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Video Quantity: How Much Video Should a Course Have?

Multimedia instruction can be effective for many learners, but videos should be used sparingly and strategically given the time and effort required to ensure their pedagogical efficacy.

If you've read our article about video length, you've encountered the recommendation to keep course videos to 12 minutes or less if possible. You may have also read our article on multimedia learning, which gave you a foundational understanding of the psychological principles underlying how we learn using pictures and words. And lastly, in our article on best practices in presentation design, we leveraged those psychological principles to present specific guidance on how to effectively design multimedia materials.

It might seem, then, that instructors should focus their instructional material development on video. Given how they can promote engagement and retention, why not replace all of your live lectures, for example, with short, focused video lectures that include well-designed visuals and animation? Plus, they're convenient for students to consume and you'd be able to re-use them year after year.

The pandemic also saw an emergent pivot towards Zoom-based synchronous instruction. Accordingly, many instructors now have a sizable library of course videos filmed during this period, so why shouldn't they use them in future courses?

In this article, we're going to try and tackle questions like these by addressing the issue of how much video to make for a course. The truth is that video is just like any other tool in your instructional tool kit. It should be used in particular circumstances, but not throughout your course. There are several reasons for this, and while some are logistical while others research-based, all are worth considering when planning your course development.

The Short Answer

Given the time and cost of developing pedagogically effective course videos, they should be used sparingly and strategically.

Below are the main reasons why an instructor should restrict the quantity of video in their courses:

  • Learning preferences vary. Not everyone learns well through video.
  • It should need to be a video. Not all videos are a good use of the medium.
  • Don't rely on classroom recordings. Course videos should be designed and delivered with the asynchronous learning environment in mind.
  • Pre- and/or post-production matter. Course videos are more effective when carefully developed in alignment with the rest of the course's instructional design.
  • Accessibility law is affirmative. The requirements may surprise you.

Learning preferences vary.

Not everyone learns well by watching videos.

One of the stronger and perhaps more obvious reasons for not making tons of course videos is that not everyone learns well with video. In addition to students with any visual disabilities, there are some students who would just learn the material better if it was in a different format (like a document).

In addition, in order for any course video to be effective, students need to be primed. That is, they need to be reminded that the course videos contain content critical to their success in the course, and that they should consume the videos actively. That means taking notes, re-watching as needed, no multitasking, etc. Students tend to perceive video as easier to learn from than text, and as a result novice learners in particular may get a false sense of how much they're learning (Brame, 2016).

One strategy to encourage both active consumption and a more accurate metacognitive self-portrait is to either embed in-video quiz questions (read our documentation on Kaltura's in-video quiz questions if you're interested in doing this in Canvas), or require a short quiz after each video. Formative assessments like these serve to overcome the inherent passivity that video-watching can instill.

It should need to be a video.

Lecture by itself doesn't take advantage of the video medium.

Whether they're generated in a studio, live on Zoom, or filmed at home, "talking head" videos dominate remote and online courses: an instructor lecturing onscreen with a visual presentation running. Filming an instructor speaking over static imagery and text, however, is fundamentally not a great use of the moving picture.

Video is meant to capture movement and visual change. Some students report that they would prefer just to read the video's transcript (ideally one that has any pictures used in the presentation) rather than watching it. Most folks can read faster than they can watch and listen, after all.

Try to think outside the box a little bit. If you've seen our article on six great uses of video in courses, you've seen six categories that are a good use of the medium:

  • Module introductions, which offer you the opportunity to not only showcase your expertise and personality, but also provide valuable context and motivation for the upcoming materials
  • Announcements that are specific to the cohort, filmed just in time, providing a sense of immediacy
  • Process illustrations in which you demonstrate something that's difficult to describe
  • Intellectual exchanges where students observe dialogue between individuals, providing clues on how experts in the field think
  • Real-world connections, where you identify real world issues related to the course material, greatly enhancing their motivation to engage with it
  • Equivalent alternatives to existing content, where you've identified material that's particularly difficult for students and are providing an alternative (albeit equivalent) means of learning it

All of these categories of video take advantage of the medium or have the opportunity to provide particularly strong pedagogical value. Just because you're using visual material to complement your instruction doesn't mean that the delivery medium needs to be video. You can just as easily write a text-based document and embed images.

