Article Review #3

Making Video Brain-Friendly

After reading the U.S. Department of Education, Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online Learning: A Meta-analysis and review of online learning studies in Module 3, I wanted to know more about how the brain processes video. I have had this presentation recording open in one of my browser tabs for several weeks before we started Module 3 and was waiting for an opportunity to review the presentation and go through the notes.

This presentation by Has de Graaf, is from The eLearning Guild conference: FocusOn 2016 Conference & Expo – June 10, 2016. The presentation is only available for members of The eLearning Guild so unfortunately, I can’t share the recording with you. It is interesting to note that in the presentation, de Graaf actually mentioned this U.S. DOE study and talked about how results favored blended learning, most likely because students were spending more time in a combination of F2F and online learning environments. He also pointed out that the study said online learning was just as effective as F2F learning.

The objectives for the one-hour session, Making Video Brain-Friendly, seemed to be just what I was looking for. I wanted to know more about how the brain processes video which might lead to a better understanding of how to make videos that would result in a better learning experience for students.

  • How your brain processes images and videos
  • Which parts of your brain are active when watching video
  • How to optimize your videos to communicate more effectively to the brains of your viewers
  • Techniques to make your “talking head” instruction videos more “human” and trustworthy
  • About the different effects in the brain when using a cartoon or animation, compared to a human presenter

de Graaf says that 50% of our brain is dedicated to visual input which can either be images or words. When we see something we’re looking for what and where triggers: what is it and where is it going. If we see gaps, our brain is pretty good about filling in those gaps. The brain also has filters what help us determine what is important and what can be neglected. We also look at the environment, watching for anything dangerous as a survival mechanism to keep ourselves safe. When we’re given a focus or a goal, we pay more attention to the details of that focus and are able to identify things that we may have missed without having that focus.

When we add audio into the mix, if for some reason that audio is out of synch, video prevails in our understanding and we trust it more so than the audio. As an example, he referenced the McGurk Effect which demonstrates that your brain can play tricks on what you perceive to be hearing when what you see appears different. I played this video several times and it wasn’t until I closed my eyes that I was able to detect what was going on. On the other hand, later in the recording, de Graaf did say that audio makes up at least 50% of the quality of your video. I know from experience if the audio is bad, viewership will drop quickly.

When we learn something, our primary learning devices that feed our brain are our eyes and ears. Our ears hear words and sounds and our eyes see words and images. Learning happens when our brain encodes that incoming information, stores it for a time when it is needed for retrieval. Because we are all coming at information with our own prior experiences, especially adult learners, de Graff suggests it might benefit our learners if we actually consider making 2-3 versions of a video which might address those with less or more experience instead of one video for a broader audience. This sounds like a good idea, but the reality of doing this probably won’t happen the first time you create a video for your course. I believe that De Graaf also comes from the training perspective and not the academic angle. Prior knowledge in industry and on-the-job training is perhaps a bit more predictive than at the academic level.  

When you begin to incorporate media into your course and, really, your goal for introducing any kind of new learning is to make the learning stick. De Graaf had a little exercise for the audience where he had a brain shape with several pieces of velcro on it. He gave several participants darts with a small piece of velcro on the end and asked them to try to hit the targets. One out of five darts met their target. Making it stick is also part of the retrieval process. A concept is living somewhere in your brain but you may not be able to retrieve it at the exact moment when you need it. I think we’ve all had the experience when something happens that makes us think about a person from your past but can’t for the life of you remember that person’s name. Until a few hours later the event when it comes to you. The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve shows that over time we forget at a very fast rate. I suspect that the actual curve is less dramatic if the content you are learning grabs your attention in the beginning as something relevant to your own prior knowledge or something in which you have passion.  


The original uploader was Icez at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So how do you increase the probability that learning can be remembered and retrieved in a timely manner? Repetition and interactive seem to be the best answers. Reinforce learning by repeating and repeating exposure, one day, two days, one week, two weeks, whatever it takes. The more repetition the easier and quicker the retrieval. de Graaf also mentioned an interesting thought about learning styles. He showed an example of two pieces of text similar to the following:

 If you can read this you will remember it. 


If you can read this you will remember it.

The second sentence is easier to read, isn’t it. I think we’ve all learned that contrast between text color and the backboard is one of the most important elements for readability. de Graaf said that the research suggests that because the first option is harder to read, we might have to work harder and put more effort into it to understand it and that that action might result in better learning. It’s a challenge. “No pain, no gain, applies to learning too!” This confirms my own thoughts about learning better when content isn’t delivered it my preferred learning style.

In addition to reinforcing learning through repetition, asking questions and adding interactivity into learning can help you remember. Much like Mazur mentioned in his video, you need to give students time to think about new concepts in order to make connects and mentally transfer that knowledge to their own experience. Asking questions, having students take short breaks, having students do something like answering a question, clicking, trying an activity, choosing a pathway or direction for more information, even just pausing for a moment to think about what you just experienced, can help to reinforce new ideas.

When you think about it, watching video is a very passive activity. Most often, we are watching video for entertainment. de Graaf suggestions that all videos should contain a warning similar to those found on cigarette packages or alcohol labels.




You may have experienced getting so engrossed in a video that you don’t realize how much time has gone by. One way to minimize the zombie effect would be to incorporate those pause mechanism to increase the interactivity between what you are watching and hearing and what you are thinking.

The one-hour presentation was a good starting point and de Graaf provided a few interesting resources to research further. My big takeaway is that there are strategies for making good video choices in education as long as you make them purposeful and engaging.


Additional Hints (in no particular order)

Color – in most cases and unless you’re pointing out something in particular, your brain doesn’t need color to learn or understand.

Information overload – one topic, one video. Watching five 2-minute videos that cover one topic each is more brain-friendly than one 10-minute video that covers all five topics at the same time.

Personalization – you should use a conversational style as if you were talking directly to your audience. (You, I, we) deGraaf suggests dressing up the camera in some clothes, perhaps with a tie to keep things formal (what a joker) so that when you are addressing your audience you feel more like you’re addressing real people. I know some people actually try to have a live audience when they make their videos so they have someone to make eye contact with and to see to get a visual cue that the content is making sense. The thing to remember is that if your viewers ask questions or make comments, you need to make sure to repeat the question or comment so it is picked up in the audio. If you are making 3-5 minute videos (which is preferred), you probably don’t need to have that kind of audience participation.

Background – remove extraneous distractions both static and those in motion. If you’re sitting at your desk, clean up the background. Make sure the image that is on the wall behind you doesn’t look like you’re wearing a fruit bowl on your head. If you’re taking your video in the park and there are a couple of dogs playing behind you — no one will be paying attention to what you’re talking about or doing, we’ll be watching the dogs!

Attention Graber – just like in marketing and promotional writing, you have just a few seconds to grab your viewer’s attention. Skip the “Welcome to Class 101, I’m your instructor, blah blah blah” and start with a question, a statistic or a story.

Note: I’m going to DevLearning/Adobe Summit for Education in November and I see that Mr. de Graaf is giving a pre-conference session. I won’t be able to make that session but maybe I’ll see him at some of the conference sessions.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s