Saturday, August 25, 2012

Two researchable questions: do talking heads and moving hands improve learning?

I would like to see studies testing the hypotheses that seeing a talking head or a hand writing on the screen improves student comprehension and retention.

I've developed a collection of modules for my digital literacy course. Each module contains an annotated PowerPoint presentation and other material. As I find time, I record videos of the PowerPoint presentations, using the annotation as a script.

To conserve bandwidth and storage space, I only use still images of the PowerPoint slides in my videos. There is no video of me speaking. I reasoned that my students knew what I looked like, and viewers who were not in my class could see what I looked like in a photo.

But, I notice that Google (left), Coursera (right) and others include video of the speaker's face during their presentations.

Is there evidence that talking heads improve comprehension and retention?

We see a similar contrast in the screencast videos produced by Udacity (left) and the Khan Academy (right}. Udacity videos are screencasts with superimposed video showing the teacher's hand and pen while drawing and writing on the screen (with noticeable parallax). Khan produces screencasts in which only a cursor is shown.

Does seeing the hand and pen improve comprehension and retention?

(If these research questions sound interesting, see a proposal for a related study of the effect on comprehension and retention of varying playback speed and bullet point images).


  1. Anonymous12:15 PM

    Hi, You should check out the book eLearning and the science of Instruction by Clark and Mayer. In their chapter on personalization they cite the preliminary evidence for use of onscreen agents.

  2. Anonymous12:17 PM

    You should check out the book eLearning and the Science of Instruction by Clark and Mayer. In the chapter on Applying the Personalization principle they cite the preliminary evidence supporting the use of on screen coaches. I'm sure there are more studies available now.

    1. Would a talking head in a small window constitute an on-screen coach or would it have to me something more interactive like in the Udacity courses?