29 Effective Video Use in Online Learning

Robin H. Kay and Alison Mann


In today’s online and blended classrooms, video use is essential for student and teacher success (Heilesen, 2010; Kay, 2012, 2014a). Using video has been proven to increase student engagement (Lowenthal et al., 2020), enhance instructor visibility (Martin & Bollinger, 2018), and improve student learning in online contexts (Hsin & Cigas, 2013). Using video can shift control over students, determining the pace (rewind, pause, forward) and regulating their information intake. Videos are typically used to present information to students about concepts, applications and procedures (Kay, 2012, 2014b). Students watch these videos to help them prepare for class (e.g., a flipped classroom) or review for assignments or tests. Sometimes videos inspire and motivate students (e.g., TED Talks). In addition to instruction-based videos, Kay (2012) identified four other areas where videos can support teaching and learning, including administration, student assignments, feedback, and building community.

Administrative Videos

Administrative video podcasts provide course information on learning goals, lesson plan instructions, course policies, and homework or assignment expectations. Yes, this information could be offered in a written format, but students often ignore or miss course outlines, assignment descriptions, and homework activities (Berdahl, 2021). Videos can help provide clarity, creativity and focus (Cocciolo, 2015). This type of video helps build teacher presence by providing a more engaging format to present the structural organization of a course (Garrison, 2016). More elements are needed to support teacher presence, but without a coherent and articulated foundation, an online course can rapidly deteriorate into confusion and chaos (Waterloo Centre for Teaching and Excellence, n.d.)

Students Videos for Assessment

Student assignment video podcasts offer a creative way for students to demonstrate various skills in a wide range of subject areas. For example, students can create video podcasts to show understanding of mathematics and science concepts, provide interpretations of art, written passages, or historical decisions, express fluency when learning a foreign language, or create a wide range of presentations (Kay, 2014a). Offering alternative ways to communicate knowledge and understanding can promote social presence by acknowledging differences and diversity among students (Garrison, 2016). Creating videos can also enhance deeper learning by stimulating creativity, communication and collaboration (Fullan & Langworthy, 2013).

​​Feedback Videos

Feedback-based video podcasts provide formative guidance to students about their progress or summative evaluation for assignments they complete. This type of feedback is more personal, authentic, supportive and interactive (Bahula & Kay, 2021), supporting teacher and social presence (Garrison, 2016). Video feedback can increase understanding and higher-order thinking (Bahula & Kay, 2021), leading to better communication and critical thinking (Garrison, 2016). See the chapter on Video Feedback for more details on this highly successful use of videos.

Community-Based Videos

Finally, community-based video podcasts help build instructor-to-peer (teacher presence) and peer-to-peer connections (social presence) within an online learning course (Bahula & Kay, 2021). Instructor-to-student relationships can be improved with personalized answers to student questions using video podcasts. Student-to-student connections improve when they provide feedback to each other using video podcasts. New life can be brought to online discussions using video podcasts instead of written messages. The use of community-based videos can improve overall communication, stimulate critical thinking, and promote citizenship, all qualities of deeper learning (Fullan & Langworthy, 2013). Lastly, community-based videos can be a refreshing break from Zoom and offer more flexibility and equitable opportunities for all students to have their voices heard.

General Guidelines

Effective videos, regardless of purpose, need planning. Based on numerous articles about video use in education (Kay 2012, 2014), as well as over a decade conducting research on and using videos for teaching and learning, we offer the following general guidelines or suggestions:

