Replacing traditional face-to-face teaching with pre-recorded videos leads to better grades for students, according to a new study.

As millions of college students around the world grapple with distance learning during the pandemic, the finding challenges the widely-held view that they are necessarily losing out as a result.

One possible explanation for the effectiveness of videos is that they allow students to learn at their own pace: to stop when they are feeling overloaded, pause when they want to take notes and fast forward if they are bored.

But while researchers found a modest benefit when universities switched to videos instead of face-to-face teaching, the effect was more pronounced when videos were used to supplement an in-person approach.

This points to blended learning – combining face-to-face and online teaching – as potentially more effective than the conventional model even when campuses are fully reopen.

Fears that the closure of campuses and widespread shift to online learning as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic would inevitably lead to students getting a worse deal are unfounded, according to a study into the use of video in higher education published today.

Students who used videos instead of in-person lectures and seminars got better results – albeit only slightly better – than those who stuck to traditional methods.

“In a slightly concerning finding for my job as an academic, videos were even better than face-to-face classes with a teacher, although only by only a little,” said Michael Noetel, lead author of the study. “Still, this surprised us because we thought classes would be more effective, not less.”

Researchers analyzed more than 100 studies involving almost 8,000 students for the study, published in the Review of Educational Research, journal of the American Educational Research Association.

The study found that when students were given videos instead of conventional teaching, average grades increased from B to B+.

When videos were used as well as traditional methods average grades rose from B to A.

Videos were found to be more effective for teaching skills than for teaching knowledge, although both saw student scores increase compared with traditional teaching methods.

And the results held across different subjects, different forms of face-to-face teaching such as lectures and tutorials, and regardless of the length of the video.

“Obviously some valuable learning activities are best done face-to-face, like role-plays and class discussion,” said Noetel, a research fellow at Australian Catholic University .

“But our results show many forms of learning can be done better and more cost-effectively via video. Shifting the ‘explaining’ bits to videos allows the rich, interactive work to take up more of the precious face-to-face time with students.”

One explanation for the advantage of video over face-to-face teaching is that videos allow students to study at their own pace and in their own time.

“Video may also increase student motivation by allowing increased autonomy and self-direction,” added Noetel. “It’s nice to be able to learn when and where you want; it can fit in better with life.”

Students may also benefit from seeing real life demonstrations of experiments, rather than watching an artificial demonstration in class, the researchers suggested.

The study suggests that videos can play a role even when campuses are fully reopen, and universities should aim to ensure videos are high-quality and accessible to all, Noetel said.

“Even after the pandemic ends, college instructors will find value in incorporating video into their teaching,” he added.



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