Analysing the pedagogical affordances of video

by Tony Bates, Toronto Metropolitan University & Contact North, Ontario, Canada.

In revising my online, open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age, I found I needed to make a number of changes to the section on video, mainly because there is now much more good quality video suitable for educational purposes freely accessible over the Internet than there was when I wrote the first edition in 2017. I have been able to find many more examples of different uses of video for teaching. Also, it has become increasingly easier for instructors and teachers – as well as students – to make their own video using simple equipment such as a mobile phone. 

In this piece, I am focusing on ‘standard’ video. Simulations and virtual reality need separate coverage.

We WILL Fix Climate Change, United Nations. (Click on the image to see video)

1. More power, more complexity

Although there have been massive changes in video technology over the last 25 years, resulting in dramatic reductions in the costs of both creating and distributing video, the unique educational characteristics are largely unaffected.

Video is a much richer medium than either text or audio, as in addition to its ability to offer text and sound, it can also offer dynamic or moving pictures. Thus, while it can offer all the affordances of audio, and some of text, it also has unique pedagogical characteristics of its own. Once again, there has been considerable research on the use of video in education, and again I will be drawing on research from the Open University (Bates, 1984; 2005; Koumi, 2006) as well as from Mayer (2020).

Click on the links to see examples for many of the characteristics listed below. (In some cases you may need to skip an introductory advertisement).

2. Presentational features

Video can be used to:

  • demonstrating the relationship between different elements of a system under study (e.g. production processes, ecological balance); for example, see the paper-making process
  • by identifying and distinguishing between different classes or categories of phenomena at the site (e.g. in forest ecology);
  • to observe differences in scale and process between laboratory and mass-production techniques;
  • through the use of models, animations or simulations, to teach certain advanced scientific or technological concepts (such as theories of relativity or quantum physics) without students having to master highly advanced mathematical techniques; see for instance ‘Einstein’s Theory of Relativity Made Easy.’
  • bring students primary resource or case-study material, i.e. recording of naturally occurring events which, through editing and selection, demonstrate or illustrate principles covered elsewhere in a course;
  • demonstrate ways in which abstract principles or concepts developed elsewhere in the course have been applied to real-world problems, for example, innovative stormwater management in the University of British Columbia’s Master of Land and Water Management;
  • synthesise a wide range of variables into a single recorded event, e.g. to suggest how real world problems can be resolved; see for instance We WILL Fix Climate Change
  • demonstrate decision-making processes or decisions ‘in action’ (e.g. triage in an emergency situation) by:
  • demonstrate correct procedures in using tools or equipment (including safety procedures); see 10 Safety Tips: Welding
  • demonstrate methods or techniques of performance (e.g. mechanical skills such as stripping and re-assembling a carburetor, sketching, drawing or painting techniques, or dance);
  • record and archive transient events that are crucial to topics in a course, but which may disappear or be destroyed in the near future, such as, for instance, street graffiti or condemned buildings (see an example about neon lights in Vancouver);
  • demonstrate practical activities to be carried out by students, on their own (for example, see 32 cool experiments to do at home).
Figure 8.4.2 Don’t do this yourself at home! Video on the conservation of momentum. (Click on the image to see the video)

3. Skills development

This usually requires the video to be integrated with student activities. The ability to stop, rewind and replay video becomes crucial for skills development, as student activity usually takes place separately from the actual viewing of the video. This may mean thinking through carefully activities for students related to the use of video.

If video is not used directly for lecturing, research clearly indicates that students generally need to be guided as to what to look for in video, at least initially in their use of video for learning. There are various techniques for relating concrete events with abstract principles, such as through audio narration over the video, using a still frame to highlight the observation, or repeating a small section of the program. Bates and Gallagher (1977) found that using video for developing higher order analysis or evaluation was a teachable skill that needs to be built into the development of a course or program, to get the best results.

Typical uses of video for skills development include:

There are many ways in which video can be used for skills development. Nevertheless, however video is used for skill development, as well as the demonstration of the skill, attention must be paid to ensuring opportunities for student practice and feedback, probably using other media, although it is now increasingly easy for students to make their own videos to demonstrate their skill.

Figure 8.4.3 Demonstrating teaching strategies: kinesthetic learning. (Click on the image to see the video)

4. The affective impact of video

Well-produced and well-designed video can also have a powerful emotional effect on learners. It is a particularly important medium for students who have grown up in a digital age. Students more easily identify with topics or approaches that are represented through video presentations, especially if they can identify with the context or with characters within the video (see, for instance, the use of video  for social workers on how to conduct home visits where the spouse may have been physically abused by their partner). The emotional impact of video is particularly valuable where from an instructional point of view you need to change a student’s perspective on a topic (see, for instance, We WILL Fix Climate Change).

