So, I am yet to make up my mind on which is a superior mode of teaching in flipped classroom videos:

  1. Khan academy type model where you see slides or a digital drawing board and only listen to the instructor.
  2. Or a video in which you see the instructor communicating with you. Maybe in one third of the video and the rest of the screen real estate is focused on graphics, video etc.

Let us assume that you have a superb communicator in both cases.

Which model is superior? Have there been any studies in this field?

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    I'm leaning toward calling this a question that has no clear answer - it's very opinion-based in that some people need the person-to-person contact, and others just care about the content.
    – tonysdg
    Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 20:17
  • Isn't this part of stackexchange for opinions? This is my first time outside the programming side of SE. I would like to hear diverse opinions. Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 20:21
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    That's true - I'm just not sure you can answer "which model is superior". You can answer "which model is superior for individuals with XYZ traits", though that may no longer fit for Academia SE...it just seems a bit vague in my opinion. But as you noted - that's my opinion :) Stick around a bit and see what others have to say! (P.S. Welcome to Academia SE!)
    – tonysdg
    Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 20:23
  • Thank you. I understand your perspective. Alternatively, I am happy to hear what kind of people (personality traits) can 1 and 2 target. Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 20:32
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    Hm, seems like kind of an interesting research question, at least, though I can't say I've heard of any research in this area I'd imagine this would be heavily in the education field. It could potentially be in HCI though in the area of intelligent teaching agents, though I don't recall a study looking at something close to this. Would love to read such a study if anyone finds one, though!
    – BrianH
    Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 22:58

3 Answers 3


I cannot cite studies, but extensive anecdotal observation (maybe 5,000 undergrad students, 500 grad students) suggests that about 1/4 of students do not need, or do not care, about the person who is the instructor. But a vast majority, perhaps 3/4, do care. There is a sense of needing/wanting reassurance from a person, and caring about the insights of a person. The lack of this need/want comes in (at least) two very opposite forms: obviously the oblivious/incompetent failure to see what's going on, but also the relatively-very-competent student who scarcely needs or wants reassurance and has better ways to spend their time. The middle ground seems not to exist.

So, operationally, for almost all purposes, the person who is the teacher matters, whether or not they are a truly wonderful teacher (as long as they're not completely inert as a human being).

(The "funny case" is the few students, both at undergrad and graduate levels, who for some reason expect/demand the teacher to be an automaton, reciting a text, not looking at students, not caring about students, not contributing, not critiquing, not improving. Yet they come to class rather than read the book? Maybe in anticipation of "books on tape", to have the classic text read to them out loud, in a room with other people?)

(The aspect of trusting in the expertise of the instructor seems, sadly, less relevant than the mandated understanding of their "authority". Tsk.)

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    Thank you. I am guessing this need of human body interface translates into online video as well? In that way, other models where the instructor faces the student in the video maybe more effective than Khan Academy where you only hear the audio of the instructor. Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 21:04
  • I would think that for the vast majority of students, a video that shows the person would be more effective, yes. Still, there is a significant minority of students (in math, for example, perhaps a somewhat extreme case) who seem happier to not have the instructor be present as a person... Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 21:16
  • I would think so. Math/Programming etc. are special cases. Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 21:26
  • Students probably don't need to see my face so much as my hands --- and that's not just when I'm doing hand-waving (substitutes for) proofs. I often use my hands when explaining how to visualize something. Commented Mar 19, 2020 at 18:49
  • To answer your question: I had a few instructors who did nothing but copying a text onto the blackboard and reading it out loud. Why did I come to lecture? The following reasons did hold: 1) The text was not avaiable otherwise. 2) Threats of lectures against people who didn't come. 3) Without the text, it is not clear which context is important (for life and for exam). 4) University is a social place: meeting friends (in and after the lecture). 5) The faint hope that at some point, the lecturer would explain something more than in the text.
    – user111388
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 8:42

Which model is superior?

