Optimizing Video Based Learning

By Keith Michael Howard | Last Updated: November 7, 2021

I was getting wildly inconsistent results in my video based learning efforts. Some videos were great teaching tools, and others the students wouldn’t even watch. Ouch!

an icon representing video based learning

And even after making hundreds of hours of classroom videos – I had no idea why.

So I rolled up my sleeves, dusted off Google Scholar, and found a few helpful video learning best practices to pour some concrete into this somewhat irritating knowledge gap.

Here we go.

What’s the best length for video based learning?

Wondering what the optimal education video length is?

Then you have something in common with researchers at MIT and edX [1] that performed an empirical study of student engagement data from MOOCs (or Massive Open Online Courses) to determine best practices.

What they found was that 6 minutes and under is the gold standard for video length. At 6 minutes, watch time is near 100%, but drops sharply after that.

While I do believe this is sage advice, there’s an issue here regarding how much time it takes a normal teacher to follow this best practice.

Cutting up your videos into 6 minute and under chunks sounds great, but is time and labor intensive.

Instead, an easier alternative is to record longer videos, and only have students watch a 6 minute portion at a time.

This way you can still record longer, less time consuming videos while observing these best practices for video based learning.

If you have more time, by all means, go ahead and segment your videos.

But beware! It is easy to quickly inflate your workload depending on the approach you take.

Either way, try to keep your education videos to 6 minutes or less.

Personalize your videos and speak at a brisk, enthusiastic pace.

One study [2] examining student ratings of video based lessons found that videos described as being personal, engaging, and positive received high ratings. Videos that seemed impersonal or unfamiliar with the audience were rated poorly.

Personalizing your video is easier in certain classroom contexts than others.

I don’t believe that it’s always going to be possible for a normal educator to create marvelous, fascinating videos for every class they have.

In fact, I would say that’s inefficient.

As I’ve said before, video is that it’s a significant time investment, and I would much rather make videos that I can reuse in later courses. It doesn’t make sense to me to remake the same videos each term. There’s just not enough time for that.

What I do now instead is make videos that address common issues I expect or know that students will have with the material. The personalization of the video is based on what students normally have issues with in the course.

In my view, if the video addressed the common issues then it’s personalized. There is a strong argument against this, however, it does overrule the fact that I simply do not have enough time.

And the time I do invest needs to keep returning on investment. Thus, my advice is to personalize common issues, and aim for making videos that you can re-use later. Best practices are great and all, but they do not account for the reality of already massive teaching workloads.

Make and provide guiding questions.

Guiding questions are a simple set of questions given to the students before they engage with the learning material.

There is research [3] indicating that students provided with guided questions for video based learning achieved significantly higher test scores than those who were not.

The reason guided questions are effective is that they share the learning objectives with the students, and allow them to focus on the important concepts in the classroom video.

With a better idea of what they are supposed to learn, students can also ignore extraneous information that they might be distracted by otherwise.

Guided questions decrease the chance of cognitive overload, and optimize classroom videos by giving students areas to focus on that are relevant to the lesson objectives.

Give learners an opportunity to control the pacing of information.

eLearning videos can be effective if the recipients are active – not passive.

The findings from research [4] comparing video learning to text based learning show that video is as effective as text when students are controlling their own information processing.

When students read, they use micro-level activities like backtracking or rereading difficult sections, skipping parts that do not seem relevant or interesting, scanning pages for information and processing information from the words, sentences and paragraphs.

They actively control how their brain processes information in the text and this can help them not only connect information, but also avoid the dreaded cognitive overload.

These reading skills are taught by teachers, but the same principles apply to eLearning videos. Although it may not be as easy for the student to control the flow of information in a video, they should be encouraged to:

By bringing awareness and encouraging students to control the stream of information – in similar ways used in texts – the learner can engage with the content at a deeper level that is not longer passive.

Closing Thoughts

There are a few things here I wish I had known when I started making videos for my class.

In brief, the best practices I found most helpful are:

  1. The best length for educational videos is 6 minutes and under.
  2. Personalize your videos, but don’t inflate your non-teaching hours.
  3. Guiding questions are a crucial part of creating effective educational videos.
  4. Make learners aware of how to control the flow of information in video based learning formats.

I’m a big fan of the potential of videos as a learning tool, but it seems like I’m only scratching the surface.



[1] Guo PJ, Kim J, and Robin R (2014). How video production affects student engagement: An empirical study of MOOC videos. ACM Conference on Learning at Scale (L@S 2014) [Google Scholar]

[2] Choe, R. C., Scuric, Z., Eshkol, E., Cruser, S., Arndt, A., Cox, R., … & Crosbie, R. H. (2019). Student satisfaction and learning outcomes in asynchronous online lecture videos. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 18(4), ar55. [Google Scholar]

[3] Merkt, M., Weigand, S., Heier, A., & Schwan, S. (2011). Learning with videos vs. learning with print: The role of interactive features. Learning and Instruction, 21(6), 687-704. [Google Scholar]

[4] Brame, C. J. (2016). Effective educational videos: Principles and guidelines for maximizing student learning from video content. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 15(4), es6. [Google Scholar]

Hi, I'm Keith, an education technology innovator and host of The New Curriculum Specialist. But I wasn’t either of those things 2 years ago. Then 2020 happened. To adapt, I learned a little bit of code and things have really taken off from there. Not that bad for a guy who failed Math 6 times.

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