During our recent webinar, “Reaching New Audiences through Online Training,” one attendee asked, “Do people retain training better, same or not as much with video versus reading?” I wanted to poke around in the research before answering.
It turns out that the research doesn’t offer a very clear answer. As can be the case, different studies show different things (ever wonder if butter is good or bad for you?).
Individual studies can lead to cherry-picking the results; for that reason, meta-studies (which collect and review several different studies) are often helpful. A 2010 US Department of Education review of evidence-based practices in online learning (PDF) includes a section that looks at the impact that different media elements have on learning outcomes (see pages 40-41).
The authors find that, in general, studies indicate that the addition of video (as well as other elements, such as images, graphics, or audio) doesn’t affect learning outcomes significantly. So the answer to the question is most likely “about the same.”
Learners may prefer to watch a video rather than follow on-screen illustrations or text, but there’s little evidence that this (or any other) learning preference affects their mastery of the material (as judged by how well they do when tested on knowledge).
That being said, there’s some evidence that the topic matters. More recent individual studies do indicate that video may be more effective than text when teaching practical, procedural techniques (however, see the risk of cherry-picking, above).
If you’d like to improve learning outcomes, the 2010 study offers several insights, including the idea providing opportunities for self-reflection, self-regulation, and self-monitoring makes learning more effective (regardless of medium; really, the study offers a ton of actionable insights).
And, a caveat. Most of the research on learning has been done in undergraduate university institutions. Some has been done on K-12 education, some on adult learners. In addition, sometimes research is older. Is this evidence valid for adult learners in 2016, given the changes both in audience and in elearning over time?
Questions like these should promote caution when interpreting and applying results. Even with their limitations, I’d suggest that these (and similar) research studies may be a more helpful guide than many alternatives (such as opinions of experts, personal preference, or conventional wisdom).
Based on this interpretation of the research, the advantages that video offers may be best seen in access (across browsers and platforms) and delivery (especially on mobile devices).
Until next time,