The Misleading Debate Over Text “Versus” Video

Here’s a question that plagues trainers and eLearning professionals: “When teaching or learning something new, do you prefer video or text?” Frankly, it is the wrong question.

According to “everyone,” video is supposed to be the most powerful way to learn. Many assume that online video inherently makes eLearning better or more effective. So, they resist the idea that some people—actually a lot of people—still prefer text over video!

The reason is simple: control. With text, the end user has complete control over the experience, based on his or her reading level. The quality of the writing and its presentation matter, of course, but the point is that the learner is in control of the experience. With text, learners determine the pace, when and how to go back or skip forward, and in some cases mark specific points that have meaning for them.

In her 2015 Psychology Today blog, Liz Margalit offers some insights on the value of text. “These people will prefer text, because it allows them to skim over portions that interest them less, move backwards to re-read those passages that interest them more, and overall allow for them to set the pace of the interaction.” Margalit also points out that reading is typically a more active mental process than watching a video.

Users want to set the pace of their interaction, which is well established with text—both printed and online. But we assume that such interaction is not possible with video—a medium one views passively, at the pace set by the video creator. That assumption is wrong.

In a February Wired article, “If You Want To Learn Faster, Overclock Your Audio and Video” the author postulates that speed controls are “reinventing the art of skimming”. This level of control can be applied to video content. One may now speed up playback for familiar (or boring) content, or slow it down to give it greater attention. It is also possible to go back and revisit key parts of a video, although some systems make it easier than others.

The real breakthrough for training and eLearning is when people can set bookmarks and take notes within a video. As with text, this level of control gives individual learners the power to identify specific, personally relevant moments of content, as well as set the pace of interaction.

The Misleading Debate Over Text “Versus” Video

Text will always be an integral part of training and eLearning. It’s not an “either/or” decision. But video and audio should never be relegated to a passive, entertainment-like role. Learners need to control their experience, which is possible with both media. An interactive video training application, like the Viddler Training Suite, enables people who prefer this level of control to engage with learning videos in a whole new way.