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Why a Pause May Be the Best Thing for Your Video Lessons

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Guest post by Swaroop Raju, co-founder of eduCanon.

Animations have become much easier to create with the growth of software like Powtoons and GoAnimate that enable you to create free, engaging animations. This is a huge improvement over traditional Flash or other production technologies, which take hours of professional labor to produce just minutes of usable footage.  

We know that animations (and moving pictures for that matter) engage learners, teach procedures effectively, and help students visualize information difficult to describe in words. Recent research put out by Cheon et al. in an issue of Educational Technology & Society (see original article) surprisingly points out, however, that animations are not always superior to static images for teaching. The primary reason for this is a concept known as cognitive overload.

Cognitive overload happens when the demands of the medium put more of a strain on our working memory than our brain has capacity to deal with. As the amount, complexity, or speed of information in the video exceeds the learner's processing capacity, all of the benefits of video fade away. In other words, the transiency of information may not provide learners with sufficient time to process all of the elements in an animation. By the time your brain has processed a complex frame, the video has moved on to the next.  

Now how do we battle this cognitive overload? It almost seems to be a natural consequence of any educational video we deliver to our students. 

Cheon et al. discovered that significant improvements in our ability to process information happen when pauses are inserted into the video. And more significantly, the decrease in cognitive overload is more apparent with active pauses where the learner answers a question or engages in an activity. A few proposed strategies for the pause:

  1. Use the pause to introduce relevant information before the video content. This provides our brain context and allows us to process information more deeply and effectively. 
  2. Use the pause to signify an event boundary in the video. We process information better when it is segmented into digestible components. For instance, in these lessons on Positive and Negative Feedback Loops, pauses are used to segment out examples and also transition between the content covering positive feedback loops and negative feedback loops. 
  3. Use the pause as an opportunity for active learning. Presenting questions during the pause requires the learner to recall information from the previous segment. It requires the learner to spend more time reflecting on all of the information recently learned. 

Until next time! 

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