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Engaging students with engaging videos (Part 2)

Created on Fri, 25/07/2014 - 10:42 by Brett McLennan 

In the second of a two-part series, Brett McLennan (Head of Content Development & Production) shares some more of the video insights behind Open2Study's method.

There are all sorts of video in Open2Study

Image via Flickr

The attention span myth

There has been a lot written about attention span and the proposition that attention spans get shorter every year. The gestalt solution has been to keep the learning short, to break up the focus, to use a variety of content to keep students interested.

The problem with this is presenters break up the content arbitrarily and/or draw material from everywhere to keep students attention without thinking of the context and flow. So while the idea is sound – keep information, short, focused and interesting – without carefully selecting the material the result often leads to disengagement rather than engagement.

While the amount of digital distraction is growing daily well considered content structure and type help limit the propensity for student to seek external stimuli.

Chunked content

There is a definite benefit in breaking long form content into shorter pieces or chunks. We typically aim for between 3-6 minutes to hit the engagement sweet spot – where you achieve the correct balance of time and content. However the trick here is to think about the narrative. If you reduce the effective narrative (story) to adhere to an arbitrary time limit you will lose more students than you engage. Story and narrative flow are king.

Pre Production

There is an old saying measure twice cut once. Nothing is truer when producing video. Careful preparation at the pre-production stage ensures that the timing of each video chunk is carefully considered to keep the chunk brief enough to be readily digested and retained whilst none of the academic impetuous is lost by a clip that is to short and sharp or one that is overly long and ponderous.


It is important when crafting the content that we also keep it authentic. We want the presentation style to be human and engaging not robotic and stilted. With video content we have to remember that our audience is listening and watching – not reading. Thus content must be delivered with an emphasis marrying these expectation with the appropriate amount of academic rigour.

Eye contact

The eyes are the mirror to the soul and taking the time to establish correct eye lines and sticking to them is really important. I have often said it is critical to remember that the camera is the eyes of your audience. What you see through the lens is what shapes the viewer experience. If you imagine an student at home studying alone, via a computer screen, then creating the impression that the learning is directed at them is critical.

Cutaways – Two heads are better than one

In the real world we seldom look at one place for an extended period of time. Our eyes shift to points of interest and identify key elements of interest changing focus second by second. When you are viewing online content these perspective are fixed and the production team must create these perspective shifts for you during production.

Shifting the view from a medium to close-up, for example, provides a different perspective and when done well will match the emotional intensity of the presenter. Cutaways can also be used to use graphics, diagrams or photographs to add deeper perspective and variety however these cutaways need to be carefully crafted as they can act as point that will distract and break the flow.

Cutting to the chase

This is by no means the only approach we use to create great learning content (the full list would be a much longer post) it is however a starting point. The critical take away is that story and flow is the core of deep engagement and no matter what process you use if this is compromised you risk losing the learner before they reach the end of the journey.

This is the second 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.


What I find quite distracting on many of your videos is the excessive and arbitrary use of cuts to camera 2, usually in a medium close up semi-profile. It seems far too self-conscious: 'We've been in close up for x seconds, time to switch to MCU'. I really don't see the point of watching an instructor speaking to another camera just for the sake of variety.

You might also want to pay a little more attention to the target of your cameras. In at least one series of videos the camera lingered quite often on the presenters hands. Unfortunately, due to the camera angle and zoom, it often gave the appearance that the target was the presenter's chest rather than her hands!

I do like the clear screen though there is a rather off-putting reflection apparent (to the far left of the screen when in semi-profile medium close up) when the presenters choose to stand on the camera side of the panel and write conventionally. I really think that in those cases you would have been better using a normal whiteboard.

Hi Paul,
Thanks for your observations. We gather these impressions and feedback from students, lecturers and learning designers, via course reviews, the student surveys and other media.
We'll jot down your notes and keep them in mind next time we put a course together.

I would like to know a bit more about the technical aspects. On what platform are you creating these half presenter/half tablet screen? I find it extremely effective and would very much like to know how this is accomplished.
Happy wonderful 2015
Keep on going strong and sharing knowledge generously.
Thank you,

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