What’s the use of lectures?

Lately, I’ve been researching about the effectiveness of using video in online or blended learning courses, and keep running into a theme:  Video should be a part of your course, but is should not be central to them.    From the research, an issue with having video content as the core part of the course is that it comes at the expense of higher-order thinking and learning activities (Bligh, 2010).  Do experienced educators and researchers  really believe that watching a video will make deep learning occur and without the difficult cognitive work involved? What's the use of lectures

The more I read, the more I find research that shows video affords students exposure to new concepts, but they don’t in themselves produce learning as a stand-alone feature of a course. Our learners should engage with the new concepts in multiple ways, combine ideas and problems, and work through a process of internalizing the new learning.

Finally, I found some interesting research from MIT’s Office of Digital Learning.  They have been the developers of hundreds of MOOCs and have devoted a great deal of time studying how video can make the biggest impact on learning.  Their research (Guo, Kim & Rubin, 2014) reported the following  takeaways we should pay attention to as we create video content for learning:

  • Shorter videos are much more engaging.
  • Videos that intersperse an instructor’s talking head are more engaging than slides alone.
  • Videos produced with a more personal feel could be more engaging than high-fidelity studio recordings.
  • Khan-style tablet drawing tutorials are more engaging than PowerPoint slides or code screencasts.
  • Even high quality pre-recorded classroom lectures are not as engaging when chopped up for a MOOC.
  • Videos where instructors speak fairly fast and with high enthusiasm are more engaging
  • Students engage differently with lecture and tutorial videos

There’s still a lot to learn about this growing area, and so far takeaways are that video content should be one facet of your online or blended course, but they should not generally be thought of as the most important feature. As course developers, we need to take note of the limitations of video and place emphasis on authentic learning and not just how much time someone spent watching or the number of times our content was clicked upon (Guo, et. al., 2014).


Bligh, D. A. (2000). What’s The Use of Lectures? (1 edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Guo, P. J., Kim, J., & Rubin, R. (2014). How Video Production Affects Student Engagement: An Empirical Study of MOOC Videos. InProceedings of the First ACM Conference on Learning @ Scale Conference (pp. 41–50). New York, NY, USA: ACM. http://doi.org/10.1145/2556325.2566239

TEDx Talks. (2010). TEDxSydney – Derek Muller – Video Idea Number 4. [Online Video]. June 7, 2010. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiwsP9RnbZA. [Accessed: 05 July 2015].

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What’s the use of lectures?

by Ron Houtman time to read: 2 min