A recent study revealed that learners – at least those who are still in school – increasingly choose online video when they want to revisit a topic or need more information.

The research

The global study looked at over 1,600 students in higher education. Participants were asked about their study habits and their use of online resources. The researchers found that 79% of students regularly pick online video to boost their understanding of a topic.

The learners stated three primary reasons for why they choose e-learning:

  1. To improve their understanding of a topic. The survey found that learners turn to video to gain clarity on a subject – especially content that they felt was originally presented in a vague or unclear way by their instructor or in print. Seeing the information presented differently helps bring the important points into focus.
  2. Tutorials. Videos give learners a way to see things in action. Whether learning a new programming language or a new sales technique, learners benefit from watching a step-by-step demonstration.
  3. Examples. Sometimes when learning complex concepts, it can be difficult to envision a practical example or application. Online videos are an ideal medium for presenting scenarios where a complex concept is applied, which helps to deepen learners’ understanding.

Previous studies have found that students who were assigned e-learning experienced various benefits, including higher retention, higher satisfaction and more engagement in the learning process. But this study shows that learners also voluntarily choose video. Whether or not they are aware of its proven benefits, learners increasingly prefer video-based learning.

Not a magic bullet

While the survey found that learners possess overwhelmingly positive attitudes toward video, interviews with respondents revealed some potential pitfalls:

For example, many learners responded that they wouldn’t watch a video for longer than 10 minutes. What’s more, they admitted that they would often multitask while a video is playing, not giving the content their full attention.

Learners also seem to make snap decisions about whether a video is worth their time. If the video didn’t capture their interest – if the speaker seemed dull or if it didn’t immediately appear to contain the information they wanted – learners would quickly abandon the video for another option.


Insights into learners’ study habits can help illuminate the existing issues with e-learning for both designers and learning professionals. Below are some points to keep in mind based on the survey’s findings.

Duration matters. Whether you’re creating or curating e-learning, the length of the video can have a serious effect on learner engagement. The majority of survey respondents said that anywhere between five and 20 minutes was their limit in terms of video length. And based on the feedback researchers received, learners’ attention can be fickle. So if you’re providing long, comprehensive e-learning modules, you may want to consider breaking the videos up into smaller bits – or providing shorter modules.

Learners want examples and tutorials. The survey revealed that learners often turn to video to get the learning experiences they often don’t get from instructors – namely, real-world examples and step-by-step tutorials. So whether your organization provides e-learning or instructor-led training, the more practical examples and hands-on demonstrations, the more likely learners will invest and engage.

Access is important. Respondents stressed that one reason they preferred e-learning was its 24/7 access. The researchers cited one exemplary response that said that the primary advantage of e-learning was that the learner was “in control” of the learning experience – that you can choose when and where to learn. To give learners some ownership over the training process, provide tools that trainees can access on their own, and in the moment of need, whether it’s video or another resource.

Leonard, E. (2015). Great expectations: Students and video in higher education. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

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