What makes a good medical education video?


Phil Lucas | MPH
10 minute read

I love learning… but I had a problem. I had a wandering mind. I had a tendency to go down rabbit holes and start reading about one thing and end up ‘googling’ related topics and words, and before you know it an hour or two has passed and I had nothing really to show for it. While this is fine if you have a few spare hours at the weekend to read about the muscle-mind connection while deadlifting (yes, I did this!)… it is not an efficient way to get to grips with complex scientific details quickly as is often required in the medical writing world.

This is where educational videos are so helpful. They can illuminate abstract concepts and visualise hard to grasp mechanisms that are so often involved when describing biological or pharmacological processes. Great medical education videos do this in an engaging and effective way, and quickly.  However, not all videos are equal – if videos are not designed correctly whole chunks of information can be ignored and they are ineffective for the learner.

Here at InkLab, we have put a lot of research and educational theory into creating medical education videos and online videos that actually work. We also have the experience and user feedback to back up our efforts - which is great for us. Now we are willing to share some of our top tips for creating medical educational videos that work – which is great for you!

The basics

First things first – what is the ultimate aim?

Regardless if a video is for health professionals, healthcare educators, or medical students, videos for teaching in any learning environment need to actually teach, and the learner needs to learn. This means new information finding a home within all of the information already stored in long term memory. To enable this, we need to create effective learning experiences, and in order to do that, we need to consider three main elements:

  • Cognitive load
  • Learner engagement
  • Active learning

What does this mean practically?

What do we do practically to ensure the cognitive load is addressed during the creation of an educational video, how do we ensure learner engagement and active learning?

Let’s look at these three elements individually and how we address them.

Cognitive load

Simply put, this term refers to the amount of mental effort being used in the working memory. We need the working memory to play ball because the information must be processed here to be encoded into long-term memory. There is much more (and very interesting) information on the components of cognitive load (De Jong, 2010), but I will allow you to go down that rabbit hole yourself. Here, we are going to look at how it impacts the design of educational videos.

1 - Signalling

Use on-screen text to highlight important information. You can either use two or three keywords, colour change or symbols. Think of ways to direct the learner’s attention to the crucial information. While this might sound simple, to do this you really need to understand your audience. One video with the same information in it could be tailored to suit healthcare professionals or patient groups, but the words and the information that we want to draw attention to will differ. Doing the groundwork and ensuring you know your target audience before you begin will help here (take a look at our blog on tailoring information to different audiences for further information).

See below for an example of signalling used in one of our cardiology courses:

2 - Weeding

This follows on nicely from signalling… remove interesting but extraneous information that does not contribute to the learning goal. For me, this can be the most frustrating element because it goes against my natural curiosity. However, it makes sense. Having too much additional information just confuses the learner and rather than focusing on learning, they are left wondering what information they need to know. This also goes for distracting music, complex backgrounds or extra features in a video too (we like most of these elements at times, but they have to be used wisely). Find the balance between having enough information to enhance the learners processing of new information but not overload their working memory. And again, this will be different for novice or expert learners – so weed accordingly.

3 - Segmenting

'Chunking' of information is also important so users can engage with small pieces of new information. Ensuring the information is logically structured allows for sensible chunking, making videos shorter and more easily digestible for the learner. Interestingly, including some element of user control has also proven to help engage learners (read more in our ‘active’ learning section below.)

4 - Matching modality

Use both eyes and ears and consider what information suits what channel. For example, showing animation and printed text will overload the visual channel, on the other hand, using narration to explain the animation makes use of both channels, complementing each other thus maximising the ability to process the information in working memory. Using both eyes and ears in a complementary manner has been reported to increase learner’s retention and increase user engagement (Guo et al, 2014; Mayer and Moreno, 2003).

Here is a nice example from our course on automated external defibrillators, or AEDs:

Learner engagement

The main message from the research is to keep it short!

No one can learn from a video that they do not watch – just look at the graph below. Research from massive open online learning courses (or MOOCs) with 6.9 million video watching sessions cannot be wrong. As the video length increases beyond 6 minutes, user engagement drops off significantly.


Graph representing the decrease in learner engagement as the length of video increases (approximate figures taken from Guo et al, 2014)

So, for effective video use in medical education keep the video length under 6 minutes. This length seems to be a winner with any additional minutes likely wasted on the learner…and wasted time and effort (and money!) for the creators.

Other important elements to keep the learner engaged:

  • Personalise the material – give the impression that this material has been created for this group of people, for this particular purpose (if this is not already the case).
  • Keep it as conversational as possible – especially any instructions given, this all helps develop a sense of social partnership.
  • Narration should be enthusiastic and relatively fast – despite the tendency for the narration to be rather slow to ensure learners grasp important information, researchers have observed that student engagement increases if the narrators speaking rate is relatively fast (i.e. greater than the recommended 160 wpm). Enthusiasm is still the most important factor in narration though (Guo et al., 2014).

Just like reading, watching a video can still be a passive experience. The aim when scripting and designing educational videos is to ensure that the experience in an active learning event.

Active learning

Use interactive questions

Using this tool is not going to suit every situation, but the addition of interactive questions has been shown to focus the learner’s attention on the important information, reduce mind wandering, and make the learning experience feel less mentally taxing.

Give the learner control

It seems obvious, but allowing the learner to pause the video, replay sections, or scroll forward increases learner satisfaction – it is nice to be in control, isn’t it! Doing this has even demonstrated better achievement of learning outcomes.

Use guiding questions

This may be something you remember from comprehension at school, but it still works! Providing questions that the leaner should be able to answer after watching the video or simply stating the main learning outcomes, e.g. after this video you should be able to describe the main stages of drug development, focuses the learner’s attention on the important information and keeps them engaged.


Of course, not all the elements mentioned here need to be incorporated into every educational video that you create but it is useful to keep them in mind. The audience is key so be sure to tailor your information to suit their understanding and ability, this will help ensure the information you include and the way it is delivered does not cause cognitive overload. The audience will also dictate how to best keep them engaged and how you will promote active learning.

But remember, it’s important to think outside of your educational video and use it as one effective tool within a larger project, rather than the only tool you use to get the information across.

Scripting educational videos is a skill, and one that experienced medical writers have in their repertoire. At Inklab Med Comms we have a great team of experienced medical writers, instructional designers, and digital designers who have a wealth of experience in developing educational videos in the medical, pharmaceutical, and marketing fields.


Brame, C. J. (2016). Effective educational videos: Principles and guidelines for maximizing student learning from video content. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 15(4), es6. Link

De Jong, T. (2010). Cognitive load theory, educational research, and instructional design: Some food for thought. Instructional science, 38(2), 105-134. Link

Guo, P. J., Kim, J., & Rubin, R. (2014, March). How video production affects student engagement: an empirical study of MOOC videos. In Proceedings of the first ACM conference on Learning@ scale conference (pp. 41-50). ACM. Link

Mayer, R. E. (2008). Applying the science of learning: Evidence-based principles for the design of multimedia instruction. American psychologist, 63(8), 760. Link

Mayer, R. E., & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational psychologist, 38(1), 43-52. Link

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