Interaction beats out video lectures and even reading for learning

January 6, 2016 at 8:12 am 8 comments

I’m looking forward to these results!  That interaction is better than video lectures is really not surprising.  That it leads to better learning than even reading is quite a surprise.  My guess is that this is mediated by student ability as a reader, but as a description of where students are today (like the prior posts on active learning), it’s a useful result.

Koedinger and his team further tested whether their theory that “learning by doing” is better than lectures and reading in other subjects. Unfortunately, the data on video watching were incomplete. But they were able to determine across four different courses in computer science, biology, statistics and psychology that active exercises were six times more effective than reading. In one class, the active exercises were 16 times more effective than reading. (Koedinger is currently drafting a paper on these results to present at a conference in 2016.)

Source: Did you love watching lectures from your professors? – The Hechinger Report

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Interaction between Literacy and Content Learning: The Inconvenient Truth About Assessment Using Greek ideals to improve progress in education

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  January 6, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    Hi Mark

    I agree with your surmises that this is partly testing how well students can read, and especially how well they have learned how to learn via reading (this is a separate skill).

    Ken is a good guy, so I’m hoping he can be convinced to (a) look at norming a study like this with assessments of reading abilities and learning from reading abilities, and (b) to consider that there is no “one true ring” i.e. there’s overwhelming evidence that mixed mode encounters with ideas are the strongest of all.



  • 2. Dennis Frailey  |  January 6, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    This coincides with something I was listening to recently – an audio course on how the brain works. The course taught that there’s very strong evidence that we learn better from pictures than from words because it takes the brain more time to interpret words than pictures. The recommendation – fewer words and more pictures when you give lectures or teach courses. I think this aligns well with the concept of doing things being more educational than listening to lectures or reading. And in some ways it contradicts that traditional academic notion that children’s books need lots of pictures but not adult books.

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  January 6, 2016 at 8:33 pm

      We can remember pictures better than we can remember words (see for example, but that doesn’t mean that we learn from pictures (i.e., develop abstractions or detect patterns) better than from words. Consider for example, the series of studies by Marian Petre, T.R.G. Green, and Tom Mohrer on visual vs. textual programming languages. Textual languages won out every time. It’s easy for us to infer meaning and debug in the text than in the pictures. Petre and Green argue that that may not be hard-wired. We work in textual languages and have more experience in thinking in terms of text than we do pictures. VLSI designers, for example, do a lot of thinking in terms of pictures, so maybe they might learn to be better visually than textually — though Mohrer found that even people expert in visual notations were better when using textual notations.

      • 4. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  January 6, 2016 at 11:54 pm

        Having taught both VLSI design and programming, I have to say “it depends”. Some concepts are much easier to capture in pictorial form and some are much easier to capture in textual form. Trying to use the wrong form is an exercise in frustration (my thesis was about a programming language for doing VLSI layout—a bad idea that I dumped as soon as my PhD was granted).

        I think that schematics and block diagrams remain powerful in electronic engineering, because the interconnections that they capture are much harder to express in textual formats—translating fairly simple block diagrams and schematics to description languages is tedious and highly error-prone, as the textual description is much harder for designers to comprehend.

        On the other hand, converting fairly simple code into pictorial formats causes a similar difficulty in the opposite direction. Even fairly simple code can produce pictorial forms that are difficult to understand, because the geometric constraints don’t allow enough flexibility in presentation. All the pictorial representations of code I’ve seen get horribly cramped if the code is anything beyond a toy example.

  • 5. Walter Schilling  |  January 7, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    I think there are a couple of things at work here. I’m not sure that we learn better with active learning is anything new. I think that is pretty must established in the educational community. Obviously there are some things that reading and lecturing may be effective at, and learning types certainly do play some role here.

    I do see one flaw in the study related to the videos and MOOCS. The research shows that traditional lecturing is not very effective, and if videos are just headshots of traditional lectures, then I can certainly see them being less effective for learning. You are taking a bad model and making it slightly worse. I’ve seen this in several MOOCS that I have enrolled in just for informational purposes. 50 minute unindexed videos even for me were too much. However, if you carefully can edit your material to really only focus on the key points, then I am not certain this holds true. If you think of a 50 minute lecture, there probably are 4 to 5 key points to be made. If those can be explained very concisely in 8 to 10 minutes, then you may be successful with video. You see video does have certain advantages: pause, playback, etc. Given what is in the article, I have to wonder if what we are really seeing is that “bad” (non optimal, not necessarily poorly done) videos are not an effective method for learning.

    I think we also need to look at the venue. This study was looking at MOOCS. Does what we find with MOOCS necessarily translate into a flipped or blended classroom?

  • 6. Merryl Senuri (@merryl_senuri)  |  January 8, 2016 at 4:01 am

    Reading and video lectures has their part in learning but only when interaction is made in the classroom between teacher and the students it will become more effective. Active learning makes the students to learn eagerly and makes their brain more active.

    Edubilla – Global Education Information Portal

  • 7. ianholmes1988  |  January 9, 2016 at 11:47 am

    This is a great article. It allowed me to settle an argument with a colleague. Thank you for that.

  • […] curated online videos are better than live lectures, but I think we mean something different by “lectures.”) I also understand why making that course a requirement might undermine his efforts to motivate […]


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