Those who have watched recorded video lectures of an academic class know how much valuable study time these videos can take – time that seems to be delayed further if the speaker speaks slowly or pauses more often.
It can be hard to resist the temptation to overclock your video when your to-do list is long, although conventional wisdom states that you won’t get much information when it’s transmitted at the speed of a squirrel’s voice.
Fortunately, one new study by researchers at UCLA appears to suggest that busy students who listen to quick video lectures can actually understand a lot more—just like those who listen to the same lecture at normal speeds.
Even more, when the researchers reviewed the lectures again weeks later, the students who watched the quick videos retained the same amount of information as those who watched the lectures at regular speeds.
However, the researchers who designed the study say there is an important caveat about how the saved study time is used, and how quickly the videos can travel before student learning is affected as a result.
Senior author Alan Castell, a professor of psychology at UCLA, said the study was inspired in part by the growing amount of online content for college and university classes.
He said distance learning inspired by COVID-19 was “part of the impetus for this study.” But while they were trying to learn “how to make it work,” he and lead author Dillon Murphy first began to think about the effects of quick video lectures on understanding before anyone heard of the coronavirus.
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Before the pandemic, the study was inspired by what Murphy, a doctoral candidate and researcher at UCLA, saw students do firsthand. As a busy teacher’s aide, Murphy admitted he quickly watched videos to save time.
“Is this a good idea? There must be some fault with this,” Murphy recalls.
To test whether comprehension was affected by watching quick lecture videos, Castel and Murphy set up a series of experiments.
One trial divided 231 undergraduate study participants into four groups. Each group then watched two video lectures — one on the Roman Empire and one on real estate appraisals, according to a University of California press release.
The duration of the videos, at normal speed, ranged from 13 to 15 minutes. Without stopping the videos or taking notes, one group watched each video at a normal speed; The second watched them at 1.5 times the normal speed, the third at twice the speed and the fourth 2.5 times the normal speed.
After each individual video, participants were given 20 questions, true or false and multiple-choice, to test how well they remembered the information.
The normal speed group averaged 26 correct answers out of 40, and was closely followed by the 1.5 speed group and the double speed group, which scored 25 out of 40 each.
It wasn’t until participants watched the video at a speed of 2.5 that their performance on the test dropped, to an average of 22 out of 40 correctly answered questions.
When the same participants took new tests, without rewatching the videos, one week later, the new test scores experienced the same order of decline. Normal speed watchers scored an average score of 24 out of 40, dual speed watchers scored an average of 21 out of 40, and 2.5 speed watchers scored about 20.
“Surprisingly, video speed had little effect on immediate and delayed comprehension until learners exceeded twice the normal speed,” Murphy said in a UCLA press release.
Other study experiments showed that students who watched videos twice in a row at twice the speed scored the same on tests as students who watched the videos once at their normal speed.
They also found that students who watched the video once at normal speed and once at double speed achieved roughly the same results in the tests, regardless of whether the quick viewing came before or after the normal viewing.
what does that mean
The study notes that while quick videos do not improve students’ understanding of learning, they do not lag behind—at least until the speed is at 2.5 times the normal range.
“So far we haven’t seen any benefit, we’ve just seen we’re doing well,” Castle said.
He and Murphy cautioned against taking the results of this study as canon for video lectures.
“There may be some negative effects, and there may be a lot of boundary conditions for this,” Murphy said. The videos in the study were of topics that could be explained orally quite easily, while students watching a complex physics or chemistry lecture at high speeds might see different results.
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The researchers said that future studies on the same topic could provide more insights into how well students remember information transmitted at higher speeds when it comes to these types of complex topics.
Other studies could also help researchers understand whether these students remember more because they are young adults, accustomed to learning through video lectures.
“These are students who have been doing this for a long time,” Castle explained. Older “mature” students who are unfamiliar with technology in academia may perform differently.
Because the researchers ignored the effects of note-taking and pausing videos to get a better idea of the effects of video speed alone, future studies could look at how to improve memory through note-taking. They can also examine when and why people pause their videos.
“We think this will lead the field to answering more of these questions,” Murphy said.
So, can I speed up my lectures to get them?
Not exactly, according to Castle and Murphy.
While watching videos faster, less than 2.5 times the normal speed, can help students get through the lecture faster without losing much understanding or forgetting more information, the researchers recommend using this time saved to study in other ways.
“We certainly would caution against using this strategy to simply save time,” Murphy said. But the increase in efficiency that students get from finishing a video in half the time may allow them to make more flashcards or take notes more effectively.
“Students can spend the same amount of time studying, but maybe in a better way,” Murphy said.
This opens the door to “the potential benefits of this additional study opportunity,” he added.
Caster explained that previous research shows that marathon study sessions are less effective than sessions that use the spacing effect, where studying for a shorter period of time and taking a small break and then studying more can help with knowledge retention.
“If you watch the video quickly, take a week break and watch it again,” it’s probably better than a massive study session – or just watching one at increasing speeds.
“It is surprising that students can learn fairly well at somewhat increased speeds,” Castle said. [that] Time must be used wisely.”
What the study means, he said, is that “people can learn at their own pace.”