Teaching with Technology, Transformative Learning

Creating Instructional Videos to Scaffold Learning

Icon squareby Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Within the short span of a decade, video tutorials have quickly become a common and pervasive aspect of how we share, consume, and communicate information online.  From yoga and guitar lessons, to cooking and home repair, viewers can learn all sorts of new skills through instructor-led online videos.  The tutorial video medium has become so popular that in 2015, YouTube reported over 135 million “how to” videos are hosted on their platform (“YouTube Trends: Search results for “how to”, 2018).  It should also come as no surprise to those within academia that video is now a common vehicle for instruction.   From streaming video, lecture capture, and other forms of video-related media, instructors increasingly rely on how-to videos to convey, demonstrate, and present course content to students. But what are some of the effective practices that help make online video useful for students?  Furthermore, how can instructors use video as a means to help scaffold learning?

Several research studies have identified some of the mechanical aspects of what makes a video tutorial useful for students.  A 2014 study found similarities in the types of videos students found were compelling and conducive for learning.  They noted that videos that were short in length (around 4 minutes), used a conversational language, tie directly to course assignments and assessments, and that often supplement course content are considered compelling for students (Hibbert, 2014).  Also as noted in an earlier Notebook post, a 2015 empirical study of over 6.9 million video sessions identified that videos that are shorter (under 6 minutes), have a personal feel, and that show instructor enthusiasm are often considered more engaging and interesting to students (Guo, et.al., 2014).

However, Guo et.al., also discovered that students watch different types of videos differently.  For instance, lecture based videos that present conceptual (declarative) knowledge are generally viewed in a continuous viewing stream whereas, students typically jump around and re-watch tutorial videos.

Understanding how students watch videos offers a great opportunity to consider how media can help scaffold learning.  Rooted in Vygotsky’s (1978) sociocultural theory of learning, scaffolding is an approach to instruction where new concepts and skills are introduced just beyond students’ existing level of performance and understanding.  Instructors provide important concepts but also provide enough support for students to practice and make meaning out of their own learning.  Video tutorials are particularly well suited to help scaffold learning because they can help introduce new concepts, processes, and skills, and also can offer students an opportunity to learn in a manner that best supports their learning needs.

Below are just a few ways to scaffold learning through the use of video tutorials.

  1. Ask students to recreate what they have watched:  Record a demonstration or a tutorial video and have students recreate what they have watched.  Have students either make their own tutorial, recreate the tutorial in their own words, or have students write about what they have watched in an online discussion board or writing assignment.
  2. Build from basic concepts:  Introduce basic concepts, step-by-step, in video form in a manner that students can understand.  Have students apply what they have learned in an online discussion or classroom assignment.
  3. Chunk course information into short video segments:  Divide course information into shorter videos by offering break points where student will have to pause and answer a few questions before moving on to the next concept.

If you would like to investigate how video tutorials can best help support your course, please schedule a teaching consultation with someone from the Reinert Center by completing the following form.  We are always happy to be a resource for you.



Guo, P. J., Kim, J., & Rubin, R. (2014, March). How video production affects student engagement: An empirical study of mooc videos. In Proceedings of the first ACM conference on Learning@ scale conference (pp. 41-50). ACM.

Hibbert, M. C. (2014). What makes an online instructional video compelling? Educause Review Online.

Mayer, R. E. (2002). Cognitive theory and the design of multimedia instruction: an example of the two‐way street between cognition and instruction. New Directions for Teaching and Learning2002(89), 55-71.

Pan, G.; Sen, S.; Starrett, D. A.; Bonk, C. J.; Rodgers, M. L.; Tikoo, M.; Powell, D. V. Instructor-Made Videos as a Learner Scaffolding Tool. Online Learn. Teach.2012, 8 (4) 298–311

YouTube Trends: Search results for “how to”. (2018). Youtube-trends.blogspot.com. Retrieved 25 January 2018, from http://youtube-trends.blogspot.com/search?q=%22how+to%22

Vygotsky, L.S., (1978). Mind in Society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.