That entirely depends on the metric you use to measure superior. I will assume that your primary interest is how much knowledge ends up sticking in your student's brain, i.e., you are measuring superior as better scores on learning outcomes.

In your scenarios, the main source of difference is the social presence of the instructor. The primary advantage of the scenario that uses a video of the instructor is that you can communicate through gesture and facial expressions. As I understand you question, this video is only used to supplement the audio; it won't carry any meaning by itself, but may be used to emphasize. This increased social presence will likely lead to higher engagement (as also observed by paul garrett's anecdotal evidence), but its effect on learning outcomes is less clear.

There is a nice meta-analysis that looks at general interfaces that either have or don't have an embodied agent (Yee et al. 2007); in other words, if it is useful to show the picture of a person, and how realistic that picture should be. The authors find a significantly larger effect of embodiment on subjective measures ("did you think you learned more?") than on objective measures ("What was your course grade?"). They also find a generally low effect of embodiment.

More close to this question, there exists a study by Kizilcec et al. that investigates almost what you are asking. The authors performed experiments on MOOC courses on Coursea (not a flipped classroom, but close enough). One version of the course videos had audio and slides only, the other had an added talking head in the corner of the screen.

In short, the authors find in a first observational study that, if a head is present, students think they need to exert less effort, and learn more, while also rating the experience as more positive when comparing to the version without a head. However, in a following experimental study, when comparing always showing a head to strategically showing a head for some (~30%-60%) videos, no difference on course grades or likelihood of taking assignments is found. The authors did find an effect on cognitive load, which seems to be influenced by the (visual vs. verbal) preference a of the individual learner. This appears consistent with the results of the meta-analysis on embodied agents for interfaces.

My opinion is that the direct effect of a video of the presenter on learning outcomes is likely too small to be of practical relevance; then again it might increase engagement just enough to get students to watch the video that would have otherwise not watched it.


Audio stimulates one sense, video stimulates two. One sense may suffice for some material, but not for others. Equally, one sense may be necessary, e.g., some material thrives as a podcast, but wouldn't as a video. For highly technical content, I'd need video to provide information rich visuals to support the audio, others could perhaps digest the material with just the audio. (Albeit, I suspect the video's audio wouldn't suffice for many and audio-only delivery would require audio to be prepared for that purpose.)

Note: A comment suggests the OP is not comparing video lectures to audio-only lectures. Yet, the title (How important is seeing the face of the instructor?), bounty (...additional effort and bandwidth needed for showing the instructor...), and question body (only listen[ing] to the instructor vs. a video) suggest differently. Nonetheless, the comment is plausible. Perhaps the OP can clarify.

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    I think you misunderstood the question. OP is not comparing video lectures to audio-only lectures. They are comparing 1. video lectures in which you only see the content of board to 2. video lectures in which you also see the recorded face of the teacher speaking to you. Commented Mar 18, 2020 at 13:08
  • The OP wrote you only listen to the instructor vs. a video, but your understanding makes far more sense. I guess only listen should be replaced by only see. (I have no idea what flipped classroom videos nor Khan academy type model mean.)
    – user2768
    Commented Mar 18, 2020 at 13:37
  • Regardless, if you only see the instructor, then information rich visuals aren't being provided, so much of my answer still applies. Audio only can be considered more primitive than video of the instructor speaking (non-verbal cues help), such videos cannot provide information rich visuals, so I'd personally struggle to follow highly technical content.
    – user2768
    Commented Mar 18, 2020 at 13:49
  • @FedericoPoloni I'm not sure what the OP is asking. I've now noted that in my answer. Perhaps the OP will clarify.
    – user2768
    Commented Mar 18, 2020 at 15:57
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    Let us wait for an edit, but "Khan academy type model" in my experience is quite clear; it means something like this youtube.com/watch?v=mvOkMYCygps . Commented Mar 18, 2020 at 16:02

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