  1. Meaningful Title and Context. Select a meaningful title to situate your video in a clear knowledge structure or framework, particularly an instructional video. Bransford et al. (2000) noted that well-structured, organized knowledge leads to better learning and retention.
  2. Pre-Planning with a Coherent Structure. After establishing a clear title, create a rough plan for organizing your video. For example, you could write down the critical points in the order you wish to make them. You could create or work off a visual map. Or you might work off a course outline or existing document. The more focussed and organized you are, the faster you will create the video.
  3. Avoid Perfection. You want to create a good video, and it may take three or four takes, but most educators do not have the time to create a professional video. You could quickly and automatically edit out the filler words (e.g., uhms, ahs, like, you know) with a tool like Descript, but I would recommend that you live with the small mistakes. The other tip is to use “Pause Record” often while you create your video to give you time to collect your thoughts.
  4. Conversational Tone. Students respond well to a relaxed, conversational tone. When recording, imagine that you are tutoring a student in person and sitting across the table from them. You want to be careful to guide but not judge. In video feedback situations, most students will be less receptive if there is a judgemental tone.
  5. Video Length (2-6 minutes). If you consider creating one long lecture for your students, lie down and wait for the feeling to go away. Long, rambling feedback videos do not work well for four reasons. First, students lose focus and stop listening to them. Second, the student can be overwhelmed with information and too many suggestions. Third, students cannot locate the points you make in your video when they want to review again—they have to listen to the entire video. Finally, long videos tend to include rambling and a lack of focus – at least mine do. Keep most of your videos relatively short—no longer than 5-6 minutes (see optimal video length). Note that if you add interactive questions in your video (e.g., EdPuzzle or Menti), they can be longer.
  6. Instructional Pace. The explanation pace can significantly impact learning, particularly concerning cognition (Kester et al., 2006). Determining the ideal pace of a video can be challenging. Students who are struggling may need a slower pace. Stronger students might get bored quickly. I recommend using a moderately slow pace and assuming your audience does not understand your video content. Otherwise, why would they be viewing it? Note that the impact of pace can be partially moderated by the pause, rewind features and modify speed features of any video.
  7. Clear Layout. Keeping the layout well organized, clear, and uncluttered is essential. Crowded, dense text over numerous screens can overwhelm a novice student (Clark & Mayer, 2016).
  8. Use Visuals – Limit Text. There are few online lessons  that I can think of where reading text off the screen would be effective (examples involve dramatic readings or language learning). In general, you could simply give students a written handout without the onscreen reading. Reading text from a screen impedes your message, forcing the audience to focus on the written words and your voice simultaneously (Clark & Mayer, 2016). Creating simple, easy-to-follow onscreen visuals will be more effective (Cocciolo, 2015). See the Video Production chapter for further information about using visual signals and signposts in your video content.
  9. Add Closed-Captioning. What is essential for some students is often suitable for most students. Closed-captioning helps students understand your message, particularly if they have hearing challenges. It also allows students to watch your videos in public spaces when it is inappropriate to play audio. And it is not that hard to do. Youtube does it automatically when uploading a video and is about 80 to 90% accurate. Descript is even more precise and creates captions quite quickly. Zoom has automatic captioning if you want to record a video.
  10. Limit Distractions. Clark & Mayer (2016) provide considerable evidence to suggest that distractions in dramatic stories, pictures and background music have a detrimental impact on understanding videos. If you were teaching in a face-to-face environment, it is unlikely that you would turn music on while you were teaching because it would be distracting. The same is true for background music in a video.


Activity 1: Instructional Video – Presenting a Concept or Procedure


Instructional videos are essential for any online or blended learning course. However, according to Kay (2014), creating an effective video is challenging and involves at least 15 components (see guidelines here[PDF]). However, if you follow the general guidelines above, you should create a helpful series of short, well-organized videos. These videos can be used in a flipped classroom, supplemental material, or exam review. Note that you do not have to create your videos – many already exist on the web. You do need to review them before you share them with your students.


Instructional videos can help build teacher presence (Garrison, 2016) because the students hear your voice and feel that you are working with them directly and individually.

Offer an overview of the activity, including the learning purpose/educational outcome. This type of video can also build cognitive presence (Garrison, 2016) by stimulating thought, especially if follow-up activities build on the video content. If you ask students to create instructional videos, deeper learning can be enhanced through collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking (Fullan & Langworthy, 2013). Some examples of instructional videos might include:

Possible Challenges

A number of the challenges for creating good instructional videos are covered in the general guidelines sections. The biggest challenge, not included, is students not watching videos or watching only the first 1-2 minutes, which is a significant issue in a Flipped Classroom. To address this challenge, you need to attach an activity to each video. Students will not learn by watching a video once – the knowledge will not stick. To increase interactivity with video content, students could:

  • After the video, complete a quiz in Google Forms or Quizlet to assess understanding.
  • Submit practice problems based on a video.
  • Create a mind map based on the key ideas covered in the video.
  • Answering questions while the video is playing (e.g., with EDPuzzle or Menti).
  • Work with a video in a TED-ED Module with multiple activities – time-consuming but worth it.
  • Comment on the video and ask questions using Perusall [5:01].
  • Respond to post-video reflection prompts.


