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Nov 21, 2017 Phylise Banner

Modern Learners: Built to Observe

modern learners in online training Did you know that more than 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute? Yes, YouTube has significantly changed the way we access and process learning.

For many of us, instead of reading through an instruction manual, we search YouTube for a video that will guide us through “how to.” We can watch these over and over again, pausing where we need to look closer or to better understand what the subject matter expert is trying to get across. Of course we could read, and re-read, that instructional manual – so why do we turn to video?

In the article “Why We Love How-to Videos,” Tom Vanderbilt shares the answer he got from Luc Proteau, head of the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Montreal:

“We are built to observe,” as Proteau tells me. There is, in the brain, a host of regions that come together under a name that seems to describe YouTube itself, called the action-observation network. “If you’re looking at someone performing a task,” Proteau says, “you’re in fact activating a bunch of neurons that will be required when you perform the task. That’s why it’s so effective to do observation.” We are, in effect, simulating doing the task ourselves, warming up the same neurons that will be used when we actually give it a go.

The article from Vanderbilt also advances that watching other novices struggle to master skills can help us learn, with the bottom line being that “seeing learning happening actually helps us learn.” I would go a step further and offer that hearing learning happen can work the same way.

The State of Video

For the past several years, Kaltura has produced The State of Video in Education Report, in which they share insight into how video is perceived and used in learning, as well as their thoughts on digital literacy, effective practices, and future trends. The 2016 report shared that more than 1,500 learning professionals unanimously agreed that video has the potential to create a real impact on education by:

  • Changing the way learners engage with and retain content
  • Increasing learner satisfaction and retention
  • Influencing learning outcomes
  • Impacting the overall learning experience

It looks to me like we are still in alignment with Edison and Wise.

Looping back, I found something extremely interesting while exploring Wise’s research results from 1939 as explained in The Flickering Mind:

Wise found the benefit of classroom films so dependent on the circumstances – the particular subject matter, the course objectives, the students’ knowledge base, and the skill of the teacher – that they could only be endorsed for use “as a supplement.”

Fast forward to 2017, where we still need to remember that our multimedia learning elements will only be beneficial when we contextualize our content, align the premise of media with learning objectives, take our learner’s prior knowledge into consideration, and understand the strengths and limitations of our instructors, producers, and facilitators (as well as supporting technologies).

Some things never change.


Published by Phylise Banner November 21, 2017
Phylise Banner