“The successful person will profit from their mistakes and try again in a different way.”

-Dale Carnegie

I have a well-deserved reputation for being an online teaching video evangelist.  I do everything I can to help teachers overcome the fears and concerns that keep them from beholding the power of video for themselves.

One objection that I hear quite often is, “Why would I make videos?  My students won’t (or don’t) watch them.”

Well, according to Videonitch, 5 billion YouTube videos are watched every day, and 80% of 18-49 year-olds use YouTube on a regular basis.  In short, your students are watching videos.  So, why aren’t they watching your videos?

First, Don’t Stop Making Videos!

Video is one of the most powerful tools you have in your online teaching toolkit.  Check out this post for more information about how videos H.E.L.P. (Humanize, Engage, Learn, Problems) your online students.

Students love the videos in my courses.  Getting over the fear of making videos was the best thing that I have ever done in my career.  If you follow the three strategies outlined below, your students will start to love the videos in your courses too!

How Well Do These Strategies Work?

Here are a few stats from my unlisted YouTube videos that show the kind of impact a solid video strategy can have on your online teaching:

  • Students have watched my unlisted YouTube videos for over 9,000 hours since May of 2015.  This is not counting my 150+ public YouTube videos or videos that I upload directly to their LMS.
  • My 50th most popular unlisted YouTube video has 2,561 minutes (over 42 hours) of watch time.
  • My average video allows me to turn 6 minutes of recording time into 1000 minutes of student watch time.

In case you are new to the blog, I make it painfully obvious that there is nothing special about my videos.  Check out this recent post to see how terrible some of them are.  Thankfully, students keep watching and learning from them anyway.

Strategy 1:  Actually Have A Strategy:

Online teaching videos don’t work in isolation.  They only work as part of a complete student engagement strategy.  Read this, this, and this if you want to take a peek at my online course engagement playbook.

All students are learning from video.  The key is to get them to learn from YOUR videos.  That’s where the relationship piece comes into play.  If your students don’t have a better relationship with you than Sal Khan, they will watch Khan Academy videos instead.  If your students feel a connection with you, they will watch your videos because they know they are made just for them.

Here are the three best ways to build that connection into your online course videos:

  1. Set the tone early:  Make it clear that your class is different.  Use a welcome video and course tutorials to show the students that you take your job, and their learning, seriously.  If your videos help them survive the first week, they will come back for more.
  2. Add some face-time to your videos:  If your goal is to get your students to connect with your videos, you will want to be in them.  Our brains are designed to connect with people that we hear AND see.  Putting yourself in your videos isn’t essential, but it will go a long way.
  3. Balance content with connection:  Content is important, but the personal connection is the key.  Read on to see how to make the perfect blend of video content.

Strategy 2:  Make Your Videos Irresistible:

Your online students are very busy.  Guess what kind of videos they are interested in?  They aren’t interested in watching beautiful videos.  They are looking for valuable ones.

Every video you make for your online students should:

  • Solve a problem:  If every video your students watch solves a problem they will keep watching.  Consider creating a video any time two (or more) students are struggling with something in your online course.
  • Answer a question:  Where are your students getting stuck?  Create a video that gets them unstuck.  Don’t make videos that your students don’t need.
  • Help them get to know you:  My online students will watch 100 videos over the course of a course.  Out of all of these videos, their favorites are almost always the same.  No, they are not my eloquent explanations of the electron transport system.  They are the videos where Oliver (my son) and I talk to them about life, learning, and never giving up.  Never underestimate the power of humanizing your online course by letting your students into your world.
  • Give them something that their textbook can’t:  Textbook resources are pretty black and white. Your videos should cover the shades of gray.  Give examples. Use analogies. Talk about the way you see things.  Help them fall in love with the content.

Here is a power-packed video from The Online Network of Educators with some practical tips to get your students to watch your videos:

Strategy 3:  Give Your Students a Helpful Nudge:

Sometimes I like to think of myself as a coach rather than a teacher.  Coaches make athletes do what they don’t want to do to get them where they want to be.  Students are no different.

The road to failing an online course is paved with good intentions.  When all of my content videos were optional, they were not helping my D students become C students.  They were helping my B+ students become A- students.

I now understand that some of our online teaching videos should be required.  This will “force” your students to use them enough to see their value.

So, how do we make sure students are watching our required videos?  Here are the three techniques that have worked the best for me:

1.  Reflective Journals:  Reflective journals are a low-stress way for students to process what they are learning from your videos.

I like sharing this note-taking strategy with my online students that are looking to get even more out of the content videos that they watch.  This turns this assignment into a treasured review tool that students hold on to for years.

2.  Video Quizzes:  Embedding quizzes into your videos is another great way to ensure that students are watching, and paying attention to,  your videos.

Camtasia (from Techsmith) is my favorite tool for embedding quizzes to your online teaching videos.  Here is a short tutorial that will walk you through the process:

And here is the complete Camtasia tutorial on Quizzing and Surveys from the Techsmith site.

If you are looking for a simpler alternative, or post your videos on YouTube, you can build quizzes into your online course that refer to the video rather than embedding the quiz directly into the video.

3.  Video Worksheets:  If quizzes aren’t your thing, you can create worksheets that your students can use as a companion to the videos.

One of these techniques (and their point value) should guarantee that most of your students are watching your videos.  If you don’t want to require these activities, considering making them worth extra credit.

Final Thoughts:

What if none of this works and you can’t get your students to watch more of your online course videos?  Would it be worth it if your videos only transformed one student’s life?

Every video that you make has the power to help students build a better life.  If you can’t reach every student; reach one.  And imagine how powerful it would be if every teacher on the planet developed a real connection with “just” one more student this week.

I want to hear from you.  Feel free to:

  • Leave a comment below.  I will personally reply to each one
  • Tag me @GrowGrayMatter on Twitter or LinkedIn to move the discussion to my favorite social media channels
  • Send me a message through the contact form on the bottom of the About page

Crush it!

Dr. O



    Dear Dr O,
    I am an teacher and due to COVID19, we are now teaching via online. Our institution does not encourage us to put up our teaching video in public mode at our youtube channel as it involves the confidentiality of our course content. Therefore, I make most of my video unlisted and sent the link to my student via telegram.
    My question is, I would like to know how many of my student really watch my video since I was told that unlisted videos does not count viewers. I have like 60 student per course.. I am hoping at least 60 viewers just to ensure my students get the learning material in their hand

    • Frank O'Neill

      Thanks for reaching out :).

      You can still get analytics off of unlisted YouTube videos. I have entire separate channel full of nothing but unlisted videos, and I checked the stats today. I have made videos for years, but that unlisted channel has 83,500 views and 6,100 hours of watch time. Let me know if there is anything else I can do to help 🙂
      Dr. O


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