  • Screencast-O-Matic: Free (although it does have a paid version), easy to use, and perhaps most importantly, easy to store in the cloud and share videos.
  • Snagit for Education: About $50, but offers some editing options and provides a quick upload to YouTube.
  • Quicktime for Mac users is free and offers both screen and video recording options. Basic editing is also possible, but it is limited.

Activity 2: Administrative Video – Course Information


At the beginning of a course, a teacher has to address several administrative issues, including introducing themselves, providing a big picture overview, and reviewing the key course topics. Typically, this occurs during the first class and is a relatively dull way to begin learning. In an online course, creating a short video to introduce yourself, a big picture overview of the course, and a walkthrough of key areas of the course outline is an alternative way to address these administrative issues. Students can review these videos and ask questions before the course or a home activity after the first class. This approach allows the first class to be more exciting and include more engaging learning activities.


I have mentioned three key activities that most instructors address before a course starts: an introduction video, a big picture video and a walkthrough of the course outline. Instead of describing the videos, I will offer links to a few examples:

Possible Challenges

The main challenge I found is that students might not watch the videos. That is their choice, and of course, they can watch the videos later. Ultimately each student has the right to view and review course materials.

Activity 3: Administrative Video – Lesson Plans


Lesson plan videos offer a brief overview of what will happen during a class, specific instructions for learning tasks, and guidance for home activities. While a bit time-consuming to create, I find these videos helpful in running an asynchronous class or guiding students who missed a class. I have also found them useful when teaching a course multiple times because the videos remind me of what I was planning and the intended learning goals.


Video explanations can improve teacher presence (Garrison, 2016) by having the instructor’s supportive voice guides activities during asynchronous classes. Adding a bit of humour helps to enhance the teacher-student connection further. Written instructions can be tricky to follow, especially for multi-step learning activities. Videos can augment the quality of communication and possibly motivate students to think more critically (Fullan & Langworthy, 2013). Here are a few examples of videos used in lesson plans

Activity 4: Administrative Video – Describing Assessments


One of the biggest time savers is creating video walkthroughs for all your assignments. That way, students can review the assignment expectations at any time, just in time. This type of video is a time saver for an online course because you do not get a flood of emails just before an assignment is due. Having a written explanation with a supporting video reduced the number of emails by at least 90%. Video descriptions allow you to provide crystal clear instructions and improve the quality of work submitted. More importantly, providing multi modes of communicating that valuable information is grasped by all students.


Like other administrative videos, assignment videos help you communicate instruction and learning goals clearly, thereby improving critical thinking (Fullan & Langworthy, 2013) and cognitive presence (Fullan & Langworthy, 2013). When students understand expectations, they can shift their cognitive load to the learning task at hand. Here are a few examples of videos I created that walk students through an assignment step by step.

Possible Challenges

The main challenge in creating an assignment video is clarity. To increase clarity, create a clear written description of the assignment. You need to be crystal clear; otherwise, your inbox will fill up with emails. Then make your video going over each step in detail. Sometimes these videos are longer, but students appreciate the extra detail when they are up late completing an assignment due the next day.

Activity 5: Assessment – Students Creating Videos


Student-created videos can be used to explain a concept or how to solve a problem, provide an analysis of a multimedia artifact, articulate a specific approach or perspective, or review a book or software tool. The learning goals of your course only limit the possibilities. This type of video allows students to move beyond the standard writing assignment and move to a more creative, engaging and flexible format. Obviously, students need to learn how to write well, but they also need to learn how to communicate their ideas within a video format. A video is a critical communication medium with over 730,000 hours of content uploaded daily on YouTube alone (Oberlo, 2021).


