, or the pros and cons of video-lecturing

The possibility to tape a lecture — e.g. an academic lecture from a professor and belonging to an undergrad course — and upload it to a web server is not new. But as a lecture is not only a speech, but a lot more — questions and answers, teamwork, a blackboard or a beamer with complementary materials and/or further explanations, etc. — we have usually been seeing lecture recording like a by-product of master-classes in the best of scenarios.

But the fact that the web is increasingly (a) providing best connectivity, access, searchability/findability, ease of use and capabilities of storage, and (b) more social tools so that people can collaborate, has made the debate around video-lectures worth revisiting.

A simple search provides a good bunch of articles worth giving them a look:

The results from the previous papers can be summarized as follows:

  • If the recorded lecture is just a substitute for the live thing, it might not make a difference or, in other words, the impact might be null.
  • But the recorded lecture can be more engaging than the live lecture, as it allows for stops and fast-forwards, pauses to check other information, etc.
  • The video-lecture can also enable people to attend lectures they would or could not attend, and even make them more efficient in their attendance (see previous point)
  • The taped lecture can also be a trigger for teamwork, collaboration and other social learning methodologies, methodologies that, indeed, are normally not used in live lectures because of their (a) unidirectionality (b) time constraints and (c) crowded classrooms — let alone shyness from some attendees that just cannot speak/interact in public
  • If students are more engaged, comfortable and willing to collaborate, the impact of having recorded lectures either as supporting materials or as a substitute for the “real thing” can end up having a positive impact and increasing academic performance in relationship with students not using taped lectures but attending classes

With this in mind, I happened to meet online the founders of and had the chance to have a guest access to the site — while they invited me too to write this little piece about is a collection of academic lectures […] helping students that do not have ready access to great education because of geographic location or socioeconomic status. Educator’s instructors are all experienced college professors and guide students through an innovative two video interface that simulates a one-to-one learning environment. In other words, people at have put together good professors in front of the camera and taped their lectures, including their slides, whiteboard notes, syllabuses, readings, etc.

At first glance — which sticks at second and further “glances” — the quality of the materials is impressive (see, for instance, what’s being prepared to learn chemistry or Calculus BC), treated with most taste and sensitivity: content is good and is meticulously presented. Most materials include a video of the professor plus his slides and/or whiteboard, while keeping navigation very easy along the syllabus which features subtitles and time codes. Videos add up some quick notes and the possibility to comment them.

That said, and going back to what we stated before about video lectures, makes a very good companion to either reinforce or to (maybe) substitute traditional lectures, and I see a lot of potentials in models like’s.

Cons of video-lectures?

In my opinion, the cons — necessarily — go in the same line as the “accompanying measures” that the afore mentioned researchers already stated in their papers: while content can constitute a core and a good one, it is context and enablers what will make of a video-lecture a (potential) success — besides the incontestable fact of being able to reach a content you wouldn’t otherwise if not being able to attend live lectures, of course.

A first aspect is exercises, so that oneself can test a specific level of knowledge acquisition. This is something that’s already planned (though not still implemented) in and that just seldom is seen in other academic lectures’ repositories.

Related to this, possibility of feedback or guidance should naturally follow. Being myself a professor teaching online, once content is made available, our added value is, simply stated, (a) guidance through path setting and (b) provision of specific feedback.

Which leads me to the third aspect: in distance learning, syllabuses, learning paths, etc. are a must. Much is done in this sense at and much more is likely to be found there would their project work, reach a critical mass and enable them to put as many courses as possible.

Of course, it is not only a matter of setting up a learning path, but also help in blueprinting one’s own curriculum. Being able to create one’s own “playlists” (something that other content — not lectures — repositories allow) or be able to go offline by feeding your mp4 player would be interesting add ons to the project and to the freedom of the student.

In the end, sites like should enable the student to create their own e-portfolios or, to follow the actual trend, their own personal learning environments.

These personal learning environments would, of course, interact with other students so that a learning community can emerge, be it to share hints, materials, doubts or, in the best scenario, to build together their own learning.

Summing up: initiatives like take the best of technology to capture live lectures and make them available to a very broad public. I don’t think just taped lectures are “education”, but:

  • They can be complemented with more content, context, guidance, classmates, etc. so that the resulting mix is a real and richest learning experience
  • They definitely stress the weaknesses of the traditional lecturing style, challenging the suitability of such methods, and asking them for an urgent update… maybe a blended model were lectures can be supplied by someone like and leave live meetings for debates, seminars or something were face-to-face makes more sense and ads real value.