The Power of the Short: Making the Most of Brief Instructional Videos

online student

When it comes to instructional tools, few can deny the benefits of using videos in the classroom. Since the days of the filmstrip, this medium has been used to supplement classroom instruction. Today’s classrooms are filled with a myriad of images, video clips, and other multimedia resources. Integrating multimedia elements is how we gain students’ attention and engage them in our content. Videos can also improve working memory and learning, especially with focused attention on visual-spatial and pictorial elements (Gyselinck et al., 2000). However, if multimedia content is not used effectively we lose the opportunity to harness this powerful tool.

Many believe that brevity is key to using multimedia elements in the classroom. There are many news outlets espousing that human attention spans are shrinking. While this has yet to be proven in actual research, it does highlight the fact that this perception is prevalent. Think about how this perception pervades our society with short snappy headlines, hashtags, text language, emoticons and other social networking pictures and posts.

Brief videos can not only capture students’ attention, but are also quite effective for learning. Think back to the days of School House Rock. During the 1970s and 1980s, these short, animated films were a staple of the Saturday morning cartoons. The educational influence of these short videos was, and still is, tremendous. Many children learned multiplication, grammar, and even memorized the Preamble to the Constitution through these engaging short films, which live on through a dedicated YouTube channel.

Consider the features of these short films that make them so powerful for learning. The primary feature to consider is the compact nature of the short video; it provides a great opportunity to use the chunking technique for instruction. Chunking is the instructional strategy of dividing content into manageable learning pieces. Chunking is an effective instructional strategy in the face-to-face classroom, but is also an effective practice in the virtual classroom. Lehman and Conceição (2013) found that using chunking in the online environment reduced cognitive overload and assisted students in focusing on the content. Focused attention on the course content is needed for effective learning.

The other important feature of video is the content itself. Ljubojevic, Vaskovic, Stankovic, and Vaskovic (2014) found that educational video content, as opposed to something that’s merely entertaining, can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of learning. Many teachers use clips of movies, TV shows, or music videos to gain students’ attention. Although entertainment video shorts can be helpful in that regard, content matters.

Content-rich video shorts can be used to introduce a topic or develop a major concept, theory, or construct. YouTube is filled with videos that explain how to perform a specific task, like setting up a citation in Word. Short videos can even present a paradigm and assist the instructor in developing a frame of mind about the course content. This can be very powerful in the virtual classroom since it is more difficult to develop a classroom culture or professional mindset. The possibilities for effective teaching with short videos are only limited by the creativity and effort of the instructor.

Tapping into the power of video
Given all the tools readily available, creating brief videos to align to your course content is fairly simple. In my experience, even short animated videos can be used successfully with graduate students. The key is to pay attention to exactly what is being conveyed in the video. As a rule, simple is better, but that does not mean elementary. The level of the concept can be high, as long as it is not overly complicated given the timeframe. For example, understanding strategic planning is a complex endeavor and would be difficult to present effectively in a video short. However, comparing the concepts of mission and vision can easily be conveyed through this medium.

My students appreciate the YouTube channels and videos I have linked in my course learning management system (LMS). I use short videos to help students develop a variety of research concepts (Chris Flipp’s channel is my favorite). These videos have similar themes and graphic characteristics, and they clearly present one construct. I have found these extremely valuable in both my virtual and on-campus classes. These video shorts are animated, yet have strong, focused content that connects with students.

Using video demonstrations of skills has enhanced my students’ learning as well. I use video capturing software (like Ilos) to explain how to revise writing after receiving my feedback, and to demonstrate how to navigate the LMS and learning resources. These brief videos have decreased the number of questions I receive on basic course procedures. I also use these types of videos to demonstrate for students how to conduct effective Internet research. One student noted, “I feel more confident in researching now, because all I needed was for someone to show me how.” One of the key features of using screen capturing video is that it allows you to demonstrate a skill using the same software that students are using.

Here are two examples of videos I created for my students:

The most interesting power play using video shorts is the potential for developing positive perspectives about course content and presenting, even shifting, the paradigms of students. This is particularly appropriate for online teaching and learning. Conveying points of view and perspectives can be challenging, especially in the virtual classroom. The video short provides a method to connect information, emotion, and perspective to develop a desired paradigm. For example, I have noticed that my students are developing more of a “scholar-practitioner” mindset since I began using video shorts designed to convey some of the key principles involved in this way of thinking. I believe this capability to develop positive perspectives, and even professional dispositions, could be the most powerful influence of video.

Successfully teaching with video shorts does require attention to a few key characteristics in developing and using video. Characteristics to consider include the type and complexity of the content; the purpose of the video; the theme, graphics, and audio features; and the overall quality. Here are several practical strategies for tapping into the power of the video short:

  1. Analyze the video. It is important to determine exactly what content, skills, or concept is being conveyed. Consider the images and the audio as well. All multimedia elements should communicate a consistent and content-rich message.
  2. Determine your purpose. Choose videos that clearly fulfill their instructional purpose. Use video shorts to instruct, rather than merely entertain. Use video shorts to chunk the content for students. Some videos can serve multiple purposes, like developing a construct and conveying a perspective.
  3. Determine location. The purpose and content should guide when and where to use a short in the learning sequence. Video shorts are perfect for supporting the flipped classroom. Appropriate timing and placement of videos within the course content can improve effectiveness.
  4. Ensure quality. Poorly recorded, elementary, or incongruent images/audio impede a video’s instructional value. The quality of the video is important to engage and motivate student learning (Ljubojevic, Vaskovic, Stankovic, & Vaskovic, 2014). Strong video content engages students and increases learning.

Quality video shorts can increase learning, demonstrate important skills, and even develop positive perspectives. Not only will you gain students’ attention, but you can engage them in important course content. Used for instruction, the video short offers great potential for adding power to your classroom!


Gyselinck, V., Ehrlich, M.-F., Cornoldi, C., De Beni, R. and Dubois, V. (2000), Visuospatial working memory in learning from multimedia systems. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 16(2), 166–176. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2729.2000.00128.x

Lehman, R. M. & Conceição, Simone C. O. (2013). Motivating and retaining online students: Research-based strategies that work. Somerset, US: Jossey-Bass, 2013.

Ljubojevic, M., Vaskovic, V., Stankovic, S., & Vaskovic, J. (2014). Using supplementary video in multimedia instruction as a teaching tool to increase efficiency of learning and quality of experience. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 15(3), 275-291.

Kimberly Chappell is an assistant professor of education at Fort Hays State University and the specialist in education (Ed.S.) program coordinator.

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