Authors of an expansive study of EdX video watch data make a helpful distinction between lecture videos (which teach declarative or conceptual knowledge) and tutorial videos (which present how-to / procedural knowledge). They observed that students tended to engage more with the latter - pausing them, re-watching them, etc. (Guo et al, 2014). They also noticed that there was increased engagement with so-called "Khan-style" videos - voiceover screen captures that involve the instructor continually writing.

So before spending the effort to develop a video, ask yourself: does it really need to be a video? Does it benefit from moving pictures and spoken words?

Don't rely on classroom recordings.

They're difficult to break up and don't create a good sense of connection between you and future student cohorts.

If you have a collection of lectures captured from a live, in-person class, it may seem logical to reuse them. Why not? You deliver many of the same lectures from year to year, after all.

Unfortunately, classroom recordings are a good example of highly contextual content that ideally shouldn't be reused for students in future courses. One of the reasons that videos in general can be pedagogically effective is because of the perception of social partnership created between the instructor and learner - a "suspension of disbelief," of sorts - that fosters engagement and motivation. This is one of the key components of social agency theory, which argues that "seeing the instructor makes learners believe that s/he is personally teaching them, which leads to deeper cognitive processing and, in turn, better learning outcomes" (Ng & Przybylek, 2021).

This is also an argument in favor of avoiding too much context in your pre-produced videos. With that in mind, avoid referring to current events, due dates, or anything else that may break the illusion that the video is relevant to any cohort of students.

Ultimately, presenting students with a recording of a previous class doesn't create much of a sense of connection. Additionally, it's unlikely that you looked at the camera in these recordings, and Fiorella et al suggest that eye contact is what creates that sense of social presence and interpersonal connection, not just the visibility of the instructor onscreen (Fiorella et al, 2019).

Classroom lecture videos are also hard to segment or "chunk." If you read our article about video length, you know that videos should ideally be 12 minutes or fewer. Chances are, though, that most of your classroom recordings are as long as the entire class period, oftentimes no fewer than 50 minutes. Long lectures may present time-consuming editing challenges when trying to break them up into more appropriately-sized chunks.

Now, an existing library of past classroom recordings can come in handy in a variety of circumstances, such as when you need to miss a class or unexpectedly need to teach remotely. But on balance, course videos should be designed and delivered with an asynchronous, online learning environment in mind to maximize their efficacy.

Pre- and/or post-production matter.

Planning, writing, storyboarding, and editing course videos positively impacts their efficacy. This takes time.

It may seem obvious that spending time working on something is likely to make it better, but digging into this a little bit may help to dispel the myth that videos by themselves are more engaging or effective than text (or other media) simply because they're videos. That said, videos don't have to be shot in a multimillion dollar studio in order to be good - videos you shoot yourself at home can be just as effective if you keep best practices in mind.

Whether you're working with professional videographers or using your own equipment at home, though, one point that Guo et al make in their article "How Video Production Affects Student Engagement: An Empirical Study of MOOC Videos'' is that pre-production matters: "to maximize student engagement, instructors must plan their lessons specifically for an online video format. Presentation styles that have worked well for centuries in traditional in-person lectures do not necessarily make for effective online educational videos" (2014). Though it's backed up by a considerable amount of data, the argument may be obvious: videos that are designed in advance, segmented, aligned with learning objectives, utilize carefully-designed PowerPoint presentations, etc. - those tend to be better than videos just shot on the fly. Pre-production makes for better videos.

This principle is heavily supported by research on cognitive load theory as it pertains to multimedia design. If you've read our article on multimedia learning principles and/or our article on research-based presentation design guidelines, you're aware that you can't just slap together a PowerPoint presentation to add to your video and expect it to be helpful to students. You have to construct each slide carefully, adding animations and being sure to guide your students' attention while also ensuring that you're not overwhelming their cognitive resources. If you want to make an effective course video, that PowerPoint presentation has to be carefully designed. Expect to spend more time than you may be used to developing your presentation.

Another finding of Guo et al's study was that voiceover PowerPoint videos were more effective when the instructor's head was spliced in at so-called "opportune" times (2014). As you might be able to tell from the quote, the editing choices were made by professional editors in post-production. So, if there's nothing visually interesting or relevant onscreen, cutting to the instructor's face can be compelling, but this obviously requires post-production effort.

