Off with his (talking) head
July 30, 2020 9:11 AM   Subscribe

I am creating some technical training content for online viewing. I'm debating between having a talking head visible for some or all of the content and am interested in finding out if there's any studies that would indicate whether students learn better with or without it.

The main content will alternate between slides and screen captures of actions being taken on a computer. The target audience is IT staff with 2-5 years of experience. The content will range from 30-120 minutes and each class will be standalone, so there's no need to build rapport like a professor might with a semester long class. The material will be presented in a group viewing format with live Q&A via Slack/Discord/etc. as well as on-demand solo viewing.

Other factors - I have professional video and lighting equipment, so this would not just be a webcam recording, though I have limited enough space it wouldn't look studio quality. I'm comfortable being on camera. Increasing my recognizability in the industry wouldn't be a bad thing but I'm more interested in sharing knowledge than building a brand.

I'm looking for studies (and why you might trust that study) that measure whether having a video component helps or hinders learning but some level of personal anecdotes is fine too. I've read a few studies that go either way and one interesting one that emphasized that switching from having video to not having video seemed to be detrimental to learning technical subjects.
posted by Candleman to Education (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I used to work for a large provider of online training for employees, and we did research on this in our programs. The data was clear: When the instructor had video on, we saw higher engagement in each of the three areas we measured. Learners were more likely to be paying attention to the training (vs. using another application on their computer), we had higher levels of engagement in the online chat, and higher completion rates of post-session surveys. The data was compelling enough to get us to change our practices and require every instructor to be on video, and we upgraded the audio and video equipment for all of our instructors, too.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:25 AM on July 30, 2020 [12 favorites]

Best answer: NotMyselfRightNow has it exactly right. I'm an online learning instructional designer.
posted by angiep at 9:31 AM on July 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: And as a follow-up, did you notice any difference between a headshot vs. 1/2 body shot?
posted by Candleman at 9:47 AM on July 30, 2020

We didn't mandate what the instructor did, but it was overwhelmingly shoulders-up.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:55 AM on July 30, 2020

Best answer: Here is an article featuring noted online instructor and researcher Barbara Oakley, who references some legit scholarly research but also gives you some practical tips on how to improve your videos. All work by Oakley is amazing, especially her course "Learning how to Learn". I highly recommend taking this course if you'll be doing this longterm.

As a producer of online videos, I acknowledge that video of instructors is generally more engaging. However, to offer a counterpoint, not every instructor is capable of doing well onscreen and video editing can be much more time-consuming then, say, an online voiceover with slides and demos.

If an instructor is prone to flubs (misspeaking, forgetting lines, etc.) this can become a nightmare from a production standpoint. There's also a personal preference, there are many courses I simply had to quit because the instructor persona was cringy, or ill-suited for video. (Although the same is true for other types as well, but IMO video amplifies those flaws).
posted by jeremias at 10:27 AM on July 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't have research, but from an accessibility standpoint, showing the speaker's face can make it easier for people with either low hearing or certain learning disabilities to follow what's being said. A surprising amount of ambiguous audio can be understood if you can see the speaker's face.
posted by gideonfrog at 1:58 PM on July 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Chiming in that in my experience students remain more engaged when they can see me, and also adding a plug for closed captioning--both help with accessibility issues.
posted by stellaluna at 2:52 PM on July 30, 2020

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