Educational videos proliferate on the Internet, but they might not be good pedagogical tools. A very recent study indicates that, in mathematics, educational videos only provide superficial learning. However, combining videos with effective learning strategies, such as retrieval practice, might increase the instructional value of the videos.
Can watching short educational videos cause changes in the neuronal networks that process information? Probably not, at least not in mathematics. This is the conclusion of a study recently published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and conducted by Marie Amalric, Pauline Roveyaz, and Stanislas Dehaene, researchers from Italy, the United States, and France.
There are many educational videos available online. These videos are usually free, short, and cover varied domains and levels of education—from biology to geology, from pre-K to college. Their accessibility makes them commonly used study tools, and they may spike the students’ interest and facilitate the teacher’s job. But can these videos truly facilitate learning?
Almaric, Roveyaz e Dehaene studied the effect of watching short videos about mathematics on the neuronal networks involved in the processing of mathematical information. To do so, they created videos similar to those offered by a famous online platform, the Khan Academy, and used functional MRI (fMRI) to measure the brain activity of 21 students while answering questions before and after having watched the videos.
Neuroscientific studies have not only identified the brain regions that mainly respond to mathematical knowledge (and not to other types of knowledge, such as geographical or historical), but also identified a neuronal network responsible for the integration of new mathematical knowledge. In this study, the researchers focused specifically on this network to investigate whether it is possible to visualize the quick integration of new knowledge after students watched educational videos.
The researchers presented four 5-minute videos—two about mathematical concepts that the students had not previously learned and two control videos about biology and law. Before and after watching those clips, the students were asked to evaluate the veracity of different sentences pertaining to each presented domain. Those sentences included previously learned concepts, new concepts taught in the videos, and new untaught concepts.
While watching the videos about mathematics, the fMRI showed the activation of a neuronal network comprising the anterior intraparietal and the inferior temporal nodes, specifically used for processing mathematical knowledge. However, minutes later, while the students responded to questions about the mathematical concepts taught in the videos, the researchers could only identify activity in the generic neuronal networks involved in short-term memory and language. Moreover, the students’ performance only improved marginally for the new concepts taught in the videos.
These results suggest that, after watching the videos, the students’ performance might have slightly improved not because the new knowledge was integrated and understood at a deeper level, but because the students kept the images and sounds from the videos in their short-term memory instead. Thus, it appears that this type of short educational videos only promote a superficial form of knowledge that is volatile.
The researchers concluded that watching educational videos is probably not enough to result in deep and long-lasting learning, although this format might be useful for introducing concepts, transmitting enthusiasm, and fostering the students’ interest. Nevertheless, watching these videos does not replace educational experiences that include active learning by the students, student-teacher interaction, and science-based learning strategies, such as retrieval practice.
Amalric, M., Roveyaz, P., & Dehaene, S. (2023). Evaluating the impact of short educational videos on the cortical networks for mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 120(6). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2213430120