Student video creation can increase social presence (Garrison, 2016) and collaboration for team-developed videos (Fullan & Langworthy, 2013). The video creation process can also improve cognitive presence (Garrison, 2016), creativity, communication skills and critical thinking leading to deeper learning (Fullan & Langworthy, 2013). Some examples of the type of videos students can create might include:

Possible Challenges

The main challenge for students is learning how to create an effective educational video. The most straightforward way to address this issue is to refer students to the general guidelines listed above. The same rules apply to teacher-created videos as they do to student-created videos.

Activity 6: Video Feedback


Individualized screencast feedback is the activity most often used by educators (Bahula, 2021). This type of feedback can help establish teaching presence (Garrison, 2016) by building a solid connection between you and your students, particularly in blended and online learning environments. One of the key benefits is offering a more detailed, clearer, richer quality of feedback and increased understanding and higher-order thinking skills, leading to a greater cognitive presence in your class (Bahula & Kay, 2021). Finally, video feedback can lead to a more interactive, collaborative assessment (Bahula & Kay, 2021; Quinn et al., 2019).


Using a good headset and screen recording software, the instructor opens up a student assignment and records short videos focussing on key areas of strength or opportunities for growth. We provide General Guidelines for creating these videos above. The bottom line, though, is to imagine yourself tutoring your student as if you were having a personal conference about their work. If available to you, a helpful method for video feedback is the use of picture-in-picture (PiP) mode, where student work fills the screen and video of you speaking is in a smaller floating window. Students can benefit greatly from your gestural and social communication, and it helps increase your visibility in the course. You also need to develop a system for creating, storing and sharing videos. My system is as follows:

  1. Open the student’s digital assignment and review, adding short comments on the work to guide my video.
  2. Open video recording set-up and test the recording first to ensure it is working.
  3. Plan to create a 1-3 minute video on one point you would like to make.
  4. Feedback videos can be stored on Google Drive, and a view-only link can be generated and shared with each student. Add the link as a comment on the assignment.
  5. Repeat until finished.
  6. Take at least 5 minutes before you start reviewing the next student’s assignment.

Possible Challenges

  1. Set-up time. We cover many of the challenges instructors experience in the general guidelines section above. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the time it will take to set up and learn your video feedback system. Once you have that in place, though, you should find that video feedback is quicker than written feedback, especially when communicating in-depth suggestions that are nuanced.
  2. Do we need to use video feedback? One other challenge is to determine whether you need to use video feedback. Sometimes, written feedback or rubrics might be a better, more efficient choice, especially with assignments focussed on skills and procedures rather than higher-level thinking. We found that video feedback is quite effective when providing insights on writing skills. It can also be quite effective with static multimedia presentations or websites but not videos.

Activity 6: Creating Community-based Videos


This type of video can help improve communication and connection with an online community. For example, students can receive instructor video responses on more complex issues, making it feel like the instructor is addressing them personally. Students can give feedback to each other using videos, particularly in peer-assessment scenarios. Short student-introduction videos can also be used in FlipGrid to build community. Marco Polo is a mobile app wherein users can record video or audio posts that can be viewed live or later (video posts are stored sequentially). Similar to the chat feature, users can communicate with their peers. Marco Polo is an excellent tool for informal course discussions, question and answer sessions, and student introductions.


Community-based video podcasts help build instructor-to-peer (teacher presence) and peer-to-peer connections (social presence) within an online learning course (Bahula & Kay, 2021). Specific examples of these videos might include:

  • personalized video answers to student questions;
  • student video explanations of a problem they might be having that is difficult to explain in words;
  • teacher video announcement about an event;
  • quick video response to the entire class about an issue or concern;
  • video peer-feedback or assessment;
  • student introduction video; and
  • video response to a discussion topic.

Possible Challenges

The main challenge is that students and teachers need to watch their tone when creating these relatively quick and informal videos. It is tempting to wing it when making this type of video, so I would advise outlining a brief plan before beginning the video creation process. Instructors are strongly encouraged to ensure that tools and apps accommodate all learners (e.g., closed-captioning).

