Effective Learning Videos

As I explained in previous posts (here, here, and here), a good course is a lot more than just content. But that’s not to say that high-quality content (such as effective learning videos) is not important. In principle, the course content can be delivered through a great variety of formats such as:

  • Video lessons
  • Audio lessons
  • Texts
  • Images
  • Diagrams
  • Infographics etc.

Because video is the format about which we receive the most questions, and which typically consumes most of a course’s budget, we will focus on it in this post.

Unit Video With A Video as a Main Resource e.g. iversity – Visual Thinking for Business

Unit Video With A Video as a Main Resource e.g. iversity – Visual Thinking for Business

First of all: good online courses are not just lectures on tape! They offer much more for both sides, in terms of possibilities for the instructor as well as in terms of the result for learners. Effective learning videos differ from traditional lectures in many ways. Creating a video is completely different from preparing a lecture. The difference is similar to that of performing a play and filming a movie.

Giving a lecture is a one-time event. It takes place in a specific location (a classroom or a lecture hall) at a specific time each week. Once you have given the lecture, it is over and done with, and you will never see it again.

In contrast, you can produce effective learning videos in random order, over a long period of time, and in multiple locations. You are no longer tied to the lecture hall or a blackboard. You can curate multiple instructors. And if you take a field trip, you can bring all of your learners along with you.

There is also a difference in scale. When delivering a lecture to 400 students, a lecturer is inclined to address the entire room all at once. When delivering a video lecture, you are creating a one-on-one relationship with the learner. You are teaching several thousand people, but one at a time. The instructor is everyone’s private tutor.

Finally, you can edit a video in post-production. Once you give a lecture, you can’t change it any more. But when you make a video, you can edit out small mistakes, awkward silences, and stitch different pieces together. Also, you can add animations and visual metaphors to facilitate comprehension and retention.

Six Different Types of Effective Learning Videos

There are a few different types of capturing video material for video lectures:

  • Story-based Instruction
  • Documentary Style
  • Studio Production
  • Improvised / Low-budget
  • Tablet Capture
  • Animation

The best and most compelling online courses combine different video production techniques. Methodological diversity brings about refreshing variation. Keep in mind that not every style works for everyone. Even the most engaging classroom lecturer can come off as wooden and staged when faced with only a camera. On the other hand, it’s not always within budget to create visually appealing animations. Remember: in online learning, budget doesn’t equal effectiveness. It is important to play to your strengths and to keep your audience in mind!

Let’s look at the different options in a bit more detail:

Story-based Instruction

Creating a story around the course content places the learner in a fictional context. Working through the learning material becomes not just a cognitive challenge, but an emotional experience. This approach is particularly well-suited to building the intrinsic motivation necessary to engage with a course when learners are very busy and have no immediate extrinsic motivation to complete it (e.g. an exam).

Story-based Instruction

Story-based Instruction e.g. Agile Management on iversity

Story-based Instruction e.g. Agile Management on iversity

Pro & Cons

+ High emotional engagement sparks learners’ curiosity

+ The narrative underlines the importance and relevance of the topic at hand

– Writing a full script for a compelling story is a lot of work

– Working with different actors is a complex and expensive undertaking

Difficult to shoot additional material later


Documentary Style

In some situations, it can be very powerful to film on-site – either inside or outside – much like is being done in documentary filmmaking. The setting of a scene sets a certain kind of tone.


Effective Learning Videos: Outside e.g. "Social Innovation" on iversity

Outside e.g. “Social Innovation” on iversity


Effective Learning Videos: Inside e.g. "Predictive Analytics" on iversity

Inside e.g. “Predictive Analytics” on iversity

Pro & Cons

+ It can be very authentic to explain something right there “where the magic happens”

+ Visiting multiple experts in different locations offers learners multiple perspectives on an issue – something that simply could not be done easily in an on-site seminar

– Expensive (travel, permits etc.)

– Requires sophisticated cameras, lighting, and an experienced crew

– Difficult to shoot additional material later


Studio Production

Studio production gives you a lot more control over your shots. Furthermore, you work in a professional environment, so your video generally looks a lot more polished. This mode works particularly well if you work with one instructor who is an excellent public speaker, and knows how to draw learners in through intonation, body language, and gestures.

