With video in learning one can feel as though one is learning, as the medium holds your attention but as you are hurtled forward, that knowledge disappears off the back. It’s like a shooting star; looks and feels great but the reality is that it burns up as it enters the atmosphere and rarely ever lands.
Video and learning
We have evolved to learn our first language, walk, recognise faces and so on. This primary knowledge was not learnt in the sense of being schooled or deliberately studied. It is embodied in our evolutionary past and evolved brains. Note that some of this learning is patently wrong. Our intuitive view of inertia, forces, astronomy, biology and many other things is intuitively wrong, which is why we, as a species, developed intellectual development, science, maths, literature and… education. This secondary knowledge is not easily learnt – it has to be deliberately learned and takes effort. This includes maths, medicine, the sciences and most forms of intellectual and even practical endeavour. That brings us to the issue of how we learn this stuff.
Working and LT memory
Let’s start with the basics. What you are conscious of, is what’s in working memory, limited in capacity to 2-4 elements of information at any time. We can literally only hold these conscious thoughts in memory for 20 or so seconds. So our minds move through a leaning experience with limited capacity and duration. This is true of all experience and with video it has some interesting consequences.
We also have a long-term memory, which has no known limits in capacity or duration, although lifespan is its obvious limit. We can transfer thoughts from long-term meory back into working memory quickly and effortlessly. This is why ‘knowing’ matters. In maths, it is useful to automatically know your times table, to allow working memory to then manipulate recalled results more efficiently. We also use existing information to cope with and integrate novel information. The more you know the easier it is to learn new information. Old, stored, processed information renders working memory enormous through effortless recall from long-term memory.
All of this raises the question of how we can get video-based learning into long-term memory.
Episodic and semantic memory
There is also the distinction, in long-term memory, between episodic and semantic memory. Episodic memories are those experiences such as what you did last night, what you ate for dinner, recalling your experience at a concert. They are, in a sense, like recalling short video sequences (albeit reconstructed). Semantic memory is the recall of facts, numbers, rules and language. They are different types of memory processed in different ways and places by the brain.
When dealing with video in learning, it is important to know what you are targeting. Video appeals far more to episodic than semantic memory – the recall of scenes, events, procedures, places and people doing things.
When learning meaningful information that is processed, for example in multiplication, you have 2-4 registers for the numbers being multiplied. The elements have to be manipulated within working memory and that adds extra load. Element interactivity is always extra load. Learning simply additions or subtractions have low element interactivity but multiplication is more difficult. Learning vocabulary has low element interactivity. Learning how to put the words together into meaningful sentences is more difficult.
In video, element interactivity, is very difficult, as the brain is coping with newly presented material and the pace is not under your control. This makes video a difficult medium for learning semantic information, as well as consolidation g learning through cognitive effort and deeper processing.
Video not sufficient
Quite simple, we engage in teaching, whether offline or online, to get things into long-term memory via working memory. You must take this learning theory into account when designing video content. When using video we tend to forget about working memory as a limitation and the absence of opportunity to move working memory experiences into long-term memory. We also tend to shove in material that is more suited to other media, semantic content such as facts, figures and conceptual manipulations. So video is often too long, shows points too quickly and is packed with inappropriate content.
We can recognise that video has some great learning affordances in that it can capture experiences that one may not be able to experience easily, for real – human interactions, processes, procedures, places and so on. Video can also enhance learning experiences, reveal the internal thoughts of people with voiceover and use techniques that compress, focus in and highlight points that need to be learnt. When done well, it can also have an emotional or affective impact making it good for attitudinal change. The good news is that video has had a century or so to develop a rich grammar of techniques designed to telescope, highlight and get points across. The range of techniques from talking heads to drama, with sophisticated editing techniques and the ability to play with time, people and place, makes it a potent and engaging medium.
The mistake is to see video as a learning medium in itself. Video is a great learning medium if it things are paced, reinforced but made greater if the learner has the opportunity to supplement the video experience with some effortful learning.
Illusion of learning
However, the danger is that, on its own, video can encourage the illusion of learning. This phenomenon was uncovered by Bjork and others, showing that learners are easily fooled into thinking that learning experiences have stuck, when they have actually decayed from memory, often within the first 20 minutes.
How do we make sure that video learning experience is not lost and forgotten? The evidence is clear, the learner needs some effortful learning – they need to supplement their video learning experience with deeper learning that allows them to move that experience from short to long-term memory.
The first is repeated access to the video, so that second and third bites of the cherry are possible. Everything in the psychology of learning tells us that repeated access to content allows us to understand, process and embed learning for retention and later recall. While repeated watching helps consolidate the learning it is not enough and an inefficient, long-winded, learning strategy.
The second is to take notes. This increase retention significantly by up to 20-30% of done well as deeper processing comes into play as you write, generate your own words, draw diagrams and so on.
The third, is far more effective and that is to engage in a form of deeper, effortful learning that involves retrieval and recall. We have built a tool, WildFire,that does exactly this.
How do you ensure that your learning is not lost and forgotten? Strangely enough it is by engaging in a learning experience that makes you recall what you think you’ve learnt. We grab the transcript of the video, put it into an AI engine that creates a supplementary learning experience, where you have to type in what you ‘think’ you know. This is both simple concepts, numbers but also open input sentences, where the AI also semantically interprets your answers. This powerful form of retrieval learning, not only gives you reinforcement through a a second bite of the cherry bit also consolidates the learning. Research has shown that recalling back into memory – literally looking away and thinking about what you know, is even more powerful than the original teaching experience or exposure. In addition, the AI creates links out to supplementary material (curates if you wish) to further consolidate memory through deeper thought and processing.