BETTblogs: Video in courses. Who wins and who loses?


Could video make syllabi more narrow? A restrictive set of work roles is on show in film-based courses in Business English. Are we okay with this?

Courses and textbooks are fast adopting authentic video as the delivery medium. In many disciplines a mini-documentary is increasingly perceived by learner and teacher as essential content. Digital Learning Associates (DLA) is often tasked by publishers to create the learning design and video materials for their digital video-led courses. So we get early sight of education video trends.

The impact of the video boom on Business curricula was the subject of a recent session we held with subject-specialist teachers and school heads.

Our issue: authors of video-led Business courses are, as a matter of policy, asking video content to feature only certain types of professional role on screen. We reported how the syllabus videos preferred by publisher teams predominantly show:

  • White collar settings in commercial workplaces
  • Job titles at managerial and executive grade
  • Individuals asserting a commanding boardroom style

When potential content shows settings such as manufacturing, services, social care or healthcare, it is usually rejected.

On some other counts, publishers have a really open mind about what’s in a video - gender, global diversity, accent can be very broad. But not on this point of role stereotypes. The rejected video content clusters strongly around hospitals, train stations, kitchens. The favoured content clusters around suits, venture capital, finance.

At one level we don’t mind. Publishers know their market. One of DLA’s jobs, when working in contractor roles, is to support publishing clients by fulfilling a complex editorial specification as part of their digital product range. We’re proud to meet any spec in video, and we do it full-heartedly.

On the other hand, it is puzzling. Our own research among learners tells us something different (admittedly we focus on Generation Z smartphone-native global learners whose social framing of issues is specific). Here’s what we know about Business students:

  • Their concept of business favours alternative and mission-driven work such as health care
  • The current learner generation seeks to go beyond a consensus version of success: they want to talk about issues like workplace mental health
  • They know people often struggle to be effective.
  • Manufacturing (rebranded now as “making”) is super cool: the more oily rags the better
  • Their concept of a professional’s qualities includes social currency in all sections of a workforce

Forbes’ Technology Council recently added it grist to this reading of the Business student market: the Social Enterprise format is the future of work. But education publishers are having none of this. Why?

Our focus group offered us a helpful concept for explaining the puzzle. Role identity. This means that in video pedagogy, the learning takes place through the learner identifying with the characters they view in the screen narrative. For video to cause learning, there needs to be a sympathetic alignment between the learner’s actual or aspirational social/cultural self, and the character they are watching on screen. When the alignment exists, there is openness to the content. When there’s no alignment, there’s less ingestion of information.

Here’s the paradox. Video clearly helps educators to get engagement and energy into the learning experience. But there’s a price: the aspirations of those training for professional life will be focussed on consensus ambitions - banks, finance, marketing, startups in Silicon Valley, executive roles ,etc. Hospitals, public services, engineering, social problems will be less in their picture.

This is perhaps an extension of a phenomenon noted elsewhere as a consequence of digital content oversupply. We become a society grouped into walled-off “bubbles” of culture or income. Kwame Anthony Appiah has theorised how power uses imagery to construct separation of identities - and something like this may be going on with video in education. Video’s impact seems to be to foreground the apparatus of power and money in the teaching of business methodology. Cultures such as repair, service, machinery may be less prominent in the view of those who are cultivating the tools and skills of Business.

The rise of video sets some questions to everyone involved in learning design and syllabus content. Do we prioritise the impact and engagement that video can leverage through role identity? If so we may be educating students to a narrower world view. Or do we opt to give learners a full social picture, but risk that their retention and engagement metrics might be less than optimal?

Video in the end does not escape the familiar question of education: how far is learning evaluated by effectiveness for the student? How far for its consequences for the society?

That’s where political debate needs to take up this discussion. We bow out after pointing out to the education community that adopting authentic video is more than a merely technical choice.  


Want to know more about DLA’s authentic video range for ELT schools and publishers ? Read more here, contact us by email (, or find us on Twitter.

This blog was published as part of the series BETTblogs (follow the hashtag on Twitter) by DLA. Please contact us before republishing.