Improve Online Lectures

This guide focuses on how instructors can support student learning in their online lectures. Instructors can help students:

  1. focus and reduce cognitive load
  2. take and use notes more effectively
  3. use self-explanation
  4. use self-testing
  5. take advantage of spaced practice
Student viewing an online lecture

5 Ways to Support Learning in Online Lectures

Click on each strategy to view student survey highlights, teaching strategies, and resources for faculty and students.

Focus and Reduce Cognitive Load expanding section

Students learn more effectively when they sustain attention on the task at hand and ignore irrelevant information and distractions.

Student Survey Highlights*

Item

Often/Always

Never/Seldom

Your mind wanders and you daydream during lectures

52%

15%

Difficulty focusing attention throughout live online lectures

38%

23%

You multi-task during lectures by doing an unrelated task such as texting

40%

26%

You have difficulty listening to the presentation, reading slides, and taking notes at the same time

35%

33%

Teaching Strategies

Losing focus

  • Segment lectures
  • Ask students to respond to questions or problems
  • Incorporate polls to check for understanding

Divided attention

  • Assess the extent of digital multitasking in class
  • Adopt a policy for limiting phone use in class
  • Promote the idea that multitasking makes learning harder and is detrimental to grades (there is no advantage to multitasking)

Cognitive overload

Student & Instructor Resources

Take and Use Notes More Effectively expanding section

Students learn more effectively when their class notes create a structure that organizes key concepts.

Student Survey Highlights*

Item

Often/Always

Never/Seldom

Take notes when watching lectures

74%

7%

Use instructors’ outlines to guide notetaking

76%

11%

Difficulty taking notes and following live presentation

30%

24%

Teaching Strategies

  • Provide skeletal outlines for lecture classes
  • Encourage students to use notes to self-test for exams 

Student & Instructor Resources

Use Self-Explanation expanding section

Students learn more effectively when they explain new information to themselves by establishing connections among ideas which expands their understanding of the information.

Student Survey Highlights*

Item

Often/Always

Never/Seldom

When you don’t understand something in lecture, you try to explain it to yourself

53%

10%

To study for exams, you explain lecture material to yourself 

51%

20%

Teaching Strategies

  • In class put students in situations in which they explain material to one another, e.g., use think-pair-share, polls, clicker questions
  • Use online reading/preparation quizzes in which students explain concepts from reading assignments

Student & Instructor Resources

Use Self-Testing expanding section

Students learn more effectively when they recall information from memory because they create new associations and connections with the material making it easier to recall in the future.

Student Survey Highlights*

Item

Often/Always

Never/Seldom

To study for exams, you test yourself by trying to remember the material without looking at your lecture notes and then use your notes to check your answers 

53%

16%

To study for exams, you make practice questions or flashcards to test yourself

30%

42%

To study for exams, you take practice quizzes when provided by the instructor

73%

13%

Teaching Strategies

  • Use low stakes practice quizzes, polls, and clicker questions
  • Give students practice questions for reading assignments 

Student & Instructor Resources

Take Advantage of Spaced Practice expanding section

Students learn more effectively when they study material multiple times with lag time between study sessions.

Student Survey Highlights*

Item

Often/Always

Never/Seldom

To study for exams, you test yourself over the material spread out over several study sessions

34%

32%

To study for exams, you watch some lectures for the first time just before the exam

6%

80%

Teaching Strategies

  • Require students to make a spaced practice study schedule
  • Build cumulative practice quizzes throughout the course

Student & Instructor Resources

ADVICE FROM STUDENTS

Students were asked to make recommendations for instructors to make learning more effective in online lectures. Here are a few responses (they do not necessarily represent the opinions of the majority of survey respondents):

  • "Understand that our attention spans are already limited and adding in the flexibility and loss of accountability that comes with online (especially recorded) lectures can make learning a lot harder."
  • "[Use] short, concise videos, especially with note hand-outs, practice problems, or some sort of review that ties back to the material."
  • "I would recommend that other instructors implement quizzes or other participation activities to make lectures more effective."
  • "To make online lectures more effective, instructors could include participation questions that go along with the lectures, along with slide notes. This helps to make sure that the student is engaging with the lectures, and makes for easier note taking."

*About the Online Lecture Student Survey

The Online Lecture Survey consists of 67 items to assess students’ strategies and habits related to learning from online lectures in their courses (not in a specific course). The survey was administered Fall 2020 in Psychology 100, which had a total enrollment of 436 students. The survey was completed by 165 students who earned research participation credit in the course. UWL IRB approved the survey project. Participants were informed that their participation was voluntary and anonymous. 

The response options for survey questions were Always, Often, Sometimes, Seldom, Never. To facilitate interpretation of the results we combined the responses, “Always” and “Often” into a single category, and combined the responses, “Seldom” and “Never” into a single category. The Always/Often category reflects a strong tendency to engage in the specific activity being assessed. The Seldom/Never category reflects tendency not to engage in the specific activity being assessed. For example, if 80% of the students report that they often or always take notes in lecture it means that these students tend to take notes extensively. Conversely, if 80% report they seldom or never take notes in lecture it would mean these students tend not to take notes.

Cerbin, W. and Kopp, B. (2021). Improve online lectures. In Teaching Improvement Guide. University of Wisconsin at La Crosse Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from https://www.uwlax.edu/catl/guides/teaching-improvement-guide/how-can-i-improve/online-lectures/.