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Creating Effective Educational Videos

Video has become an important component of many flipped, blended, and online classes, but ensuring that videos are helping students involves taking a deeper look at video design and production. The key to designing effective educational videos is to begin with clear instructional intentions and follow research-based design principles. Instructors should consider the four general principles that are explained below.


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Work from a storyboard.

A storyboard is an essential tool in video design. Begin with a storyboard to map out an outline of your text and visuals to: plan what you will say, outline your visual elements, describe how you will apply design principles, and to determine the sequence of material. This will save a lot of time during production. If you write a complete script, you will also have a transcript to support learners who may experience accessibility issues with the video format. Here’s a sample storyboard template.

Work from a script.

A script for your educational video will help condense and organize your content. Adopt a conversational tone and practice reading the script aloud. Edit passages that prevent a smooth delivery. Keep in mind the rate of speech, aiming for about 130 words per minute. See Script Writing Best Practices.

Apply course design principles. 


Is video the best option? When planning your course, consider whether a video is the best way for your students to learn the content. Students learn more effectively when they are actively involved in constructing their own meaning around information ( Brooks and Brooks, 1993), so before you embark on a video production effort, ask yourself if there are more active ways for your students to engage with the material.

What learning will the video support? Re-examine the learning objectives and what you want your students to achieve. What are your goals? Video can be used to introduce new content, for review, or to reinforce essential content that has been previously introduced. Consider whether you are using your video to deliver course facts and concepts, or to teach skills. Make the purpose of the video clear to help students focus their learning.

How will learning be reinforced?  Provide students with opportunities to reinforce learning by linking the viewing of the video to activities such as short quizzes, reflection activities, or discussion posts.


Reduce cognitive processing demand.


To understand how people learn with video, let’s consider the principle of multimedia learning. This is the assertion that humans learn more deeply from a combination of words (spoken text or printed text) and pictures (illustrations, charts, photos, animation, or video) than from words alone. Multimedia instruction is therefore defined as “presenting words and pictures that are intended to foster learning” (Mayer, 2009). The cognitive theory of multimedia learning makes three assumptions about how the mind works: there are two separate channels (auditory and visual) for processing information; channel capacity is very limited and can hold very little information for short periods of time; and that learning is an active process of filtering, selecting, organizing, and integrating information (see diagram below).

Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (Mayer, 2009)

Multimedia content that doesn’t directly contribute to learning can overload and exceed the processing capacity of the cognitive system, this is known as cognitive overload (Sweller, 1988).

To support learning with video, you should be intentional about your design in order to reduce extraneous processing and to manage the essential processing of the material (Mayer and Moreno, 2003; Mayer, 2008). Cognitive psychologist, Richard Mayer proposes several principles to improve multimedia instruction through intentional design. Below is a selection of these principles that are easy to quickly implement in instructional videos.

Coherence principle – limit extraneous content. Learning is better when words, pictures, and sounds unrelated to the essential material are excluded rather than included. Keep your content simple, limiting your words and visual elements to only what is strictly necessary to achieve learning.

Segmenting principle – break down the content in your video. Learning is better when content is presented in learner-paced segments. Create multiple, short, single-concept videos of 6 minutes or less  (Guo, et al, 2014) rather than one long one.

Contiguity principle – coordinate corresponding content. Learning is better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near rather than far from each other on the screen (spatial contiguity) and when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously (temporal contiguity). For example, place printed words near corresponding parts of graphics to reduce need for visual scanning.

Signaling principle – provide cues for how to process the material. Learning is better when learners don’t have to look for the essential material, but cues are used to direct their attention to the critical aspects of the content. Signal verbal material using an outline, headings, highlighting, and use pointer words (such as first, second, third on your slides. Signal visual material with arrows, flashing, spotlighting, and other annotations.

You can review all twelve principles in Applying the Science of Learning: Evidence Based Principles for the Design of Multimedia Instruction (Mayer, 2008).


Make videos engaging.

If videos are not engaging, students are less likely to watch the entire video and complete post-video activities. Here are some research-supported recommendations to help increase engagement (Guo, et al, 2014).

Make shorter videos. Segment videos into chunks shorter than 6 minutes. Shorter videos also allow you to incorporate short activities at crucial points for students to apply what they viewed. These shorter videos can also become units that you can move around, combine, or use independently.

Be yourself – make it personal. Videos produced with a more personal feel can be more engaging than highly-produced professional recordings. Speak quickly and in a conversational style with high enthusiasm, rather than a formal style. Introduce yourself and what the segment will cover at the beginning of each video. When speaking to the camera, maintain eye contact, as if your students are watching.

Include talking head video. Video that include visuals of the instructor talking with slides are more engaging than slides alone. Instructor presence is engaging for students, so try mixing visual content such as slides, graphics and screencasts with video of the instructor talking.

Add drawings and animations. Khan academy-style tablet drawing tutorials are more engaging than PowerPoint slides. The visual flow of animated text and graphics draw and keep the learner’s attention for longer.




Brooks, J. G., & Brooks, M. G. (1993). In search of understanding: the case for constructivist classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Design principles for multimedia learning (Mayer). (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2017, from http://www.digitaledidactiek.be/modules/2-ontwerp/uitdieping/mayer/?lang=en.

Guo, P., Kim, J., & Rubin, R. How Video Production Affects Student Engagement: An Empirical Study of MOOC Videos, 2014.

Hazlett, C. (2015, July 22). How MOOC Video Production Affects Student Engagement. Retrieved September 15, 2017, from http://blog.edx.org/how-mooc-video-production-affects

Mayer, R. E. (2008). Applying the science of learning: Evidence-based principles for the design of multimedia instruction. American Psychologist, 63(8), 760-769.

Mayer, R. E. (2012). Multimedia learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mayer, R. E., & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning. Educational Psychologist, 38(1), 43-52.

Sweller, J. (1988). Cognitive load during problem solving: effects on learning. Cognitive Science, 12(2), 257-285

The CTL researches and experiments.

The Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning provides an array of resources and tools for instructional activities.