos that may not be easily segmented. So, to be fair to my son’s teacher, she may have found it difficult to segment the broadcast video she was using because there may not have been any obvious meaningful chunks to work with but if the video had been designed with segments in mind, my son would have had a more positive learning experience.
- segmentation reduces the cognitive load from the transience of video
- segmentation reduces mental effort and improves knowledge transfer
- video producers and instructional designers should script video with segments in mind
- teachers and trainers should segment video before showing it to learners
- segmenting video may prove more effective for novice rather than advanced learners
Biard, Nicolas, et al. “Effects of Segmentation and Pacing on Procedural Learning by Video.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 89, Elsevier Ltd, 2018, pp. 411–17, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2017.12.002.
Brame, Cynthia J. “Effective Educational Videos: Principles and Guidelines for Maximizing Student Learning from Video Content.” CBE Life Sciences Education, vol. 15, no. 4, American Society for Cell Biology, 2016, p. es6–, https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.16-03-0125.
Ibrahim, Mohamed, et al. “Effects of Segmenting, Signalling, and Weeding on Learning from Educational Video.” Learning, Media and Technology, vol. 37, no. 3, 2012, pp. 220–235.
Mayer, R., & Pilegard, C. (2014). Principles for Managing Essential Processing in Multimedia Learning: Segmenting, Pre-training, and Modality Principles. In R. Mayer (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning (Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology, pp. 316-344). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9781139547369.016
Wouters, P., Tabbers, H. K., & Paas, F. (2007). Interactivity in video-based models. Educational Psychology Review, 19(3), 327e342.