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Netflixing learning: How to select a good learning video?

Tanya Gupta's picture

Welcome to the fifth blog of the technology aided gut (TAG) checks series where we use a just-in-time learning strategy to help you learn to do TAG checks on your data.  Our last post talked about web videos as a learning tool. We shared five questions one should ask before choosing a video source over text, audio or other media. Once you have decided that video is the most suitable format for your particular learning task - the next question is finding the right video for you to watch. This is the focus of this blog. When it comes to learning videos, one size does not fit all. A highly rated learning video on YouTube may not necessarily suit your needs. The two key determinants of a good match are the type of learning you need to do and your familiarity with the subject matter.

What and How-To learning types

When it comes to learning something, most belong to the What category or the How-To category.

In most cases if you have a
"What" question you will not benefit much from watching a video. You will get a much faster solution by simply reading some text or looking at a (info) graphic. For example, if you want to know the legal definition of battery looking at the text based result of “battery legal” will meet your information need much faster than if you had gone to Youtube and looked for a video. Don’t take our word for it - give it a try.  In looking for answers to your "What" from textual information (even on a topic you do not know), you can use this four step process we introduced in one of the our blogs to eliminate the really bad answers and get a decent idea of which ones are very good.

A video addressing a "How-To" question either lists (with audio voice over) the steps, or demonstrates how the process is done. If the video is just listing steps - go back and look for text based information sources. This may satisfy your information need faster than watching the video. The careful reader, by now, may start to think that the authors of this blog are biased towards textual information when it comes to learning because we keep on sending you back to text! We assure you we are not biased against videos. In fact our bias is towards using videos for learning. But watching video is time consuming. So we want you to be sure that video is the best learning resource for you before you start to watch.

How familiar are you with the subject?

To get the maximum benefit from the "How-To" videos, the first thing you should do is to run a quick informal self evaluation of your familiarity of the subject matter. This is an important step. Take recipe videos, for example. A video on how to make vegan watermelon custard that is developed for a person who knows his around a kitchen will not be useful to a freshman in a college dorm who have never cooked and will be boring to a professional chef looking to fine tune her recipe. 

Now for some example videos. The “nominees are …”

Einstein 100 - Theory of General Relativity
  • The video maybe good for some audiences. But it fails the familiarity* test for the authors. 

* If there are more than 5 words you don’t understand in the first thirty seconds OR if you have to google any word more than once. (See our previous blog  for more on asking precise questions)


Ways to Share or Upload Your Video on Twitter
  • The presenter is wasting time on terms or concepts you already know. This is a video on how to upload  videos to Twitter, people who watches this video already knows what Twitter is and what its relevance is.   

The “Oscar” for the learning video goes to  …”

How Do I Play Pokemon GO? Beginners' Guide
  • Less than 6 minutes

  • To the point

  • Exciting and fun (why not)

Hybriding learning

Videos are a good learning resource, but you have to be careful before you decide to watch one because video is time consuming. As we said before sometimes text is simply faster - for example How-To to get your traditional Gmail back from Inbox pretty much beats any video that is out there on the subject. There are times, however, when a hybrid of video and text may be the fastest approach to your learning. This is particularly true for subject that you are not very familiar or processes that require relatively complex physical manipulation of objects. For example, if you are a novice programmer who has a year or two under her belt in javascript programming, it will be difficult for you to follow this video despite the fact that this is all about javascript.

Building Node.js applications with App Engine and Custom Runtimes

In cases like this you want to do a 60-300 hybridization. Watch the video for a minute**. Write down the key terms. Research the terms for five minutes (that is 300 seconds). If you reach some understanding go to the next 1 minute etc. Before you know it - you will get some use out of this video. If you are taking a hybrid approach, you need to make sure the videos are coming from a “good”  (i.e. many reviewers, many upvotes/stars etc.) source.  

**A side note: despite the above video being from a highly reputable source, Google, it is not very well done. The speaker starts to get in the details at 1:48 That first minute is mostly a waste of time.

For the processes that require relatively complex physical manipulation of objects, you want to find a parallel source that is text based. You want to go through the text first, then see the video to see how the steps are actually implemented. Here’s a good example: one on  how to change the soft top of a Jeep Wrangler
How to Remove Jeep Wrangler Soft Top Explained by Cedar Rapids Jeep Dealer

One thing to keep in mind. Some of the videos are usually done by an expert or using time lapse to make things look easier than it actually is. So be patient!

Before we say goodbye - till next month

This blog series is now five blogs old. In these blogs we delved into the mechanics, intricacies, challenges and usefulness of various self paced online learning tools from a busy development professional’s perspective. We highlighted the key challenges of a self paced (free and web based) learning program : 1) asking the right question  2) providing the right answer (to a software). We showed that they are not as easy as they may appear on the surface. We have suggested concrete ways of asking the right question and providing the right answer in a web based, free for all environment. We have also looked at how to choose good data sources and in the last two blogs we looked at videos as learning tool. We hope these blogs have prepared us (that means we the authors, and you our readers) to embark on a learning journey together.

From our next blog, we will change gears and learn how, with very little effort, we can use data to make simple yet (occasionally) profound conclusions.  Welcome to the art of Unscience! More on this next time.

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