Video in flexible learning design

Ghassan, a Syrian refugee seeking Irish citizenship. His story is featured in DLA’s  Ready to Run  series.

Ghassan, a Syrian refugee seeking Irish citizenship. His story is featured in DLA’s Ready to Run series.

Video as a learning resource doesn’t always deliver flexibility for teachers. It is typically slotted in as a separate element at the close of a lesson (“You’ve been good, now watch this!”). Or there’s a link to a video for homework. In class, there is a fear and rigidity for instructors around pressing play. Perhaps it’s fed by anxiety around equipment, or teachers are scarred by low quality outdated content and styles from the educational video of 10 years ago. Maybe there’s a worry around perceived higher costs, the difficulty of sourcing up to date content, or the relative trickiness of adapting digital materials to learner needs compared to making a quick scissor cut on a paper sheet. At DLA, we observe all this and think it’s time to relax. The age of video-centred learning is here, let’s enjoy it.

Publishers and schools often (and wrongly) consider video as one side of a zero-sum option: books vs. screens. That’s a false either/or dilemma, but never mind. Pressure to focus on core processes steers learning designs towards bound glossy pages rather than screens. Books satisfy parental voices and indeed oil the money pump in many education systems.  

In ELT, things are different and perhaps this is a pointer to the future in other subjects. All of the top five English language publishers worldwide use DLA videos inside multiple ELT courses, so we know the commitments they have made to learning designs built on video content. In many markets, the phrase “a video on every spread” sets the ambition. (Although there are exceptions, notably Germany: Bücher sind am besten.)

Sophie vlogs about her Japanese high school experience in DLA’s  Ready to Run .

Sophie vlogs about her Japanese high school experience in DLA’s Ready to Run.

A flexible spread of syllabus content across different platforms and learning activities emerges as the favoured design for materials. That’s what we hear from talks with course authors and teachers. Based on a formative assessment, a learning facilitator wants to direct each student in the way that best suits their learning goals. In any given content area it might involve down-levelling or up-levelling the language, or pushing the content from video into text or vice versa.  A video asset conventionally serves as a stimulus and motivation for a whole class. But for an outcome in which each learner grows their capacity, a teacher will need multiple and different ways for students to work with the content. Activities for language learning could range from annotating and posting comments on a video, to writing and recording an alternative commentary.

The challenge for the learning content sector is how to supply materials that can do all these things - without taking forever and costing a fortune to develop. We have many conversations with publishers and education systems, and can observe a growing demand for flexible approaches to content development. It’s partly a consequence of a global reach: our Japanese client knows that paper gap-fill exercises will sell a series, while an Eastern European publisher needs to see critical thinking activities built out from video.

The solution at DLA is what we call “content families”. We have a single core asset from, say, a vibrant vlogger whose material we license. And we enrich it with options for learning. From that asset we will offer graded commentary at different levels, different cuts of the video for each market, a range of activities at several levels for the main pedagogical models, some graded readers, and some core drill-and-kill exercise packs. When it comes to serving particular curricula, or indeed students, the educator and the publisher can pick and mix, adapting where necessary.

A garment worker modifying second-hand clothes in one of DLA’s  Ready to Run  videos for ELT.

A garment worker modifying second-hand clothes in one of DLA’s Ready to Run videos for ELT.

Allowing teachers to take video material the way they want it is a spur to innovation. I think it will eventually get us out of the screen vs. paper dead end. It was video’s misfortune to be the next thing language publishers and teachers did after audio. So video took the pedagogical place of audio: listening exercises, but with pictures (I’m indebted to video and ELT expert Ben Goldstein for that phrase).

There are some types of ELT video content still treads this path: narrated sequences pitched to entertain a classroom. Some teachers appreciate that it keeps the kids quiet. But this is wrong. The point of media in language teaching (or any teaching) should be the opposite. Getting the learners to write their own commentary and record it in English would be a good start.

We’re betting that giving authors and teachers the freedom to pick and choose flexibly from a large family of assets will open the door to an era of more relaxed and effective language learning.