Pardon the Intermission: The Power of Learners Pausing Video

Watching video is a passive activity; however, when using the pause button, we can interject an active learning moment such as having viewers create something or practice a skill or task.

A recent research study conducted by TechSmith Corporation, asked more than 1,000 participants to indicate ways they’ve interacted with instructional and information videos. There were a variety of answers detailing how these participants were engaging with videos, and several of them ranked fairly high, including clicking a “like” button, navigating to a certain time in a video, and clicking on suggested content. However, there was one interaction that participants indicated they did more than all the other choices: More than half (60 percent) of the survey participants indicated they have used the pause button as a method to interact with videos.

Before you click on the link to the next article, let’s take a look at—and determine—why this is actually more significant than it appears at first glance.

First, pause buttons are not new; we’ve been pushing them for decades on DVD players, cassette tapes, VHS players, and other media devices. This non-new interaction is pretty humble and has one function: to stop the playback temporarily. Again, pretty simple, right?

The good news is that this humble little button can be a powerful weapon in the fight for better video engagement. First, because it’s a well-known button and interaction, it’s not hard to teach, so a learner can easily grasp it. Second, the interaction doesn’t require anything special—there’s no special video player required, no coding is involved, there’s no need to add special elements to the video, SCORM hook-up isn’t necessary, and virtually all video players have it as a standard feature.

Since the pause button is so ubiquitous, there’s an opportunity to incorporate it into our arsenal of tools to create engagement and interaction, without needing special tech requests or equipment. The simple approach: Create a point in the video that we ask the viewer, through the audio or on screen, to pause the video. Once the video is paused, the viewer can complete a task or assignment, or reflect on what has been presented, with the goal of increasing learning, retention, and application. Once the viewer completes the task, he or she continues to watch the video.

Move from Passive Video Watching to an Active Learning Activity

Robert Stahl outlined eight categories of wait time for classroom interaction that teachers can use to engage students, which we can adopt for our own purposes when creating videos. Having learners pause the video playback fits well among the “within-teacher-presentation pause time” that Stahl put forward, which “allow[s] students time to consolidate their thinking…. In effect, this period of silence provides students uninterrupted time to momentarily consider the information of the teacher’s presentation in smaller ‘bite-sized’ chunks, rather than all at once.”

Asking learners to actively pause the video not only functions as a chunking mechanism for a video, it also can create an opportunity to have learners move from passive watching to active learning. Watching video is a passive activity; however, when using the pause button, we can interject an active learning moment. This includes everything from having viewers create something to practicing a skill or task, to researching or creating their own content around a specific question or sets of questions that can be used.

Imagine this scenario: As the video plays back, a narrator or the person on the screen, says something like, “At this point we’re going to do a quick activity. I’d like you to [insert activity]…. Please pause the video, complete the activity, and then come back and continue watching.” This interaction isn’t difficult or spectacular; however, it changes the content and focus of the learning. It switches the learner into an active mode, which can increase recall, understanding, and can even help increase viewer focus.     

What If Viewers Don’t Start Watching Again?

The concern, of course, is if you have viewers pause the video, what if they don’t push play and watch the rest of the video? The reality is viewers already stop watching video, with or without guided pauses. There is a bigger conversation to be had about engagement and motivation in the video viewing process, but if we’re creating a quality video that is meeting learners’ needs, they will keep watching. As instructional video creators, we should be creating videos that enhance the learning experience and are the right size for the viewing experience. Having large, difficult projects may deter viewers from continuing. Also, activities that don’t tie into the value can dampen viewers’ desires to resume viewing. We should determine if it’s going to affect understanding, raise critical thought, allow for better performance, or meet another need of the learning outcome. This technique isn’t all or nothing, and we should always apply other strategies to enhance learning and understanding.

During a recent presentation, as I shared the statistic about the pause button from the research study, one of the attendees raised her hand and shared that her organization had just tried this concept. They were surprised to have learners comment positively on the use of this technique during course evaluations without being prompted. This group of students not only felt they benefited from the interaction, but indicated they wished more courses would apply more of this technique. So as you create your next learning video and think about interactions and engagement, take a few moments and consider the humble pause button, which could be used as a powerful way to engage your learners.

Matt Pierce is customer support manager at TechSmith Corp., a software company that provides practical business and academic products that can dramatically change how people communicate and collaborate. A graduate of Indiana University’s School of Education’s Department of Instructional Systems Technology, Pierce has 10 years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training and user assistance teams for TechSmith, and also has run its visual communication Web show, The Forge, interviewing guests from around the world discussing the use of visuals, video, and technology in education, training, marketing, and more. Teach him something @piercemr.