General Resources



Berdahl, L. (2021, August 27). How to get students to read your syllabus. University Affairs. https://www.universityaffairs.ca/career-advice/the-skills-agenda/how-to-get-students-to-read-your-syllabus/

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. C. (2021). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/9853

Cocciolo, A. (2015). The rise and fall of text on the Web: A quantitative study of web archives. Information Research, 20(3), paper 682. http://InformationR.net/ir/20-3/paper682.html

Clark, R. C. & Mayer, R. E. (2016). E-Learning and the science of instruction (4th ed.). Center for Creative Leadership. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119239086

Fullan, M., & Langworthy, M. (2013). Towards a new end: New pedagogies for deep learning. Collaborative Impact.

Garrison, D. R. (2016). E-learning in the 21st century: A community of inquiry framework for research and practice (3rd ed.). Taylor & Francis.

Heilesen, S. B. (2010). What is the academic efficacy of podcasting? Computers & Education, 55(3), 1063–1068. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2010.05.002

Hsin, W. J., & Cigas, J. (2013). Short videos improve student learning in online education. Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges, 28(5), 253-259. https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.5555/2458569.2458622

Kay, R. H. (2012). Exploring the use of video podcasts in education: A comprehensive review of the literature. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(3), 820-831. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2012.01.011

Kay, R. H. (2014a). Developing a Framework for Creating Effective Instructional Video Podcasts. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 9(1), 22–30. https://doi.org/10.3991/ijet.v9i1.3335

Kay, R. H. (2014b). Exploring applications for using video podcasts in online learning. International. Journal of Online Pedagogy and Course Design (IJOPCD), 4(2), 64-77. https://doi.org/10.4018/ijopcd.2014040105

Kay, R., & Kletskin, I. (2012). Evaluating the use of problem-based video podcasts to teach mathematics in higher education. Computers & Education, 59(2), 619-627. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2012.03.007

Kester, L., Lehnen, C., Van Gerven, P. W. M., & Kirschner, P. A. (2006). Just-in-time, schematic supportive information presentation during cognitive skill acquisition. Computers in Human Behavior, 22(1), 93–112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2005.01.008

Lowenthal, P., Borup, J. West, R., & Archambault, L. (2020). Thinking beyond zoom: Using asynchronous video to maintain connection and engagement during the covid-19 pandemic. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 28(2), 383. https://www.learntechlib.org/primary/p/216192/

Martin, & Bolliger, D. U. (2018). Engagement matters: Student perceptions on the importance of engagement strategies in the online learning environment. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks (JALN), 22(1), 205-222. https://doi.org/10.24059/olj.v22i1.1092

Mohsin, M. (2021, January 25). 10 YouTube stats every marketer should know in 2021. Oberlo. https://www.oberlo.ca/blog/youtube-statistics

Waterloo Centre for Teaching and Excellence. (n.d.). Large classes: Limiting the chaos. https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/managing-students/large-classes/large-classes-limiting-chaos

About the authors

Dr. Kay is currently the Dean of and a Full Professor in the Faculty of Education at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa, Canada.   He has published over 160 articles, chapters, and conference papers in pedagogy, technology in education. He taught computer science, mathematics, learning and development, and educational technology for over 25 years at the high school, college, undergraduate, and graduate levels.  Current projects include research on laptop use in higher education, BYOD in K-12 education, web-based learning tools, e-learning and blended learning in secondary and higher education, video podcasts, scale development, emotions and the use of computers, the impact of social media tools in education, and factors that influence how students learn with technology.  Dr. Kay received his M.A. in Computer Applications in Education at the University of Toronto and his Ph.D. in Cognitive Science (Educational Psychology) at the University of Toronto.  ​

Alison Mann is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Toronto and an Instructor in the Faculty of Education at Ontario Tech University. She is an artist,  teacher, mother and innovative leader in learning with qualitative arts-based inquiry and educational technology. Her research includes the exploration of instructional and teaching videos for enhancing online learning, critical media literacy, and collaborative and participatory film production in online learning contexts.


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Thriving Online: A Guide for Busy Educators Copyright © 2022 by Robin H. Kay and Alison Mann is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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