Are video podcasts are ready to replace medical lectures?

by Walter van den Broek, MD, PhD

Video podcasts are not ready to replace lectures.

This disappointing result is recently published online.

Teachers are eager to use new information technology to teach. When I’m doing a lecture at our medical school, these lectures are made to podcasts and posted on blackboard. Together with the slides, students can rehears or listen to the lecture afterwords when not present. This is during undergraduate medical education. According to the multimedia learning theory, multichannel learning should enhance learning. A disadvantage to these new technologies is the lack of interaction between students and lecturer. This makes it impossible for the student to gauge understanding from non-verbal cues and indeed from questions. This can make the student less engaged and motivated.

This study was done in a crossover randomized controlled trial with two groups of 50 students.

Students were split into two groups. The first group attended a live lecture on arthritis and then a video podcast on vasculitis, while the second group attended a live lecture on vasculitis and then a video podcast on arthritis.

The students rated the videocast (podcast with slides) inferior to the lecture on content and presentation. The information recall didn’t differ between the video podcast and the live lecture.

Students appreciated the convenience and control over podcasts, but generally found them less engaging. They felt there was less motivation to learn with podcasts and that they were less likely to complete the teaching session.

Video podcasts can’t replace the old professor giving his live lecture, the students prefer those live lectures — they are more engaging and motivating. The video podcasts with slides is valued only as supplemental to the lecture, e.g. for rehearsal.

But what about also showing the professor with the slides? This was only tested in a small sample (12 medical students). Results didn’t differ but appreciation wasn’t measured. From previous research, podcasts are generally more engaging than a textbook but less engaging than a live lecture.

Walter van den Broek is a psychiatrist who blogs at Dr. Shock MD PhD.

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  • Matthew Mintz

    This study is not robust enough to make the statement “video podcasts are not ready to replace lectures.” In addition to being a small study limited to a single institution, it is important to note that the study design, while randomized, is not compatible with what actually goes on in undergraduate medical education (at least in the US). First, all participants experienced both live lectures and podcasts in the same location (i.e. students did not watch the podcasts in the PJ’s at home). In real life, students vote with their feet. More and more, our students are choosing to study on their own rather than listen to a live lecture. Second, both lectures were only 15 minutes. I don’t know a single professor at any US institution that delivers a 15 minute lecture on any topic. Finally, though students were allowed to pause the podcasts, they were not allowed (or the article does not specificy whether or not they could) “speed up the lecture” which is one advantage of podcasts. Essentially, all that you can say from this study is that when forced to sit for 15 minutes hearing either a live lecture or podcast, medical students found the podcasts less engaging, though knowledge was the same.
    The real issue is that medical education is years behind other professional schools in our reliance on didactic lectures. Medical students are adult learners and need to be given a variety of options to learn and be provided with expert faculty to guide their learning. “Death by Powerpoint” is a real danger in medical education. Though Podcasts may be one method to make medical education more adult learning centered, this study does point out that if one is not careful, “death by podcast” is also possible.

  • ohsuneuro

    I don’t think this says that video podcasts are out completely. First, it does show that that podcast recall was equivalent to lecture. Which is to say that it compares favorably with a very inefficient means of transferring information. I think it more means that taking existing lectures designed for the traditional lecture format of standing in the front of class and droning on about a procession of slides doesn’t always translate well to a computer screen and can be boring, and lead to “multi-tasking” (ie reading email, reading Kevin MD blogs, playing scrabble online, etc). I’m not sure that putting the video of the lecturer in will save it, at least in my experience with trying to get students to watch vodcasts from my clerkship.

    I think this result just says that online video material should be tailored to the online format. It can be interactive in numerous ways, it’s just this paper didn’t choose to utilize them. On the whole, I would agree that many lectures taped and put online are boring, and unfulfilling. But, many lectures live in a lecture hall are boring and unfulfilling…

    • thedocsquawk

      If only there was a fast forward button in live lectures.

      • Anon EM Doc

        Or for that matter a “play speed” setting. I would watch my med school lectures at 1.4x and it amazingly made the lectures more engaging.

  • IVF-MD

    When I give lectures to medical students, whether it’s an audience of 20 or an audience of 80, it is always an interactive experience. I present a concept and ask them to reason out the next step before agreeing or disagreeing with their answers and discussing why. Feedback from students has taught me that this unusual style (unusual in that 95%+ of the lectures they get are NOT like this) is much better-received than the traditional one-way talks. There are certainly advantages of video podcasts in terms of mass distribution and time-flexibility, but there are other huge advantages of live interactive lectures as well.

  • Edward Stevenson

    Had a undergraduate professor who handed out a DVD of all his lectures, you could watch the in half, normal or double speed. they were indexed to topic and it was yours to keep forever if you ever need to brush up on something a few year after college. it was wonderful, I wish this would catch on more.

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