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Engaging students with engaging videos (Part 1)

Created on Wed, 02/07/2014 - 15:01 by Brett McLennan 

A question I am often asked is what types of video produce the highest level of student engagement, and by extension, what video types ensure the best student outcomes? On face value it is a logical enough question – the answer however is a little more complex.

video tape may be gone, but online education is definitely here

Image via Flickr

Video is a powerful tool that when used well has the capacity to capture attention and build higher levels of engagement. But like any tool, when it's misused it can have the opposite effect.

I am fond of saying that technology is an amplifier – it amplifies the good but it equally amplifies the bad. Video is a great amplifier, and when it's used well the impact is amazing however when used badly the results can be terrifying.

What comes first?

So how do we avoid the bad? We first need to avoid the temptation to jump straight to a content solution. Never start with the premise that video is the answer, you first need to define the question/s.

The question/s should establish, through detailed and robust learning design, what learning outcomes are required and the best content approach to achieve these goals. From this analysis video producers can work with learning designers and subject matter experts to establish the best approach to create content that sustains the student across the entire area of study.

Think about the flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihályi’s flow theory defines three conditions that must be in play to generate a state of flow – engagement, feedback and balance.


The student must be engaged in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This provides concrete scaffolding to enable a student to achieve the task.


The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows them to adjust their performance to maintain the flow state.


Students must have confidence in their ability to complete the learning task and have a strong sense of the perceived challenges and their perceived abilities

If we, as content producers, get the flow right we are essentially shifting the student into a mindset that will encourage intrinsically motivated behaviour. In this state the student is focused on achieving the activity with an internalised focus as opposed to doing so for external rewards. In this state real (temporal) time ceases to exist as the student is totally absorbed in the content they are engaged with.

So how do we do it?

The first thing we have to consider is the entire course, unit or subject being created. We want to avoid creating valuable video assets that work well on their own but do not provide a way to engage seamlessly across the totality of the learning experience. What we are after is material that does nothing to break a students engagement (break the flow). Engagement can be broken if:

  • Overly diverse or incompatible types of video are used.
  • Video material is drawn from a wide variety of sources, which may be valid individually, but collectively grate on the student and pulls them out of the flow.
  • Production approaches impact of the student’s ability to immerse themselves in the content. (eg intrusive background noise, visual distractions, poor eye lines or poor continuity).
  • The video content is is not integrated with the learning design

While video plays key part in this maintaining the flow of learning you have to carefully consider the amount and approach required to ensure a tight match to the learning objectives. The key is video must be purposeful, and part of the whole experience, and not just glitter that looks great on the surface but provides little real value.

This is the first of a two-part story from Brett McLennan, Head of Content Development & Production at Open Universities Australia (Open2Study's parent company). This story was originally published via LinkedIn.


I loved this paper, as in few simple words it explains to people that such activities can be doe easily.
Putting knowledge to people's comprehension level is a real and true sharing of knowledge.

I love Open Learning.
I do not like the type of teaching which involves conversations between profs , guest speakers and other participants,. I consider these to be "dumb-ed down ways of teaching.
It is cumbersome and frustrating for the learner to have this , instead of lectures where the Prof is speaking to the learner directly.
I started one course where two Profs were having conversations , and went over all the info over and over , and it was so silly.
Thanks for the chance to voice this frustration

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As a life long learner, I am presently taking a course through Open2Study, and just enjoying it because of structure of the course, the presentation and the engaging videos.

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