Studio with green-screen and post-production

Effective Learning Videos: Studio with green-screen and post-production e.g. “Visual Thinking” on iversity 

Studio with green-screen and post-production e.g. “Visual Thinking” on iversity

Writing on plexiglass

Effective Learning Videos: Writing on Plexiglass e.g. Prof. Frank Slomka on Youtube

Writing on plexiglass e.g. Prof. Frank Slomka on Youtube

Drawing on real paper

Effective Learning Videos: Drawing on real paper e.g. “Visual Thinking” on iversity 

Drawing on real paper e.g. “Visual Thinking” on iversity

Pro & Cons

+ Premium look and feel

+ Many possibilities to modify the footage in post-production

+ Controlled environment with professional staff

– Potentially sterile 

– Relatively expensive

– Difficult to shoot additional material later


Improvised / Low-budget

This is in many ways the very opposite of the other approaches, which require detailed planning and often significant resources. In a sense, this is the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach to the production of effective learning videos. The fact that it is cheap, however, does not mean that it cannot be effective. This mode of instruction is particularly suitable if you need to produce content ad-hoc or on a shoestring budget.

Text annotation on wallpaper

Effective Learning Videos: Text annotation on wallpaper e.g. literary analysis on Youtube

Text annotation on wallpaper e.g. literary analysis on Youtube

Socratic Dialogue in front of flipboard

Effective Learning Videos: Socratic Dialogue in front of flipboard e.g. SEOmoz Whiteboard Friday 

Socratic Dialogue in front of flipboard e.g. SEOmoz Whiteboard Friday


Effective Learning Videos: Selfie-video e.g. Corporate Digital Learning on iversity 

Selfie-video e.g. “Corporate Digital Learning” on iversity


Effective Learning Videos: Skype-interview e.g. “Social Innovation” on iversity

Skype-interview e.g. “Social Innovation” on iversity

Pro & Cons

+ Fast and easy to produce

+ Low production cost

+ Easy to shoot additional material later

+ Highly authentic

– Potentially issues with quality (lighting, sound etc.)



A popular way of presenting material in order to create effective learning videos is by using a tablet capture device. All you need is a computer, a tablet, a head-mounted microphone, a mouse and a keyboard. A tablet can be used not only for writing on a blank page, but also for annotation, drawing or sketching on a powerpoint slide, a picture or even a video. This way of presenting is particularly suitable if the material needs to be explained in great detail.

Tablet capture colour on black

Effective Learning Videos: Tablet capture colour on black e.g. Khan Academy

Tablet capture colour on black e.g. Khan Academy

Tablet capture black on fake paper

Effective Learning Videos: Tablet capture black on fake paper e.g. Jörn Loviscach’s Maths videos on Youtube 

Tablet capture black on fake paper e.g. Jörn Loviscach’s Maths videos on Youtube

Tablet capture with superimposed fake hand

Effective Learning Videos: Tablet capture with superimposed fake hand e.g. "How to Build a Start-Up" on Udacity

Tablet capture with superimposed fake hand e.g. “How to Build a Start-Up” on Udacity

Pro & Cons

+ Easy, fast, and excellent for conveying complex concepts (e.g. maths)

+ Has a ‘one-on-one’ feel where the instructor becomes the learner’s personal tutor

+ Because the speaker is not visible, these videos can be heavily and easily edited, so you can start and stop multiple times

+ Relatively easy to shoot additional material later

– Direct engagement of learners only via voice

– Many people’s handwriting is difficult to read



Animation is probably the most challenging video format from a production perspective. Two things are a must: exceptional creativity as well as artistic and technical skills. On the plus side, however, everything is possible in animation! High quality animated video can therefore help to really condense a lecture by combining the audio and visual tracks to maximum effect, e.g. in a trailer.

Pre-drawn cut-outs

Effective Learning Videos: Pre-drawn cut-outs e.g. simpleshow 

Pre-drawn cut-outs e.g. simpleshow

Timelapse comic illustration

Effective Learning Videos: Timelapse comic illustration e.g. RSA Animate 

Timelapse comic illustration e.g. RSA Animate

Digital animation

Effective Learning Videos: Digital animation e.g. Sofatutor 

Digital animation e.g. Sofatutor

Kinetic text

Effective Learning Videos: Kinetic text e.g. IDEO for Hackfwd

Kinetic text e.g. IDEO for Hackfwd

Pro & Cons

+ If done well, animated videos can be very engaging, dense and compelling

+ Helps to break down complex concepts using a combination of text and visuals

+ Because the speaker is not visible, these videos can be heavily and easily edited

– Very time-consuming and expensive

– Requires a lot of technical and artistic skills

To sum up: there are numerous different approaches to creating effective learning videos, all of which can be successful depending on the context. When choosing an approach, course designers have to balance a number of different factors: experience of the instructor, budget, timeline, target audience… Also, as explained at the beginning of this post, a healthy mix of different styles will often go a long way.


