Can you learn from watching a video?

Can you learn from watching a video?

The definition of e-learning has always been vague but in my view one of the tests of proper e-learning is the inclusion of learning interactions.

But in the last year I have seen increasing use of video positioned as e-learning. Whole platforms like Videojug or Learnable rely on video as the sole vehicle for learning and a lot of m-learning is also adopting the ‘learn by watching a video’ approach. But can we really learn simply by watching a video?

A couple of years ago I delivered a seminar at Learning Technologies with the Sponge team where we looked at whether or not we could learn from watching a documentary on TV. We didn’t have a definitive answer – it was done more to provoke some thinking on how we use video and in particular documentary techniques when building e-learning programmes.

I guess that when we watch a documentary most of us will say that we have learned something new – but that learning is quite shallow. Watch a documentary tonight on ‘Global Warming’ and in the morning we will be able to reel off some interesting facts but one week later the forgetting curve has kicked in and we will struggle to be able to recall anything other than the fact that it was a ‘good documentary’. As for actually changing our behaviour – in other words applying the learning – well the chance of that is pretty minimal.

Of course true learning is best seen as a path or a cycle:

  • You are exposed to something new
  • You then interpret the new information
  • You then try out what you have learned
  • Finally you reflect on how it all went
Simple Learning Cycle

In Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle this roughly equates to the four phases of watching, thinking, doing, and feeling.

Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping experience and transforming it. David Kolb

Watching a video may fulfil the first two stages but won’t help much with Stages 3 and 4. In many ways a lot of so-called learning actually only makes it to Stage 2 – but good learning online or offline completes all four stages.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the immediacy that video brings to e-learning programmes, but video alone will not deliver the full learning experience. It needs to be supported by a range of learning interactions preferably both online and offline.

Try it for yourself. Here are some examples of video used for learning. Which works best for you?


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