When it comes to learning, watching a video is by far the path of least resistance. At least that’s how it feels to our brains, which would prefer to bathe in the multi-chromatic glory of fast-moving images than listen and take notes in class.

The difference between the two is simple: watching TV doesn’t require us to spend energy thinking. Engaging in a lecture does.

And yet, video as a teaching tool has become one of the fastest growing fields in education. The market for video in education is massive, and runs into the billions of dollars per year. Again, it totally makes sense: students prefer video learning, and so they respond to it more favorably than they do to listening to lectures, engaging in discussions, and taking notes, etc.

But just because video learning feels easier doesn’t mean it’s more effective. Some teachers still prefer traditional classroom learning. Others see technical issues holding up the pace of progress. It’s a complicated field with a lot of potential.

The question is: how can you use video as an effective and efficient teaching tool, without it usurping your presence in the classroom or turning your students into square-eyed zombies? (It ain't called the “idiot box” for nothing, you know.)

We’re going to answer this question right now! But first, let’s confront the pros and cons of video in education...

Pros of video in education

Videos are portable

Between the spread of the internet, battery-powered mobile devices, and electrical grids, video lessons can be watched just about anywhere on the planet. This enables widespread learning of lessons that were once geographically isolated.

This has many benefits. In rural settings, it eliminates the need for the student to head to a classroom or a university that may be located far away. In some regions, video as a teaching tool can preclude the need for expensive travel for in-person training.

Visual learning is powerful

Educational videos are primarily visual. While the audio is obviously a critical aspect of the learning, the combination of sound and visual content allows the viewer to grasp information more easily, especially information that is inherently visual.

Even if your subject isn’t very visual, a video is superior to a podcast or audio recording since it can capture nuances of meaning, body language, and context that won’t otherwise carry through.

(Pssst, if you’re interested, check out Brainscape’s Academy article: The learning styles myth: why learning styles may not matter)

Pausing and rewinding allows flexible learning

One of the best benefits of video learning is that a person can pause, stop, rewind, and otherwise manipulate the timeline of learning. Unlike a traditional classroom or in-person training, a video learner need never miss something: as long as they have time to try again, they can go back.

Cons of video in education

Video learning requires equipment

Perhaps the most fundamental problem with video learning is that it requires equipment of one sort or another. There will never be a substitute for one-on-one or small group learning, which doesn’t require any equipment—only minds.

For this simple reason, video learning is out of the reach of many people around the world, especially the poor. However, there are some interesting projects working around these issues with innovative approaches. For one great example, check out this flip book created to educate about public health across language barriers.

Videos are hard to edit

One issue with video learning is that once created, a video is mostly static. It’s a lot of work to edit and reissue a video if corrections are needed. However, there are some other ways around this. For example, video creators can use annotations on YouTube or other popular video platforms to correct errors without having to re-edit a whole video.

Videos are individualistic

Another big drawback to learning through video is that it promotes individualism, which can make learning harder. If one of the main benefits of video learning is that you can learn alone in the privacy of your home, this is also one of its drawbacks.

Group learning facilitates communal problem solving and builds teamwork and collaborative skills that are critical in life, and video learning isn’t a good medium for this. Of course, with more and more video learning taking place via two-way webcam, things are changing.

Read: Remote teaching strategies for educators

Video as a teaching tool: strategies to try

Now that we’ve laid out the pros and cons of video in education, let’s talk about how you can leverage it to provide powerful and effective support for what you’re teaching in class.

Our goal is simple: we want video to work for you without you having to sacrifice precious class time—time spent interacting with your students, answering questions, and solving problems. So, here are some student assignments you can give to make video learning more interactive, without much work on your part:

Use video to prime your students’ brains before class

With just about every student (or student’s parent) owning a device they can use to watch video on (cellphone, iPad, computer, laptop) playing a video in class is a staggering waste of valuable interaction and engagement time.

So, instead of doing it this way, give students the homework assignment to watch a video BEFORE your next class. This way, they get exposed to the material beforehand (even if it’s just a broad overview) and are primed to learn what you teach them.

Pro Tip: Keep videos short! Research shows that students’ attention spans drop dramatically after 6 minutes, so try to source videos that are short and sweet to keep them engaged.

Compel students to watch videos actively

What we mean by this is to give your students a set of tasks or questions to answer based on the information given by the video, so that they’re compelled to pay attention and watch actively, rather than passively.

This (at-home) mini-assignment could be:

  • A treasure hunt for 5-10 pieces of information that are evenly distributed throughout the video;
  • Writing a paragraph or two on their opinion on an issue raised in the video;
  • Coming up with a handful of questions (3-5) that the video has inspired them to ask in class;
  • Getting each student to come up with one question, which you then randomly select for a short in-class quiz.

Whichever way you swing it, your students are now actively invested in paying attention to the video, looking for information, thinking of questions, or probing their own experience for some kind of opinion.

This will bring them to your next class with some excellent material for discussion, which will foster a much more interactive, engaging, and fun environment to learn in!

And if you must play video in class?

Well, then use the above teaching strategy to get the most out of it! We understand that sometimes you might just be too slammed to prepare an interactive lesson for your students. It’s in these cases that wheeling out the old TV can relieve you of some of your responsibilities (not to mention the obvious fact that your students will be stoked).

Of course, now we’ve given you the tools to transform in-class video learning from a passive exercise into a much more educational and interactive one; one your students will remember because they’ve been compelled to think while watching.

Remember: integrating learning activities before, during, or after watching educational videos leads to better learning outcomes!

Check out: How to DOUBLE your students’ retention of knowledge

Video in education: The future of learning

There is no doubt that video learning is part of the future of education. However, it's probably a more effective way to introduce a topic, which you then teach more thoroughly in class.

Video works best when paired with other study methods such as note taking or Brainscape's adaptive flashcards, which can accompany the videos and repeat the concepts in a personalized pattern suited to the learner's pace.

Either way, video learning is here to stay. Instead of resisting it, you should consider how to integrate it into your teaching strategies to get the most out of it, not only for your students but for you too! It’s an innovative tool for education that is a game changer!

For more awesome ideas about making education effective, check out the Brainscape Teacher’s Academy.