Insights into Effective Instructional Games and Videos

EdTech, Platforms & Data

Adam Blum

Remember when you were in elementary school? What engaged you in learning more: a filmstrip with a monotone narrator or a short Schoolhouse Rock? The answer is pretty obvious.

While filmstrips are a thing of the past and today’s students might not know what Schoolhouse Rock was, use of videos in the classroom is now pretty much mainstream. Forty-eight percent of teachers surveyed by PBS Learning Media reported that they use videos to enhance their teaching, and that number is growing year over year.

And research conducted by OpenEd, demonstrates that what students find most engaging, and what most quickly moves the need on learning, are engaging animations—not videos that simply put the traditional “sage-on-the-stage” teacher in front of the camera.

OpenEd was the first to create a searchable catalog of the videos on YouTube and elsewhere. We tagged each so that teachers could support their lectures by finding videos to complement their teaching no matter what subject, standard or textbook. This searchable video catalog has proven extremely possible with over 250,000 US teachers signing up for free accounts over the last 12 months, and more using it not logged in.

Finding aligned videos was the first step, but teachers have also been asking which videos are actually the most effective in helping their students learn. Therefore, we recently published a study of what kind of videos are most effective in boosting educational attainment, sorted by publisher, length, style of video and other. We now sort results on our resource library to preferentially return more effective online resources automatically, and have also published lists of which publishers do the best. 

Although there has never been a study published on what kinds of videos are most helpful, there have been a few studies done on the effectiveness of videos in the classroom in general. The studies to-date have primarily been conducted on Khan Academy for reasons that are not entirely clear. 

Research shows that niche publishers will typically outperform Khan Academy and other generalists on any given topic. More generally, the Khan style of speaking over a blackboard tends to have low impact on educational attainment.

Clearly, being able to find the best educational videos, by standards, textbooks, topics and keyword search, will boost educational attainment. The data hints that teachers who find more engaging video resources of high production value will significantly help their students, and we welcome more in depth studies and analysis.

Insights Into Effectiveness        

Analyzing data from the more than 250,000 teachers nationwide who use OpenEd resources and assessments with their students, the analysis, documented in the white paper Insights Into Effectiveness of K-12 Online Instructional Resources, revealed that more focused specialty publishers, such as those who concentrate on a specific subject (such as math or language arts) or a limited grade range were more likely to have higher effectiveness scores than bigger-name publishers who covered a wide range of subjects or grades.

The same study revealed that, when it comes to moving the needle on student achievement, short, engaging instructional games and videos are most effective.

Effectiveness scores were calculated by considering students’ actual assessment scores after they viewed a certain educational resource. So, for example, consider two students who watch a video lesson on calculating the area of a triangle and then take the related assessment on that lesson. If one student scores a 90 and the other scores a 70, that resource would have an effectiveness rating of 80 for that particular standard.                                 

The analysis also showed that online educational games (which earned an average effectiveness score of 70) are more effective learning resources than videos (66). But both drastically outperform other resource types, such as printed worksheets or supplementary text. The message for teachers: Although games can be harder to find for certain topics and at the high school level, they should be included in your instructional resources whenever possible.

As part of the analysis, we also assessed the effectiveness of five different types of instructional videos. In order of their effectiveness scores, they were: 

  • Flashcards, a specific type of animation, with a pause to allow students to answer questions, which had an average score of 72.1
  • Lessons, a slide deck or PowerPoint presentation narrated by a teacher. Average score 68.6.
  • Cartoons, animations often accompanied by music or songs for younger students. Average score: 66.7.
  • Teachers, with a live teacher being videoed as a “talking head” or standing by a blackboard. Average score: 64.6.
  • Blackboards, with drawing on an electronic slate (as popularized by Sal Khan). Average score: 63.5.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the research also revealed that shorter videos—particularly “fragment videos” lasting two minutes or less—are more effective than longer ones. Videos of less than one minute had an average score of 70, and those lasting one to two minutes averaged a 69. Videos lasting from two to three minutes (which make up nearly 35 percent of our video catalog) had an average score of 66, which was also the overall average for videos.

Meanwhile, the effectiveness dropped for videos of five minutes or longer, and videos 10 minutes or more had an average score of 63.

In the months ahead, we plan to analyze the data to gather more insights about resources’ effectiveness based on subject matter and students’ age, which we will post on our website,

What are you seeing with students in your classrooms? Does it support our research?

For more, check out:

Adam Blum is co-founder and CEO of OpenEd. Follow Adam on Twitter, @adamblum.

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