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Bottom Line Up-Front




The effectiveness of our courses on edX and using short videos for a flipped active learning (blended) classroom is fundamentally based on two things: good content and learner engagement. Stipulating that our programs should be rich in content, this summary is focused on creating videos that are engaging for the learner. It is not about the technology side.

Phillip Guo, Juho Kim, and Rob Rubin (University of Rochester, MIT and edX, respectively) have researched 6.9 million video sessions on the edX platform. Their findings are presented in the paper “How Video Production Affects Student Engagement: An Empirical Study of MOOC Videos.” The guidance I present is a summary of key lessons they learned from their research, plus other readings.

Shorter Videos are More Engaging

There is strong evidence that attention tends to drop off after 6 minutes. The recommendation is to invest in pre-production planning and segment videos into 6-minute chunks. I think it was Mark Twain who is quoted as having said after writing a friend a very long letter, “I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have time.” It takes a great deal of work to create a content-rich 6-minute video and the notion is that “it takes meticulous planning to explain a concept succinctly.”

Making videos Interesting

Engaging the learners means we want the video to have personality. Apparently, Madison Avenue production not only does not matter but it gets in the way of an intimate & personal connection with the learner. There are three ways to start a video that get the learners’ attention.  First, start by telling a story that illustrates why the topic is important and connects you with the topic.  Second, begin with a stunning fact that gets attention.  Last, ask a question … “Did you know…”

When designing the video, consider this inquiry-based design strategy using the “IDEA” paradigm for each module in your course:

Shooting video in your office or other individualized settings is a plus. Also, a combination of the instructor’s talking head with Khan-Style hand drawn illustrations is very appealing. Power Point can be used, but only when interspersed with video of the instructor and other illustrations. Power Point animations and transitions help to make a slide deck interesting + the fewer words the better. Graphic images ~ pictures are worth a thousand words! Voiceover PowerPoint is a quick technique that expedites the production process and can be combined with live video of the instructor in editing. Video of the instructor should begin and finish all videos with others inserted at opportune times.

A good instructor makes eye contact with the learner. So, look straight into the camera and speak just like you are discussing the material with the learner sitting in your office. This is also a new format. You are not talking one-to-many. You are talking one-to-one with the learner. So, speak to them earnestly like a friend explaining a concept you really care about. This is a personal connection opportunity, not a PR promo!

Speaking Rate Affects Engagement

In the referenced paper “Students generally engaged more with videos where instructors spoke faster.” They noticed that “fast-speaking instructors conveyed more energy and enthusiasm.” “Whenever possible, edit in post-production to remove instances of “umm,” “uhh,” and other pauses and filler words.”

Note that this goes against the old belief in speaking more slowly and deliberately for an international audience. That’s definitely not what’s needed. Why? Students can slow you down, rewind your video, and they’ll have transcripts to refer to during reading.

The Bottom Line

Our goal is to have every one of the videos we develop 6 to 8 minutes but under no condition more than 20 minutes, be engaging, and convey not only energy and enthusiasm, but also love of the content. Of course, content is king and engaging videos are useless if the content is not rich!

Cable, J. H. (2020). Converting to Online Teaching: A series of short guidance articles for educators and institutions – Introduction, PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue V, May. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/pmwj93-May2020-Cable-converting-to-teaching-online-1-introduction.pdf


This article appeared in PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue XII, December 2020.

John Cable, Director, Project Management Center for Excellence, University of Maryland

How to cite this article: Cable, J. H. (2020). Converting to Online Teaching: A Series of short guidance articles for educators and institutions – Video Production Guidance, PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue XII, December.



edX 2020 Impact Report, edX.org

 How Video Production Affects Student Engagement: An Empirical Study of MOOC Videos, Phillip Guo, University of Rochester; Juho Kim, MIT; Rob Rubin, edX

 Certified Professional in Training Management session, Dr. Doug Harward

 How to Start a Speech, by Conor Neill, Ted Talk


Posted by Kathy Frankle on December 9, 2020