A pair of arms pushing play to watch an online video

4 easy ways to take your educational videos to the next level

Keep students coming back to your online courses with these simple tips

Creating engaging and dynamic online content is key to reducing the stubbornly high attrition rates of online courses. I’ve tried various strategies for engaging students in my online courses, and videos have consistently been my best format for getting students contributing to online discussions. Here’s why:

  • Humanization. Students feel they know me more intimately. It humanizes the online learning experience for them and builds rapport.
  • Storytelling. Students love storytelling. I can use videos to tell them stories from my experiences as a practitioner to bring theoretical ideas to life.
  • Personalization. Personalized videos are more relatable for the students. Instead of sharing someone else’s YouTube video, I create my own. I mention students by name and summarize their forum contributions. I do this to create a sense of belonging for my students.

How to improve your educational videos

Here are four tips to consider when creating videos for your students. These are steps that I slowly began to integrate into my videos to make my online course content feel more professional, more engaging, and more personal.

1. Show your face and look into the camera

Sometimes online students go through an entire course without ever seeing their instructor’s face. The lack of human contact for students increases their sense of isolation and contributes to their withdrawal from courses.

To build rapport with my students, I always show my face. I started out using Camtasia to embed my face in the top-right corner of my screencasts. This was a good strategy when I started out because it was simple, required little technical knowledge, and didn’t require me to purchase any new hardware. The one downside was that I was never actually looking directly at the camera. Instead, it looked like a camera was “peeking in” on me reading my lecture slides.

Related: 6 ways video technologies are fundamentally shaping higher education

Now, I use full-screen shots of my face talking directly down the camera to students. The talking-head style I use is akin to the talking head you see on the nightly news. I feel it gives a more professional feel and creates a direct line of address. It is analogous to making eye contact with my students: Looking directly into the lens of the camera shows my students I am paying personal attention to them. It gives videos a professional touch.

2. Speak conversationally

I used to read directly from a script. While this was enough for me as a beginner, when it came time to step-up the quality of my content, I decided to follow bullet-point notes only. Mayer’s personalization principle from his theory of multimedia learning highlights that talking in a conversational tone improves student attention.

Following the personalization principle, I use bullet points to keep me on track with the content, but instead of reading from the screen, I talk in a conversational tone as if I were in a one-to-one tutorial session. Speaking from bullet points rather than pre-planned scripts helps me directly address my students, personalize my content, and makes them feel as if they’ve been engaged in a direct conversation with me.

Extending this point, I often turn my bullet points into lists to help student retention. Just like list-form blog posts, list-form videos seem popular among students. I therefore tend to label my video in the format: “Five Key Takeaways from This Week’s Task.”

Related: 3 ways video assessment fosters community in online courses

3. Make it fast and focused

YouTube has analytics tools that examine how long it takes a student to close the video. Examining the analytics tools taught me that students stop watching en masse if I talk too long or go even slightly off topic. While many students enjoy watching videos, they don’t want their time to be wasted. Online students are very busy people, often studying online so they can continue working full time or raising children. I respect their time and try to not waste it by going on longer than necessary.

Educational podcasting literature often recommends keeping a podcast to less than 10 minutes. I follow that rule for my videos, too. I will spend 30 seconds to a minute on each bullet point that I created as my key talking points. This method helps the videos progress quickly and smoothly and retains student attention.

4. End with a question

For me, the primary purpose of integrating videos into my online courses was to increase student engagement. As many e-learning experts argue, quality online courses create sociable, interactive learning environments.

I don’t want my students to just watch me talking; I want them to engage in conversation with me. Therefore, I always end my videos with a question. The questions don’t need to be difficult, and indeed, there’s a good chance you’ve already embedded questions into your online forum tasks. I usually borrow my forum task question and end with a simple, “What do you think? Share your thoughts on these ideas in the forum task below.”

Videos are a great way to draw students into your weekly activities, sustain their attention, and engage them in conversation. Starting out with webcam and screencasts with free software like Screencast-O-Matic is a great first step. As you build confidence in video creation, I encourage you to take your videos to the next level with my four recommendations above. What do you think of these recommendations? Are there any you would add? Feel free to tweet your thoughts to @cpdgrew.

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