Primer on 'Record Lectures' | Ufi VocTech Trust

Primer on 'Record Lectures'

Classroom exposition – lectures, talks and so on – is the commonest pedagogic technique in education, a core function whether in schools, colleges or universities.

And one of the easiest and cheapest ways to increase its learning effectiveness is to record those lectures and lessons, and make those recordings available to students.

More and more studies indicate improved student attainment if they can access such recordings. In a wonderful little study led by Pierre Gorrisen, which we quoted above, they cleverly combined usage data with some survey and interview data to come to some clear conclusions which we’ll explore here, along with the findings of other studies.

We’ll also look, in a little more depth, at one case study.

1. Students will give up their own time

Students watch lots of recorded lectures in their own time, often at home. They look at content and do what is necessary for learning – reflect, take notes, elaborate and deep process. All these essential precursors for learning, difficult if not impossible from a one-off lecture, become feasible with recordings.

2. Students watch lectures many times

This should come as no surprise. Repeated, spaced practice is essential for real learning and deep processing while elaboration increases recall. In a student survey of five Diploma courses at the International Center for Theoretical Physics, students watched 13 hours of lectures per week. The commonest reasons given for its usage were:

* Original lecture went too fast

* Review lecture

* Revision for exams

* Clarification of difficult handwriting

* English was student’s second language

* Recap after losing notes

* Avoid writing notes (focus on lecture)

* See lecture after missing it through illness

* Relax when tired of reading

3. Students don’t watch the whole lecture

This is interesting as research from the University of Eindhoven and other sources show that not many students watch more than 75% of a lecture. Why is this?

Two studies can perhaps give us some insight here as both reported similar findings. Johnstone and Percival studied students with 12 lecturers in over 90 lectures. They found student spent 2-3 mins settling down, then would maintain attention for 10-18 minutes before it first lapsed. Subsequently, attention spans became progressively shorter, dropping to 3-4 minutes by the end of the 1-hour period.

A later study by Burns that matched student summaries with lecture content reported similar findings. "…As the lecture proceeded attention spans became shorter and often fell to three or four minutes towards the end of a standard lecture…." Highest recall was at the start with a fall off after 15-20 minutes.

Again, this should not be a surprise. The standard one hour lecture is a totally arbitrary time period that has nothing to do with the psychology of learning. It exists only because the Babylonians had a base-60 number system.

4. Students want ALL lectures recorded.

Once again, this is hardly a shock. No one would dream of just restricting students’ access to a book or paper to a single viewing. So why limit their access to lectures? They want them to learn and revise for exams. To deny them recording is to deny them learning.

5. Recording lectures improves pass rates

This is perhaps the most important reason for using this technique. Time and time again, the research shows that recorded lectures increase student attainment.

6. Recording of a lecture can actually improve that lecture

Peter Kese of Viidea is an expert in the analytics from recorded lectures and his results are fascinating. He has shown that gathering data from recorded lectures improves lectures as one can spot the points at which attention drops and where key images, points and slides raise attention and keep the learners engaged. Of course, in terms of simple memory theory, the fact that you can skip bits, replay and watch them several times actually improves the learning experience.

7. No technical problems

We now live in YouTube world where computers handle video and audio with ease. Marco Zennaro, of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, showed me a superb system that videos the lecturer as well as taking stills of the blackboard every 15 seconds. It took some time for lecturers to accept the system but they now have 100% use. Students love it. The use of the recorded lectures is way beyond that of the live lecture in terms of learning time and they’ve distributed lectures worldwide.

Case study

Want immediate improvements in student attainment in schools and colleges, especially in maths? Armando Pisani is a high school teacher who teaches 14-18 year olds in maths and physics and is unique in that he records all of his lessons on video for later use by students. He is also unique in that his academic background is in data analysis, so he has gathered a great deal of useful data on his work in his school. If his data is correct, he could be the catalyst for a huge increase in productivity in schools across Europe.

What are the advantages of recording lessons?

To learn efficiently and deeply, Armando believes students need to be able to “review, not miss things through inattention, being distracted, illness, student absence, teacher absence or language difficulties  some students have other languages as their mother tongue”. The lack of “supply teacher availability is also a problem”. Recorded lessons give the students the ability to “catch-up and cover work not covered in a teacher’s absence”.

First the results...


Black no lectures  Red watched lectures

This is impressive with a significant positive shift in the median.


Armando is obviously a great teacher but, more than this, he wants to turn his students into more independent learners. He really does understand that teaching is really about motivating learners and giving them repeated access to good content. Here is a well researched solution that could be used in any school or college to increase attainment to a far larger degree than introducing whiteboards and tablets. This is a useful first step in any school, college or University, as it does not require changes to existing practice only the recording of such practice for further use by students. More importantly it is a proven technique for improving student attainment.

Armando Pisani: the pioneer who holds the key to immediate increases in school attainment?

Usage reporting on Recorded Lectures