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Our course catalogue is just going to keep growing, so to make sure you don’t miss out on that course you’ve been looking for, we want to make it easier for you to find it. We are happy to announce a new feature on our courses page! Now you can filter the course catalogue according to course start, language and keyword search. Get a quick overview of all of the different course subjects we offer and other essential details, and start learning right away.

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 11.57.21

How it works

Filter by course start time – Narrow your search by selecting whether a course is already running (current), hasn’t yet started (upcoming) or already finished.

Filter by language – With the language drop-down menu you can browse courses offered in German, English and Russian.

Refine a search – Type keywords into the Search function to customise your search even more. The keywords you enter will be matched according to the course titles and content.

Now that you know how it works, find what you want to study next and check out our course catalogue!

Go to courses

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We want even more great, high-quality courses! So, now it’s time to announce a new portal on iversity.org that gives professors and students who know great professors the chance to make a MOOC. It’s simple – in just a few clicks, you will be in contact with iversity, we will start a conversation about your ideas and see if we can collaborate and bring the course to life. 

Bring the lecture hall online

The benefits of online learning are not limited to the students. The digital era of education is here and professors now have the chance to open their classroom to the world. Get your ideas out there and expand your audience and network on a global scale. With the new online tools that digital education offers, this is also an chance to explore new innovative teaching methods. Maybe you have already considered making a MOOC but you weren’t sure where to start. Just visit the Teach Portal and make contact. Learn about what a MOOC looks like, the didactical methods of online learning, how the platform works and how iversity will collaborate with you to ensure a high-quality course. 

Recruit your favourite professor – get an iPad!

One of the best ways to find good professors is to simply ask the students. So that’s why we turn to you! If you know a great professor who you think needs to be shared with the world, let them know about us and let us know about them. Just follow the link below and we’ll walk you through it. It’s easy – and, if we end up making a course with them, you’ll get an iPad!

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For some courses on iversity, it’s exam time! For instance, over the holiday break, Prof. Anja Mihr will ask her students to solve tasks in her Public Privacy course, and as course users will soon find out, she will introduce the peer-to-peer (P2P) assessment format. So, what is this P2P thing? Sceptical? Well, let’s explain.

As its own chapter at the end of a course and/or while the course runs, exams can come in 3 forms depending on what the professor decides is best: multiple choice/single answer, open answer or P2P. The P2P format allows for students to exchange knowledge with each other, while also making it possible to assess hundreds of thousands of students in a short period of time. The P2P is supposed to be an incentive to participate and boost your knowledge, because as we all know from our school and university times: You’re only good at things that you really had to work through by yourself. So this is how it works:

Submit your answer – and keep the deadline in mind!

First of all, you will be asked to answer a question or solve a problem. Once you have confirmed the start of the exam, you must submit your answers within a limited timeframe indicated in minutes. If you fail to submit your answers or miss the deadline, this will result in a failed exam. Once started, the exam cannot be paused for any reason, including internet connection problems. The exam will continue to run even if you close the browser window. The reason for these strict conditions is simple: We have to ensure equal and fair exam conditions for everyone. Given the large number of course participants, it is impossible to make individual exceptions. So be sure to take note of the exam’s timeframe (and time zone) and keep an eye on the timer after you begin. 

Reviewing your peers’ answers

After completing and submitting your exam, you will be asked to take part in the peer review. You will get an email notification when the review process starts. Then you can start to assess and grade seven of your fellow students’ exams. Your professor will provide you with criteria for the assessment: a scoring scale and corresponding scoring criteria. 

One example: Say your professor suggests a scoring scale from 0 to 5, with 0 being the lowest and 5 being the highest score you can give. Suppose the task given by your professor was to submit photos and give examples. A scoring system might appear as follows:

0 = student did not upload a photo or give examples

2 = student uploaded a photo and gave 2 examples

4 = student uploaded a photo and gave 4 examples

These guidelines will help you make a fair judgement and also ensure that everyone of your fellow students are treated equally. To make things even easier, the scoring criteria will be visible to you while you score each of your colleagues’ answers. In some cases, you will also be asked to give comments and feedback. Please keep in mind: There is also a deadline for reviewing all seven exams!

Lots of learning and a personal final grade

The work you invested will pay off: You will have learned about your fellow students’ approaches to solving a task and you’ll be surprised by how many different ways there are to tackle a scientific question. In addition, you get the reward you deserve: your final grade. You will receive an email notifying you of your results after the peer reviewing process has closed. 

It’s as easy as that. Good luck to all who still have to take their exams! Congratulations to all those who finished! And finally, to everyone, remember to have fun while learning!

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