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Technology Integration

Teaching Students How to Learn From Videos

Instructional videos can help students learn at their own pace, but only if they know how to use them.

March 23, 2021
Girl watches a lesson at home on her laptop
golero / iStock

Whether a part of online or in-person classes, videos are a teaching tool that can enable students to learn new concepts and skills and engage in practice activities, all at their own pace. What actually happens when students watch instructional videos in class, however, doesn’t always lead to the expected outcome. Before the pandemic, when I used videos in a classroom setting, students would hit play, sit back, and watch. When it came time to complete the subsequent activities, however, they immediately required assistance, despite my having explained and demonstrated what to do.

Through my work as a facilitator of professional learning, I’ve encountered many frustrated teachers who’ve spent countless hours creating instructional videos as a way of providing instruction in an online setting, only to find that their students weren’t learning from them.

From my own experience in a classroom and through my interactions with these teachers, I’ve discovered some strategies to help students learn from videos, regardless of the educational setting. It turns out that I had missed a huge step in the learning process. I had never taught my students how to learn from a video.

Break It Down

Think about your objectives for the video. If students are learning a new skill, be intentional about breaking down the experience for them. Start by analyzing the whole process of watching instructional videos, and be very deliberate about what students need to do while the video is playing.

For example, when working on a math equation, suggest that students pause after they watch the first step and try it on their own. If a video is exploring new concepts, encourage students to take notes, answer questions, or even pause the video to verbally process the idea, perhaps by teaching an imaginary friend these new ideas when in a remote setting or using a turn and talk or think-pair-share strategy in the classroom.

Pause, Rewind, and Stop Time

Discuss how pausing, rewinding, and fast-forwarding can help students interact more productively with the video. Model how to pause the recording and engage in the activity. Immediately after the video demonstrates each step of a skill, tell students to pause the video and take time to practice. While this might seem intuitive, students might not necessarily realize that this step is vital to their learning.

A fifth-grade teacher in New York City tells his students that their ability to pause, rewind, and replay a video is a superpower. They can stop time, rewind, or fast-forward time. He instructs them to use this superpower whenever they need to take time to better understand what’s happening in a video.

What better way for students to control the learning experience than to be able to watch or listen as many times as needed? Working with students to harness the power of pausing and replaying instruction needs to be deliberate and intentional. More than just reminders before instructional videos begin, students need specific, focused lessons on how to utilize these superpowers as they are watching.

Don’t Watch—Interact

In the video The Flipped Class: Overcoming Common Hurdles, by Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, Bergmann explains the difference between passively watching something for entertainment and engaging or interacting with an instructional video. As I was discussing this video in a workshop recently, one teacher said, “I think I’m going to stop asking my kids to watch a video. I’m going to change the verb altogether.”

By changing the term from watch to interact, we send a message to students that they need to be present, focused, and engaged with the content of the video. Our students are used to watching videos for entertainment, which is a very different activity. Interacting with videos in class needs to be active, not passive like watching a film. Students need to be actively involved with the video, not unlike when they are immersed in playing a video game. If they don’t engage, they don’t win.

Encourage Student Reflection

Asking students what they learned from a video is important, as is asking them why and how they learned it. As students progress through a video learning experience, pause the video and build in deliberate reflective moments that prompt students to evaluate whether they’ve been focusing on and understanding the material.

Asking students to mind-map new ideas or having them complete graphic organizers are strategies to direct their attention to the new information. Additionally, implementing a Project Zero Visible Thinking Routine such as “See, Think, Wonder” is another way to encourage students to reflect on the learning experience.

When you use videos online or in the classroom, try applying these lessons so that students actively engage with what’s in front of them on the screen and don’t just passively watch the video. This will ensure that students are better able to successfully process and absorb the skills and messages that the video is teaching, and at their own pace.

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