What Comprises a Successful Educational Science Video

Educational videos on digital platforms are an attractive way of learning, especially for the younger generation, as they provide easy, personalizable access to a wide variety of content. Allowing for simplified explanations and visual demonstrations, educational videos are highly suitable for scientific content. With 500 h of video content uploaded per minute, YouTube is the most used user-generated video content platform worldwide. This study provides an initial insight into the elements which influence the perceived quality of educational science videos by viewers, with a special focus on natural science videos. In response to a call for study participants via various German natural science and technology YouTube and Instagram channels, over 5,000 participants between the ages of 9 to 72 (M = 18, SD = 8.78) completed a web questionnaire. The questionnaire focused on the participants’ viewing behaviors and their self-perception of the importance of the content-creator controlled variables.It was found that there are six key elements for a successful educational YouTube video: 1) structure, 2) reliability, 3) quality, 4) community integration, 5) presenter, 6) topic. Based on these elements, a checklist with 17 recommendations for the creation of successful educational videos was developed, serving as a practical guideline for content creators.

The online platform YouTube is used by 91% of Americans between the age of 18 and 29 to watch videos (Perrin and Anderson, 2019). In 2019, over two billion, logged-in, worldwide viewers watched videos on YouTube, comprising almost a third of all internet users (YouTube, 2020). Science videos are a popular genre on the platform and many viewers use YouTube to learn or inform themselves about science-related topics (Rosenthal, 2017). A study by the German Council for Cultural Education (Jebe et al., 2019) showed almost half of the pupils between the ages of 12 and 19, who watch YouTube videos, also use the platform for learning. Participants stated that learning with YouTube is more fun and easier to follow because of unlimited repetitions of sessions, and more easily understood explanations.

There is no simple definition of what constitutes an educational video. Corl et al. state that videos for learning can range from “simple slide shows with audio to full-length educational video productions that use combination of video, slide, illustration, animation, audio lecture, and music.” (Corl et al., 2008) This definition is very focused on the technical aspects of educational videos. For this paper we wish to define educational video through the desired outcomes. The goal of educational videos is to convey knowledge and information. The combination of visual and audio media creates an experience for the participant which is mediated by the creator’s purpose. In the case of an educational video the creator’s purpose is to facilitate learning. In particular, natural science videos deal with phenomena that occur in nature. The focus is on the disciplines of physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science and technology. Whether there are differences to human sciences has to be investigated in further research.

Researchers have tried to identify criteria for effective educational videos and to maximize learning effects. Three elements identified by Brame to improve the learning effects are cognitive load, engagement and active learning. First the cognitive load of the video should be managed so that the participants are not overwhelmed or conversely unchallenged. Secondly the participant engagement should be maximized. This can be achieved by using multiple short videos which improves the retention of the participants viewing. The third criterion is to encourage the participants to interact with the video instead of only consuming it. For example, by using guiding questions integrated into the video with wait-time, the participant can be persuaded to examine the concept (Brame, 2016). In several studies Mayer and Anderson show students learn better with narrated animation, instead of only visual animation or auditory explanation (Mayer and Anderson, 1991; Mayer and Anderson, 1992). Another criterion for effective learning is the student-teacher relationship, which can have a positive effect on academic achievements (Xu and Qi, 2019). In equivalent to the student-teacher relationship is the viewer-presenter relationship on YouTube.

Studies showed that there is a strong parasocial relationship between the viewers and the presenter (Sokolova and Kefi, 2020). This relation is formed by the following factors: 1) social attraction, 2) physical attraction, 3) homophily and 4) time spent with the media figure (Giles, 2002). Even if many aspects of learning with video have not been examined yet, we already know a lot about criteria on the creation of educational videos.