IT Teaching Resources

The instructor’s face in video instruction

Two field studies highlight the value of social cues for motivation, and expresses caution against the one-size-fits-all approaches to instructional design

Article Research Promising practices

Title: The Instructor’s Face in Video Instruction: Evidence from Two Large-Scale Field Studies
Authors: René F. Kizilcec, Jeremy N. Bailenson, and Charles J. Gomez

Key points

  • This study encourages instructors to think about diverse and flexible ways to engage students; a one-size-fits-all approach will provide different levels of engagement and cognitive demand for learners with different preferences
  • Students respond differently to seeing instructors’ faces during online classes. Some prefer seeing the instructors’ faces as a social cue, while others do not, citing additional cognitive load and processing when seeing the instructors’ faces
  • Cognitive load and perceived social presence were higher during strategic moments of face-showing as compared to showing face constantly; However, this differed by learner type

Multimedia learning research has established several principles for the effective design of audiovisual instruction. The image principle suggests that showing the instructor’s face in multimedia instruction does not promote learning, because the potential benefits from inducing social responses are outweighed by the cost of additional cognitive processing. In an 8-week observational field study (N 2,951), online learners chose to watch video lectures either with or without the instructor’s face. Although learners who saw the face reported having a better lecture experience than those who chose not to see the face, 35% watched videos without the face for self-reported reasons including avoiding distraction. Building on these insights, the authors developed a video presentation style that strategically shows the face to reduce distraction while preserving occasional social cues. A 10-week field experiment (N 12,468) compared the constant with the strategic presentation of the face and provided evidence consistent with the image principle. Cognitive load and perceived social presence were higher in the strategic than in the constant condition, but learning outcomes and attrition did not differ. Learners who expressed a verbal learning preference experienced substantially lower attrition and cognitive load with the constant than the strategic presentation. The findings highlight the value of social cues for motivation and caution against one-size-fits-all approaches to instructional design that fail to account for individual differences in multimedia instruction.

What would this look like in a course?
  • Give people the option to leave their camera off, or at least have a conversation with a professor or a TA about leaving their camera off.
  • Think through camera expectations at multiple points throughout the quarter. Consider how students’ stresses might compile over the quarter; it might be harder to keep the camera on in Week 9 as opposed to Week 2.
  • Perhaps set aside time for students to have their cameras on (e.g., breakout rooms and group discussion) but allow times where it is acceptable to have it off.

Kizilcec, R. F., Bailenson, J. N., & Gomez, C. J. (2015). The instructor’s face in video instruction: Evidence from two large-scale field studies. Journal of Educational Psychology107(3), 724.