Learning video design principles

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Producing High-quality, Sustainable Online Videos

As we continue our transition out of the Emergency Remote Teaching mode that has defined Higher Education over the past few years, we look for ways to maintain quality while creating sustainability for the long term. In the Learning, Enhancement and Innovation design and development team supporting PACE (Professional and Continuing Education), we work with subject matter experts on a daily basis, assisting them to produce high-quality videos that are sustainable over many iterations of micro-credentials and short courses.

In this blog post, we will share some easy-to-action strategies for maximising the suitability and impact of your video content.

Research shows that videos support learning particularly well when their purpose is aligned with the pedagogical goal of a learning sequence[1] and they are embedded within a sequence that enables learners to consolidate learning through active engagement in formative assessment. However, video production is a time-consuming process. This means that the first step is to decide ‘when to use video in your course’.

Once you have determined a video is the most suitable option, a set of evidence-based design principles[2] should be used to guide the video design and development process. As detailed below, some of the actions required to produce high-quality, sustainable videos are largely the responsibility of the educator or academic who is the subject matter expert.  Others may require support from Learning Designers (LDs), Course Builders (CBs) or the Media Production team from Learning Enhancement and Innovation (LEI). Alongside each of the principles below, we have unpacked ways in which you can apply these to your own practice.

[1] Hansch, Anna and Hillers, Lisa and McConachie, Katherine and Newman, Christopher and Schildhauer, Thomas and Schmidt, J. Philipp, Video and Online Learning: Critical Reflections and Findings from the Field (March 13, 2015). HIIG Discussion Paper Series No. 2015-02, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2577882  or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2577882

[2] Brame. (2016). Effective Educational Videos: Principles and Guidelines for Maximizing Student Learning from Video Content. CBE Life Sciences Education, 15(4)

Fyfield, M., Henderson, M., & Phillips, M. (2019). 25 Principles for effective instructional video design. In S. Chew Yi Wei, C. Kah Mun, & A. Alphonso (Eds.), Proceedings of Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education Annual Conference 2019: Diverse Learning. Diverse Goals. One Heart (pp. 418-423). Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE). 

Mayer. (2021). Evidence-Based Principles for How to Design Effective Instructional Videos. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 10(2), 229–240. 

Audio and visual elements

Videos should include both audio and visual elements. Academics and educators who are subject matter experts are well-placed to know what is best suited to the content in this regard.  Remembering that sometimes, less is more. The actions below are a good guide.

  • Prepare a short and uncomplicated script together with engaging visual elements to support the content either literally or conceptually. PowerPoint slides that include 2 or 3 keywords can be used effectively in this way. Guided by subject matter experts, Course Builders can highlight important information on the screen using changes in colour or symbols to draw attention to a region of the screen.
  • Ensure that graphics such as diagrams are clearly labelled with text appropriately placed on-screen to support the graphic. This Heart Foundation video about heart valves and heart valve disease includes some excellent examples of labelling.
  • Plan to include yourself in the video to add a personal touch. When being filmed you should maintain eye contact with the camera and use dynamic gestures as much as possible. You might also write or draw on a board such as a lightboard if this is appropriate for the content. In this video, created for the PACE micro-credential Online Blended Learning and Teaching, the SME uses the lightboard to introduce e-learning theories.
  • Speak at a natural pace and with enthusiasm timed to match the presentation of the visual material on-screen.
  • Avoid reading large amounts of text from the screen. The on-screen text should only be read word-for-word if it is less than 4 words.

If you are being supported by LEI then you could also consider making more advanced videos that include on-screen animated characters and objects that gesture and move in a natural way. LEI Course Builders can work with you to design and develop suitable animations. The YouTube Channels listed below include some good examples of animated learning videos.

Content and Sustainability

The decision to make a learning video should be informed by the content. In consultation with Learning Designers and Course Builders, academics and educators who are subject matter experts should choose the video mode which is most appropriate for the content and its learning purpose.

Take the following actions when they are relevant to your content.

  • Prepare to film demonstrations and procedures from the first-person perspective. This should be reflected in the narration as well as in the filming.
  • Present information in chunks so that videos are less than 6 minutes or 6-9 minutes with chapters. This is particularly important for difficult content and content such as core concepts.
  • Ensure that all screen elements contribute to the learning goal. Avoid using large logos and complex backgrounds.
  • If animations are to be included, make sure that they have a clear affective or cognitive purpose that aligns with your pedagogical goal.
  • Ensure that your script uses a conversational style (“I” for the narrator’s perspective) and “speaks” to the learners (“you” rather than “the learner”).
  • Ensure each video is part of a logical learning sequence by including the following as part of the video or as supporting text or activities:
    • an introduction and clarification of key concepts and terminology
    • a statement of context for the specific learning cohort so that they know how and why the video content is relevant to them
    • interactive questions or a reflective task after about 5 minutes of viewing
    • guiding questions or associated learning activities in which learners apply their learning from the video
  • Ensure the sustainability of your videos over the long term (3-5 years) by avoiding speaking about aspects of the course which are likely to change e.g., cohort-specific dates/assessments
Usability and accessibility

Learning videos should be accessible across all the most widely-used devices, operating systems and browsers to support student learning in a wide range of contexts and locations. Course Builders aim to ensure this as part of the post-production process. If there are specific recommendations or unavoidable exceptions, these should be clearly stated. Course Builders will also provide maximum usability and accessibility by using appropriate font sizes and colours and embedding downloadable transcripts underneath videos on course pages according to Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. They will also include features that allow the learner to control their progress such as:

  • Pause, stop, rewind 
  • Volume
  • Speed
  • Chapter navigation
  • Captions on/off
  • 10-second rewind

These suggested actions are based on evidence. They aim to support the production of high-quality learning videos.  Please contact the PACE Design and Development Team in Learning Enhancement and Innovation for more information or to find out what these principles look like in the videos we produce.

You might also find the resources below useful:


PACE Design and Development Team, Learning Enhancement and Innovation



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