Stanford University

The Instructor’s Face in Video Instruction:
Evidence from Two Large-Scale Field Studies

Kizilcec, R.F., Bailenson, J.N., & Gomez, C.J. (2015). The Instructor’s Face in Video Instruction: Evidence from Two Large-Scale Field Studies. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107 (3), 724-739.

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Multimedia learning research has established several principles for the effective design of audiovisual instruction. The image principle suggests that showing the instructor’s face in multimedia instruction does not promote learning, because the potential benefits from inducing social responses are outweighed by the cost of additional cognitive processing. In an 8-week observational field study (N = 2,951), online learners chose to watch video lectures either with or without the instructor’s face. Although learners who saw the face reported having a better lecture experience than those who chose not to see the face, 35% watched videos without the face for self-reported reasons including avoiding distraction. Building on these insights, the authors developed a video presentation style that strategically shows the face to reduce distraction while preserving occasional social cues. A 10-week field experiment (N = 12,468) compared the constant with the strategic presentation of the face and provided evidence consistent with the image principle. Cognitive load and perceived social presence were higher in the strategic than in the constant condition, but learning outcomes and attrition did not differ. Learners who expressed a verbal learning preference experienced substantially lower attrition and cognitive load with the constant than the strategic presentation. The findings highlight the value of social cues for motivation and caution against one-size-fits-all approaches to instructional design that fail to account for individual differences in multimedia instruction.

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