The bottom line is that if you want to make effective course videos, you're going to need to invest time in all stages of the production process: pre-production (scripting, storyboarding), production (filming), and post-production (editing).

Accessibility law is affirmative.

Making your video truly accessible takes more work than you might expect, in particular generating accurate captions and possibly even an audio description.

Accessibility law is affirmative: you must make your material perceivable to all learners when you make it, rather than waiting for a student to complain that something is inaccessible. So your videos need to meet accessibility standards before you present them to students in your course.

Accessibility requirements for video are largely dictated by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). There are three levels of compliance - A, AA, and AAA - and case law suggests that universities are generally expected to adhere to the middle (or "AA") standard. This boils down to the following requirements for course videos in postsecondary education:

  1. Captions: You have to provide captions for multimedia UNLESS the video is an equivalent alternative for a text version of the content (and labeled as such). Note that an "equivalent alternative" in this case refers to a text-based version with the same educational content; it shouldn't be better or worse to consume the content in either medium.
  2. Audio description: You have to provide an audio description UNLESS all the relevant visual information is contained within the existing audio track. Color: Don't use color as the sole means of conveying information.
  3. Contrast
    1. "Large" text (greater than 18 pt font size OR 14 pt bold font size) must have a contrast ratio of at least 3 :1. "
    2. Small" text must have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5 : 1.

If you're using PowerPoint templates, chances are that color and contrast aren't necessarily a big problem. But captions and audio descriptions can take up a lot of time - particularly the latter.

If you've used Kaltura, you've probably encountered machine captions, software-generated captions that are about 70% accurate. To truly abide by the spirit of accessibility, however, your captions should be 100% accurate. After all, how could someone who has to read your captions get the same educational value as someone who can hear and see the videos when one out of three transcribed words is incorrect?

You could pay a service to caption your videos (by a human), but you're typically going to be paying between $1 and $2 per minute of media. Those costs can really add up for a large quantity of videos. So lacking any funding to pay a captioning service, you'll need to a) edit your captions manually, which can take 2-3 times the length of the video (depending on how fast you can type and how accurate the captions are); and b) ensure that when you recorded your video, that you were careful to describe all relevant visual information (to preclude the need for an audio description).

The bottom line is that in order for your videos to be truly accessible, you have to spend a good amount of time - or money.

While there are many best practices embedded in this article, its intention is more to disabuse instructors of the notion that videos should dominate their course materials, or that videos in and of themselves will be broadly effective or appealing to students. Videos are effective in a limited number of instructional contexts and when they're developed with an explicit understanding of how to manage cognitive load and promote active learning through multimedia design.

With preparation, work, and an understanding of basic film properties, instructors can develop excellent, effective videos without studios, videographers, or instructional designers. In fact, research indicates that videos developed at home can create a greater sense of intimacy and authenticity, countering the formality that studio shoots can occasionally engender.

Regardless of whether your videos are produced in your home or in a studio, however, they take a lot of work when you do them right. And part of "doing them right" means thinking carefully during the early stages of your course design what materials would benefit most from being videos. By doing so, you'll ensure that your efforts are allocated appropriately in the service of your students' learning.


Brame, C. J. (2016). Effective educational videos: Principles and guidelines for maximizing student learning from video content. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 15(4).

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.

Guo, P. J., Kim, J., & Rubin, R. (2014). How video production affects student engagement. Proceedings of the First ACM Conference on Learning @ Scale Conference, 41–50.

Henderson, M. L., & Schroeder, N. L. (2021). A systematic review of instructor presence in instructional videos: Effects on learning and affect. Computers and Education Open, 2, 100059.

Hibbert, M. (2014, April 7). What makes an online instructional video compelling? EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved April 25, 2022, from

Ng, Y. Y., & Przybylek, A. (2021). Instructor presence in video lectures: Preliminary findings from an online experiment. IEEE Access, 9, 36485–36499.

Sheridan, K., & Kelly, M. A. (2010, December). The indicators of instructor presence that are important to students in online courses. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(4), 767-779.

Have additional questions about course videos at UCSD? Contact the Multimedia Services team at