Watch That Hand: Why Videos May Not Be the Best Medium for Knowledge...

Digital Learning

Watch That Hand: Why Videos May Not Be the Best Medium for Knowledge Retention

By Tina Nazerian     Oct 4, 2017

Watch That Hand: Why Videos May Not Be the Best Medium for Knowledge Retention

From Khan Academy to massive open online courses (better known as MOOCs), digital instructional content is often delivered as videos. Yet Juan Cristobal Castro-Alonso argues that videos may not be the best medium when it comes to helping learners retain knowledge.

The researcher, who is informally known as Cris Castro, works at the Center for Advanced Research in Education at the Universidad de Chile. He was was one of four authors of a recent paper in the journal “Computers & Education” that found that static images may make for more effective educational materials than their dynamic, animated counterparts.

In their study, 104 Australian male and female students in both STEM and non-STEM fields had to remember the type, color and position of 12 abstract symbols placed on rectangular frame on a laptop monitor. Students had to watch an animation in which each symbol was shown one by one, for a total of 96 seconds. They also had to see all 12 symbols displayed at the same time, as a static image, for a total of 96 seconds. The symbols in the static image were in different positions than in the animation. Half the students did the animation task first, while the other half did the static task first. The researchers found that after watching the animation, the students recalled fewer symbols correctly than after watching the static image.

Castro tells EdSurge that using animation tools in education is “trendy,” but people don’t consider that those tools sometimes have a problem of “transient information.” He says elements on the screen disappear, and there isn’t time to learn from those. “So, you have to try to memorize what is no longer there with the things that you are seeing at the same time,” he says. “That’s very challenging.”

Well-produced videos can make educational materials engaging for students, but Castro stresses that there’s a difference between being entertained and learning. “It’s not always very connected,” he says.

Many online instructional videos also feature a speaker in front of a green screen, drawing and gesticulating as they speak. Castro says moving and gesticulating hands attached to a body tend to be positive. But showing hands that are not moving or gesticulating, and are detached from a body, is not as positive, found the study’s authors. A “precision hand may not always prove useful to study elements, especially if the hands clutter the display,” they write in the paper.

Kyle Grice teaches general and inorganic chemistry at DePaul University. His general chemistry courses have online homework, and his inorganic chemistry courses have online materials. He says these findings will teach him to be “a little more careful” about making sure the online materials used in his inorganic chemistry classes and online homework used in his general chemistry classes are “static, but also clear and less busy.” He notes that he will not make all of the materials static.

“Simpler is better” when it comes to online materials, Grice adds. “Having that hand there was a complication that could draw attention away from the content that the student is trying to learn,” he says, adding that it’s something that people should think about when they’re making online content for classes.

He believes videos and animations do have value, however. “Movement might be better later to show a process,” he explains.

Castro also thinks dynamic visuals have their place. For instance, if someone is learning how to classify fish through their patterns of movement, animation is the better learning tool.

Olivia Hawkins, a student at the University of South Florida in Tampa, agrees with Castro. She says her preference for statics and dynamics is “highly variable,” depending on the class. Take her fish biology course, which involves memorizing hard facts. Hawkins says the material in the course is mostly all static, which she prefers. But for her physics class, she thinks it’s “a lot easier” to use dynamic visuals, because the subject requires understanding topics like force and gravity in a 3D perspective rather than a 2D one.

As for future plans related to this paper, Castro says he and his fellow researchers want to investigate if they can replicate the findings in more STEM-oriented tasks. Regarding the spatial recall experiment in his study, he says that “usually we get this critique, ‘That’s very abstract, [and] not what really learners learn in a school or in a university.’ So our next step is to do something more related to a school or university’s actual curriculum.”

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