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Blog post Part of series: BERA Conference 2023

Enhancing high school video-based learning: Insights for educators

Steve Griffiths, Adjunct Research Fellow at Griffith Institute for Educational Research

Video lessons were used extensively by high school teachers during Covid-19 emergency remote learning. Now, in the wake of the pandemic, video instruction continues to play an important role in high school education. This shift has brought forth two key questions: 1) Should teachers create their own video content? and 2) Should teachers be visible in these videos? These questions are important for teachers to consider because making video lessons is time-consuming and teachers’ preparation time is precious. Also, some teachers are resistant to making video lessons because they don’t want to be visible in the video. My research sought to find answers to these questions by investigating whether seeing the teacher and knowing the teacher in the video lesson affects learning, cognitive load and social presence.

Previous research findings

The question of whether high school teachers should create their own video lessons is essentially unresearched. Previous research with voice familiarity in audio media has identified that voice familiarity improves learning and reduces listening effort because the voice is familiar and the speaker is trusted (McKenzie et al., 2021). Instructor visibility within video instruction has been widely researched but findings are mixed, and few studies have involved high school students. In addition, few studies have investigated a relatively new format of instruction using the transparent whiteboard, where the instructor writes and draws on a glass board. Some studies suggested that instructor visibility could be distracting and hinder learning (see for example Stull et al., 2021; Wilson et al., 2018), while others indicated that it provided valuable social and attentional cues that facilitated learning (see for example Fiorella et al., 2019; Stull et al., 2018). These divergent findings underscored the need for a comprehensive investigation.

The research study

To address these questions, I conducted a mixed-methods study involving 262 students aged 13 to 16 from three Australian high schools. To investigate instructor visibility, students watched a six-minute video on the formation of lightning where the instructor was either visible, writing on a glass board (figure 1), or not visible, writing on a digital drawing board (figure 2). To investigate teachers creating their own videos, the Khan-style lightning formation video was either created by the student’s teacher or a teacher from another school. The influence of student learning was evaluated by measuring student learning from the video using a pre-test–post-test instrument and cognitive load (Cierniak et al., 2009) and social partnership with the teacher (Stull et al., 2018) were measured using existing Likert-type survey instruments. Also, students were interviewed in focus groups and answered open questions about their experiences and preferences with video learning.


Figure 1: Instructor visible video


Figure 2: Instructor not visible video

Key insights

For the instructor visibility study, there was no difference in student learning gain whether the instructor was visible or not. However, students experienced lower extraneous cognitive load when the instructor was visible. Extraneous cognitive load is any mental effort that does not contribute to the learning goal. This finding was a little unexpected as some previous research had found visibility of the instructor distracts the learner from the essential information on the screen, potentially increasing extraneous cognitive load. The qualitative findings of this study provide important insights to explain why extraneous cognitive load was lower when the instructor was visible. Students reported that seeing the instructor’s pointing gestures directed their attention to the essential information on the screen, preventing them from having to search for the information. Students also reported that action gestures and facial expressions enhanced comprehension of the spoken words, so listening effort was reduced. Moreover, the study found that instructor visibility fostered a sense of social connection between students and teachers. Students reported feeling more engaged in the learning process when they could see their instructor.

‘Although there was no difference in student learning gain whether the instructor was visible or not … students reported feeling more engaged in the learning process when they could see their instructor.’

For the instructor familiarity study, students exhibited similar learning outcomes regardless of their familiarity with the teacher. There was also no measurable difference in cognitive load. Students did feel a greater sense of social connection with the familiar teacher, and this increased their motivation. Students reported familiarity with the teacher’s voice and teaching style and the established trust with the familiar instructor heightened motivation.

What this means for educators

So, how can educators leverage these insights to enhance their teaching practices? Here’s the take-home message: there is no difference in learning from video-based learning whether you choose to be visible on screen or not, and whether you make your own video lessons or not. However, instructor visibility and familiarity does have benefits in terms of a reduced cognitive load and increased social partnership, with teacher visibility creating a more engaging learning experience.

In a world where video-based learning is increasingly prevalent, understanding how different elements of video-based pedagogy can influence learning empowers educators to make informed decisions that benefit both their teaching and their students’ learning experiences.

Few video learning studies involve a qualitative component where students’ experiences and perceptions of video learning are measured. Responses from students about what they find is beneficial with seeing and knowing the teacher in the video lesson can provide some direction for further research in video learning.

Steve Griffiths received first prize in the BERA Annual Conference 2023 – ECR Presentation Award for the paper ‘Exploring instructor visibility and familiarity in video-based instruction in secondary school science’.


This research was conducted as part of my PhD candidature at Griffith University and was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship. My PhD was supervised by Professor Christine Mcdonald, Associate Professor Chris Campbell and Doctor Harry Kanasa.


Cierniak, G., Scheiter, K., & Gerjets, P. (2009). Explaining the split-attention effect: Is the reduction of extraneous cognitive load accompanied by an increase in germane cognitive load? Computers in Human Behavior, 25(2), 315–324.

Fiorella, L., Stull, A. T., Kuhlmann, S., & Mayer, R. E. (2019). Instructor presence in video lectures: The role of dynamic drawings, eye contact, and instructor visibility. Journal of Educational Psychology, 111(7), 1162–1171.

McKenzie, C., Hodgetts, W. E., Ostevik, A. V.,  & Cummine, J. (2021). Listen before you drive: The effect of voice familiarity on listening comprehension and driving performance. International Journal of Audiology, 60(8), 621–628,

Stull, A., Fiorella, L., & Mayer, R. E. (2018). An eye-tracking analysis of instructor presence in video lectures. Computers in Human Behavior, 88, 263–272.

Stull, A. T., Fiorella, L., & Mayer, R. E. (2021). The case for embodied instruction: The instructor as a source of attentional and social cues in video lectures. Journal of Educational Psychology, 113(7), 1441–1453.

Wilson, K. E., Martinez, M., Mills, C., D’Mello, S., Smilek, D., & Risko, E. F. (2018). Instructor presence effect: Liking does not always lead to learning. Computers & Education, 122, 205–220.