Video can therefore combine both educational goals/learning objectives AND student engagement, which is one reason why it is such a powerful teaching medium. The emotional impact of video though is an affordance that instructors need to use with care. It often needs to be backed up with other activities, such as discussion, analysis or reflection.

5. Strenghts and weakness of digital video as a teaching medium

One factor that makes video powerful for learning is its ability to show the relationship between concrete examples and abstract principles, with usually the sound track relating the abstract principles to concrete events shown in the video. Video is particularly useful for recording events or situations where it would be too difficult, dangerous, expensive or impractical to bring students to such events.

Thus, its main strengths are as follows:

  • there is a wide variety of high-quality educational videos in all subject areas freely available online for use by instructors and students;
  • video can directly link concrete events and phenomena to abstract principles and vice versa;
  • students can stop and start digital videos, and thus integrate activities with the video presentation;
  • video can provide an alternative approach to the presentation of content that can help students having difficulties in learning abstract concepts;
  • video can combine text and audio as well as visual images. Providing information in a variety of information channels helps different kinds of learners and also results in deeper understanding for all learners;
  • a video can add substantial interest to a course by linking it to real world issues;
  • video can be used to develop many of the higher level intellectual and practical skills needed in a digital age;
  • mobile phones, low cost cameras and free editing software enables educational video to be cheaply produced by both instructors and students;
  • students can use video to demonstrate their learning in practice

It should also be remembered that in addition to the features listed above, video can incorporate many of the features of audio as well.

The main weaknesses of video are:

  • many instructors and teachers have no knowledge or experience in using video other than for recording lecturing;
  • the availability of free material for educational use is improving all the time, but currently finding appropriate and free videos that meet the specific needs of a teacher or instructor can be time-consuming or such material may just not be available or reliable. Links also often go dead after a while, affecting the reliability of outsourced video;
  • there may be copyright issues, both in making and using video for educational purposes. It may be necessary to ask your institutional library to check on copyright before using media produced outside the institution, and your institution may have policies regarding videos produced in-house that need to be followed; 
  • creating original material that exploits the unique characteristics of video is time-consuming, and still relatively expensive, because it usually needs professional video production;
  • to get the most out of educational video, students need specially designed activities that often will have to sit outside the video itself;
  • students often reject videos that require them to do analysis or interpretation; they often prefer direct instruction that focuses primarily on comprehension. Such students need to be trained to use video differently, which requires time to be devoted to developing such skills.

6. Assessment

If video is being used to develop the skills outlined in Section 8.4.3, then it is essential that these skills are assessed and count for grading. Indeed, one possible means of assessment might be to ask students to analyse or interpret a selected video, or even to develop their own media project, using video they themselves have collected or produced, using their own devices.

7. Conclusion

I have merely touched on the many possible uses of video. (If you have other suggestions – or comments on what I have written here – please contact me at

I believe though that video is not being used enough in education. It has tremendous teaching power and there is now a great deal of readily available video material that can be accessed and downloaded from the Internet. However, when video is used in teaching, it is often an afterthought or an ‘extra’, rather than an integral part of the design, or is used merely to replicate a classroom lecture, rather than exploiting the unique characteristics of video.

Furthermore, a video clip or program rarely stands on its own as a teaching resource. It will usually need to be put into context and students will often need guidance on how to use the video material in their studies – for instance, what to look for, and how it relates to the rest of the course. Usually video will need some prior preparation and follow-up work by the students which in turn will need feedback from the instructor. Nevertheless, video should now be a standard part of most instructors’ teaching repertoire.


Dr. Tony Bates, Senior Advisor, Chang School of Continuing Education, Toronto Metropolitan University, Toronto and Research Associate, Contact North, Ontario


Bates, A. (1984) Broadcasting in Education: An Evaluation suitable material available: Constables

Bates, A. (2005) Technology, e-Learning and Distance Education London/New York: Routledge

Bates, A. and Gallagher, M. (1977) Improving the Effectiveness of Open University Television Case-Studies and Documentaries Milton Keynes: The Open University, I.E.T. Papers on Broadcasting, No. 77 (out of print – copies available from

Koumi, J. (2006). Designing video and multimedia for open and flexible learningLondon:Routledge

Mayer, R. E. (2020). Multimedia learning (3rd ed). New York: Cambridge University Press

The University of British Columbia also provides two annotated bibliographies of digital multimedia research. one collated at UBC and one by the University of Central Florida.