The Purposeful Use of Video in Digital Curriculum

August 21, 2018

This is the ninth blog in a series where we will be exploring the topic of innovation and its impact on digital curriculum. 

Education Week recently blogged about a study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience tracking the content retention of 12 high school students during a biology class. Six scheduled classes over the course of the semester were organized such that class materials were presented using different teaching styles (videos and lectures, i.e. a flipped classroom), and students completed a multiple-choice quiz after each class to measure their retention of that lesson's content. As part of the experiment, some of the lessons in the study were presented using different teaching styles, including videos and lectures, after which students took a multiple-choice quiz. According to the research, video lessons resulted in higher content retention and engagement across the board.

It’s important to note that that this was a group of only 12 high school students during regular biology lessons in a flipped classroom setting. Additionally, the research does not specify the length of the video lectures, the tone of the video, how engaging it was or how it motivated the students. Also, these were only the initial findings and not the full study, which is not yet completed.

Effective Use of Video

Attention is a necessary condition of learning, and video, clearly, is effective at capturing people’s attention. But the fact that we consume video is not proof that video is always appropriate for the types of active learning necessary to prepare today’s students for success in tomorrow’s world. Like any instructional asset, video needs to serve best design practices.

The following findings, culled from a body of e-learning literature and research, support the use of video because:

  • Today’s students inhabit a visual/multimedia driven world and excel at visual decoding.
  • Video provides a multi-sensory/multi-modal approach that can effectively anchor concepts.
  • Video allows below proficient readers to participate, whereas they may otherwise skip a text-based presentation.
  • For most instructional videos, shorter durations increase attention and retention.
  • Video can place content in a dramatic, more personalized context.
  • It is an efficient way to present complex material, particularly information that is difficult to read.
  • Viewing and visual representation are recognized as a literacy/language art skill by the International Literacy Association


Rob Nelson of, a veteran producer of science videos, cites his experience and research when discussing the difference in videos that may be called “student snoozers” (boring, ineffective) or “student igniters” (engaging, gets the student excited to learn) (Nelson, 2011). While Nelson found a direct correlation between student interest in a video segment and retention of information, he indicates that both long length and “voice of God” narration are two factors that contribute to videos that are “student snoozers.” In contrast, “student igniters” are videos that attend to durations, humor, engaging hosts, and fast-paced editing style.

Intentional Use of Video in Digital Curriculum

Videos should be situational parts of larger lessons that combine on-screen text, interactive media, chances for self-assessment, and video to achieve educational outcomes. A few examples of effective use of video to impact learning include:

  • Video as a hook used to engage students
  • Video used to instruct and meet learning objectives
  • Observational video which allows a student to closely examine an event or process, particularly a scientific event
  • Video used to summarize and review
  • Video used to present multiple perspectives, often with interviews of multiple people edited together
  • Video used to provide access to experts
  • Interactive video, which is used to allow students to interact and answer questions
  • On-location video, which is used to set real world context
  • Video skits wherein peers act out a situation


Check out a few examples of how we, at Apex Learning, are using video throughout our curriculum to meet students’ instructional needs:

  • Discussion Tactic Part 6 (ELA) uses a video skit to act out a situation.

  • Interactions in Eco Systems (Middle School Life Science) breaks down a challenging concept to make learning clear.

  • Cross Sections of Geometric Solids (Geometry) uses video to summarize and review cross sections.


To learn more about our digital curriculum or to see a demo of our courses, reach out to Jean Sharp at or

Grad Selfie


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