October 6, 2019

Access to Recorded Lectures and Students’ Performance and Memory

by Alicia Rogers, Pharm.D., PGY-1 Pharmacy Resident, Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi

In recent years, there has been lots of discussion about whether to require students to attend class for lectures and then later allow students access to recordings of the lectures. Until recently, I didn’t quite understand why this was such a hot topic or what all the fuss was about. My thoughts were simple. If students wanted to skip class and watch lectures at a later time, let them. However, as I’ve come to understand, there is bigger picture. It’s not simply about convenience or preferences, it’s about student learning. Does allowing students to have remote and later access to recorded lectures affect students’ long- term memory and performance? I decided to take a deeper look.

Recently, investigators at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy published a study entitled “Exploring the Consequences on Memory of Students Who Know They Have Access to Recorded Lectures.”2 I found the results very interesting and contrary to my assumptions. The study included to two parallel groups: students with access to a recording of a lecture after the lecture was delivered and students who did not. The goal of this study was to test immediate recall performance and to gauge performance during delayed recall. Students with access to recorded lectures had the option to repeatedly view the material. Students without access would need to find other means to review the material. This study found that there was increased performance in delayed recall with the group with assess to lectures. However, access to recorded lectures was not beneficial from any other standpoint and there was a suggestion that knowledge of assess to recorded lectures could have negative effects on memory and encoding long-term.2 In their discussion, the authors explore two educational theories which may explain this finding: The Efficient Encoding Hypothesis and The Desirable Difficulty Hypothesis. When students have access to recorded lectures, taking fewer notes reduces the quality of brainpower to learn because no real work is required to support the commitment to long-term memory. There was also evidence to support The Efficient Encoding Hypothesis whereby students with no access took fewer notes, but in turn, paid more attention to the initial lecture for greater understanding.2 These results were completely different than what I thought would be true.

One major problem I have with this study is the conditions under which it was conducted. It was a simulation. Thus, the study lacked "real life" variables and consequences. This might play a major role in students' behaviors and subsequent performance. Performance and memory are dependent on several intrinsic factors, including motivation.

The authors should be applauded for considering some important instructional design principles to help students learn effectively in their study. Microlearning, spaced learning, and retrieval were all used. Microlearning is providing instruction in short snippets such 5-15 minute videos.3 Spaced learning is the act of repeating information to learners over time instead of relaying all of the information in a single session. Spaced learning substantially improves long-term encoding and may boost learning by as much as 200%.3 Lastly, retrieval involves improving retention and performance by asking questions. All three learning strategies were used in both groups. Research suggests that these strategies help learners refresh their knowledge and strengthen their memory of the content.

These instructional design strategies are routed in several theories in education psychological including behaviorism, cognitive learning theory, and constructivism. Behavioral psychology advocates repetition and reinforcement in learning material to create a “behavior” in the learner. Cognitive psychology focuses on engaging the learner’s senses to create a learning process, while constructivism emphasizes the learner’s own experience and personal interpretation.1 There are intrinsic factors that play a role in learning including motivation and how individuals encode information. It would be expected that students that re-watch recorded lectures would have increased retention. Although re-watching recorded lectures is not the only means to increase retention, it does provide an opportunity for repetition.

As a former pharmacy student, access to recorded lectures allowed me to reinforce the information that was initially covered during a face-to-face lecture. There are times when students can be distracted during a lecture — after 1 or 2 hours, who wouldn’t get distracted! Having access to recorded lectures allows student access to materials they may have missed during the live session. Some students use recordings in order to fill in gaps in their notes and to help with a better understanding of the course material. When re-watching lectures, students can slow down the speed and this can be helpful to some students who need a bit more time to fully understand what the teacher is saying (e.g. students whose primarily language is not English).

We are in the technology age. Millennials are accustomed to online learning and having information available at their fingertips 24/7. Many people enjoy the convenience of technology and take advantage of learning on-the-go. As a student, I enjoyed being able to re-watch lectures in the comfort of my own home so that I could focus on understanding the information without interruptions. I believe students can get more out of lectures when they do not have a constant stream of distractions. Distractions are a common problem in the classroom. Thus, not having access to recorded lectures after class would be detrimental from some, if not most, students.

So, while this study is intriguing, I do not think denying access to recorded lectures is the best strategy to enhance recall and long-term memory. Indeed, there was no difference in performance when students re-studied using a recorded lecture when compared to when students retrieved information through questioning.4 While the overall group performance was similar, there are likely individual differences and some students would undoubtedly perform better using one reinforcement strategy versus another.

In my opinion, this study was flawed. The study was not conducted under “real life” conditions and the subject matter (astronomy) was unrelated to anything that a pharmacy student would ordinarily study. Moreover, students are expected to learn and retain information from multiple courses and subjects simultaneously. In a pharmacy curriculum, knowledge builds on itself. Students often use previously learned material to help bring together their understanding and “just-in-time” access to recorded lectures can be very helpful. So, while access to recorded lectures might not be helpful in simulated learning environments like this study, it doesn’t appear to be harmful. So, if it’s not broken, why fix it?

1. Little B. Principles of instructional design. Retrieved from https://www.mindtools.com/blog/corporate/principles-instructional-design/  Accessed on October 6, 2019.
2. Patel B, Yook G, Mislan S, and Persky A. Exploring the consequences of memory of students who know they have access to recorded lectures. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 2019; 83(5): Article 6958. Retrieved from https://www.ajpe.org/doi/full/10.5688/ajpe6958 
3. ShifteLearning. Use these 5 instructional design strategies to create an effective e-learning course. Retrieved from https://www.shiftelearning.com/blog/instructional-design-strategies-effective-elearning  Accessed on October 6, 2019.
4. Palmer S, Chu Y, and Persky A. Comparison of re-watching recording and retrieval practice as post-class learning strategies. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 2019; Publication Ahead of Print. Retrieved from https://www.ajpe.org/doi/pdf/10.5688/ajpe7217

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