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Taped Lectures – Better than the Real Thing?

OK, this online learning concept may now have another feather in its cap. We recently discussed the notion of video lecture series being available online, a step that could ultimately render the traditional face-to-face lecture option obsolete.

tama leaverIn a rather interesting development, Dani McKinney, Jennifer L. Dycka and Elise S. Lubera have released the results of a new study. In iTunes University and the Classroom: Can Podcasts Replace Professors?, the researchers take a look at student test results depending on whether the student attended a specific classroom lecture or listened to the lecture as a podcast.

The Research

The experiment was quite simple. The researchers wanted to test the effectiveness of taped lectures and contrast that with the performance of those students who attended class and heard the same lecture in person.

To determine the effectiveness, the researchers created two distinct groups. One group of undergraduate general psychology students listened to a 25-min lecture given in person by a professor using PowerPoint slides. Students were provided handouts in the form of copies of the slides to enhance note-taking. A second group of undergraduate psychology students listened to the same lecture in a podcast. They too were provided the same PowerPoint handouts.

One week after the different group sessions, students took an exam on lecture content. In what most would deem a startling development, “students in the podcast condition who took notes while listening to the podcast scored significantly higher than the lecture condition.”

Another Blow to High Cost Education?

We noted previously the potential outcome of high-caliber lecture repositories becoming available online. We quoted John Robb, who offered this simple caveat in regards to online lectures, especially if the taped version were delivered by the best in the field.

“There is no need to recreate the lecture with tens of thousands of less qualified/exceptional teachers” if there is at least one exceptional version available online.

Critics have long held onto the fact that being there and hearing the lecture in person, face-to-face, trumps any taped offering. The work of McKinney, et al, certainly undercuts that assertion.

Eli HodappUnfortunately, in an ironic twist for us, the folks at ScienceDirect have not caught on to the opensource education movement. To be able to read the full article regarding the study one must shell out $31.50.

So we have not been able to discern what McKinney postulates as rationale for the students listening to a podcast to perform better than those students hearing the lecture in person.

But the abstract alone confirms that as education gives careful consideration as to how best to implement technology, things change when the focus is on steps to make education more affordable. Because, if lectures and the accompanying power point slides available on iTunes produce even similar academic outcomes as traditional face-to-face lecture formats, then the enormous potential cost savings from taped online versions would in fact render the current educational model obsolete.

Flickr photos courtesy of Tama Leaver and Eli Hodapp.


1 Louise Maine { 02.01.09 at 11:30 pm }

That is excellent and I hope more about the rationale. I am currently podcasting my lectures but think they should be offered side to side with other voices as well. There are so many others my students can learn from (and I am not the expert.) Do you think this will continue to make these lectures free or change that market? I think the advantage of face to face in the future will be in refining learning and individualized assessment for learning.

2 Anonymous { 02.01.09 at 11:59 pm }

The cited paper, in its conclusion, in fact states:

“The results of this study are in no way an indication that audio copies of lectures could or should replace actual professors, or even regular class attendance. The advantage the students in our study received was only when the student took notes as they would do during a lecture, and when they listened to the lecture more than once. In essence, the same things a student does during the actual lecture, they would need to do to show a benefit of the podcast.”

This conclusion contradicts the idea of this blog posting, “Taped Lectures – Better than the Real Thing” Podcasts aren’t better because they are cheaper — they are better because the students can replay them. Podcasts should be used to augment class attendance, rather than replace it.

3 Mollybob { 02.02.09 at 1:57 am }

Interesting… I think there are a few variables in here, like learning preferences of the students and the skills of the lecturer versus podcast authors, although on many levels the results do not surprise me. I too wish the article were available in fuill text for frere, I’d love to learn a bit more.

4 brunsell { 02.02.09 at 11:27 pm }

I am not surprised at all by this study. Why would watching a live face-to-face presentation be any different than watching a canned version? Students watching the canned version have the benefit of being able to be comfortable (very unlikely in a lecture pit), and replaying portions that went to fast or were confusing.

This study only shows one thing — that a “canned” passive lecture is just as beneficial as a live passive lecture. It does not show that good professors (or teachers) are unnecessary. To maximize learning a good teacher (online or in-person) can react to student difficulties, create experiences, and provide good feedback on student thinking.

In fact, high quality canned lectures could free good professors to spend more time actually helping students learn instead of preparing and transmitting information.

5 Phil Ashman { 02.11.09 at 2:36 pm }

As a post secondary instructor in a technology, I’ve often postulated on the very same thoughts. When I go into a lecture I always ask myself, what value can I bring to the students that they couldn’t get from just reading the text and doing the labs? It isn’t always easy, and sometimes yes you are simply presenting the same material in a different way for more complex topics. However when I think back to most of my university courses, I would certainly have done better had they provided me with a podcast/vidcast from a renowned speaker in the field and passionate presenter. IMHO I think most undergrad university courses are stilled canned lectures. I’ve often voiced strong opinions on how the same material posted online from institutions like Stanford, Oxford, MIT is going to flatten the education system and wreak havoc on enrollment in traditional institutions . Their internal structure does not cater to progressive educational methods.

However, I wholeheartedly agree with the above comment that “high quality canned lectures could free good professors to spend more time actually helping students learn instead of preparing and transmitting information”

6 Janis { 02.11.09 at 3:03 pm }

Actual class attendance is important because it keeps you motivated and exposes you to people who can discuss ideas with you. It’s also beneficial socially. However, I can see how students perform better when they listen to taped lectures. I had to miss a lot of classes one semester due to family problems and received permission to listen to class lectures recorded by friends in the same class. I got my highest grades that semester by a large margin. I took notes whether I attended class or not. I would get distracted in class, but at home, I could stop the lecture, take a bathroom break, or rewind a few minutes if I realized I had let my brain wander for a minute.

7 Dani McKinney { 02.19.09 at 1:35 am }

It is difficult for an author to know how to comment when the author of the blog did not actually read the paper that he is discussing. In fact, the effect of having the podcast only appears when the students in that condition worked considerably harder than those in the live-lecture condition. The effect completely disappears when the podcasts are merely listened to. To see the advantage, the students had to take notes of the podcast AND listen to it more than once. So, far from being able to replace professors, the podcasts might give students the benefit of being able to listen to the lecture more than once, and the ability to get the notes more accurately.

Please don’t comment on specific conclusions the paper makes by reading the abstract alone. That’s similar to attending the first week of class and the last week of class and expecting to get an A….

8 Thomas { 02.22.09 at 8:14 pm }

Thank you for taking the time to read our post and present the clarification. We in turn have followed up original post with a second, updated version, adding your thoughts (

9 Rodolpho Arruda { 03.10.09 at 10:08 am }

Duke has been doing this for 5 years:


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