The pitfalls of Self-Managed Learning, and how videos can help us climb out of them

“Your self-managed learning task was too hard…it took me forever.” This was the tip of the iceberg; my students were right, but they had no idea just how bad my SMLs really were. The reason that they took too long and seemed too difficult was because they only served to comfort me that I was ‘getting through the course content’ quickly enough. They lacked learning objectives, scaffolding and active learning. Granted, there were some positives; I provided feedback on every piece of SML and used that to shape my subsequent lessons. But this did not make up for the pain I put my students through with ill-considered and arduous tasks in the first few weeks of term.

When we were told to produce videos to accompany our SMLs, my face did exactly the same thing as everyone else’s. But what at first glance seemed an extra burden on our time, can in fact help us produce something much better. As our notion of what effective self-managed learning looks like evolves, through parental-, student-, and teacher-questionnaires and the conversations we have in tutorials, so the video can become the vital element in personalised, streamlined and engaging SML.

However, that is easier said than done. There is very little out there that could be deemed ‘best practice’, at least not the peer-reviewed studies that we would ordinarily lean upon for such an integral part of our teaching and learning. Just as we did during Distance Learning, we will have to craft something from scratch. But we do have some fairly contemporary (pre-Covid) research and our own guiding principles of T&L to help us.

One of these principles is guided learning, which ought to lend itself naturally to SML videos. Yet up to this point, my SML tasks have been distinctly and ashamedly anti-constructivist. It seems strange to admit that the most important aspect of my classroom practice has failed to make it into my self-managed learning. Creating model SML videos has reminded me of the power of guided inquiry. It is so much more than “go away and find out”. Instead it involves independent learners who work alongside their teachers, which videos make a more tangible reality. Through careful but time-efficient signposting, or what Brame (2015) calls ‘signalling’, we can produce videos that help the students feel as though we are right there with them in the learning process. Colour-coding, building in pauses and setting personalising tiered questions are what we should be doing in lessons, an are even easier to do with digital inking, a pre-made resource, and a script next to you while you record.

Creating a video for my SML also kept me honest; would my students really be able to complete this task in 45 minutes? Studies (Guo, Kim and Rubin. 2014) have suggested that only educational videos of up to 6 minutes in length maintain the engagement of 100% of their audience. If we assume (and we should) that our videos will contain pause-points within them, this 6-minute mark becomes quite a challenge. The advice is to chunk your video as much as possible with built-in questions, tasks and quizzes. I have found that having a ready-made resource at hand, and walking students through it with my own emphasis and taxonomy of questions, closely simulates what I might do to challenge my students in lessons.

Making my own sample 15-minute videos over half term, I aimed to stick to some of these words of wisdom. Although my videos go on a bit, I’m getting there, and feel that I have successfully made the tough choice to streamline (‘weeding’ according to Brame) my content to achieve more meaningful learning through my video SMLs than the surface-level wearisome tasks I used as default in September.

Brame, C.J. 2015. Effective educational videos. http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/effective-educational-videos/. [accessed 21.10.20].

Guo, Kim and Rubin. 2014. How Video Production Affects Student Engagement. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.714.195&rep=rep1&type=pdf [accessed 20.10.20].