Online videos can provide students more effective learning experience

From YouTube to your school.

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eLearning is learning to utilize electronic technologies to access educational curriculum outside of a traditional classroom. YouTube has become a popular platform to learn online on almost any topic. Undoubtedly, it becomes a new and most popular form of distance education today.

Online demos provide an excellent method of course delivery unbound by time or location, allowing for accessibility to instruction at any time from anywhere. Learners find the online environment a convenient way to fit education into their busy lives.

A new study by the Harvard scientists now suggests that this kind of learning not only can teach students more but can be just as enjoyable. It provides students with an equally effective — or possibly even more effective — learning experience. Even when live demonstrations are available, it may be helpful to supplement them with high-quality videos.

According to scientists, these discoveries will help spike the production of a catalog of free online STEM video demonstrations to enhance lectures at institutions that can’t conduct their own.

Co-author Logan McCarty, director of science education in the Department of Physics, who oversees Harvard’s Lecture Demonstration team, said, “We have an incredible group of scientists who present live demos for our students, but very few schools have these dedicated resources. With YouTube and other online channels, we can share Harvard’s technical and pedagogical expertise with the world.”

The exploration depended on the previous literature by Kelly Miller, an instructor in applied physics and co-writer with McCarty. The article showed that students often underestimate lecture demonstrations. They turned to science demos after hearing time and again that they are student’s preferred part of the lecture. Who could forget a ball levitating on a sound wave or a laser bending into a tank of water?

Co-author Louis Deslauriers, director of science teaching and learning in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said, “Our research suggests that when live demos are unavailable, videos can provide students with an equally effective — or possibly even more effective — learning experience. Even when live demonstrations are available, it may be helpful to supplement them with high-quality videos.”

Scientists identified several ingredients in improving learning through online demonstrations. A number of these advantages relied on the filmmaker’s ability to set the demonstrations in slow motion, the use of graphics to visualize abstract concepts, and the ability to direct attention to the most important features to prevent information overload.

For the study, scientists split an introductory physics class into two groups. The first watched a video of a short science demonstration in a classroom setting, while the other group saw the experiment live in the same classroom. They then flipped the groups and performed a second demonstration to reduce bias.

Although the demos were virtually identical, the group who first saw the live presentation watched gestures, blackboard illustrations, and physical props, such as large wooden arrows, while the group who viewed video demos followed superimposed graphics, slow-motion video, and animations. In the end, students from both groups who watched the online video scored higher on tests on the material presented, without any reported decrease in enthusiasm.

Deslauriers said, “Students don’t always know where to focus their attention in live demonstrations, even with a chalkboard and props, but in a video format we can highlight and zoom in on particular parts by setting narration at just the right moment to reinforce learning. A video can also present different cases, which is known as a potent learning tool.”

Kestin said, “Lecture demos have been a core component of STEM courses for over 100 years, but not every school has the resources for them. We wanted to understand how much students were learning in video demos in the hopes that with the right support, we can bring the same excitement to schools everywhere.”

The paper describing the study is published in the journal Physical Review Physics Education Research.