How to reduce mind wandering in educational videos

Tim van der Zee

Online education has rapidly become a highly popular method of education. The promise – global and free access to high quality  education – has often been applauded. Online education is quickly becoming a central fixture in the college curriculum. The availability of free online courses with massive enrollments including students from all over the world (e.g., www.edX.orgwww.coursera.org has developed rapidly and captured widespread public attention. In online and blended education, videos have a prominent place. In Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), videos are often the very core of a course. The recent emergence and popularity of online educational resources brings with it challenges for educators to optimize the dissemination of online content.

One issue with educational videos is that they do not foster active learning processes, as students only need to passively observe the video. One consequence is students' tendency to mind wander. Mind wandering is the voluntary or involuntary lack of focus on educational content, and can be anything from daydreaming to actively choosing to think about something else. In order to increase the educational quality of videos, it is important to better understand how we can reduce mind wandering and increase on-task focus. 

In two experiments, Szpunar et al. demonstrate that the simple act of interpolating video lectures with memory tests can help students sustain attention to lecture content in a manner that discourages task-irrelevant mind wandering activities, encourages task-relevant note-taking activities, and improves learning. Importantly, frequent testing was associated with reduced anxiety toward a final cumulative test and also with reductions in subjective estimates of cognitive demand. 

Szpunar, K. K., Khan, N. Y., & Schacter, D. L. (2013). Interpolated memory tests reduce mind wandering and improve learning of online lecturesProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences110(16), 6313-6317.

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