“Now watch this video…” – effectively using videos in medical education

By Victoria Brazil (@SocraticEM)

The simulation scene from the movie Monsters Inc is a favourite of mine, for many reasons.

As an educator – I’ve used it in faculty development workshops to trigger discussion about debriefing and giving feedback. It’s easy to access on You Tube, seems to get the group engaged and talking, and Pixar haven’t come after me yet…..

The availability of high quality video material online has encouraged educators to use videos as part of their educational repertoire – as pre-viewing for flipped classrooms, trigger or illustrative videos in a classroom or talk, or as stand-alone educational resources within a curriculum.

But not videos are equal for educational purpose, and the educator using them has some traps to avoid.

In Part 1 or this series, we’ll look at using videos within teaching sessions or talks. Part 2 will look at pearls and pitfalls in making our own videos.

Why use video?

Most effective educators follow the general principle of using varied formats in their sessions. Sound and picture offers opportunities for efficiency and effectiveness. Video can present more information in a given amount of space and time, simplify complex concepts, and illustrate topics like communication or physical procedures that are hard to explain. Most audiences find videos engaging, more likely to evoke an emotional response, and often entertaining (hopefully intended J)

What videos to use?

There are an overwhelming number of sources of videos – You Tube, TED talks, NEJM videos, media outlets like BBC Active, and open courseware from educational institutions. Finding those with the right educational message or issue to trigger discussion is tricky – seeing someone else use a video, Google searches, or other word of mouth strategies predominate.

General advice is to make sure the video is good quality in terms of both sound and picture, in language and accents that our audience will comprehend easily, and without content that is likely to offend.

Better videos offer ‘fractal communication’ – information or issues in a nutshell – and should have novelty, utility, emotional impact, conversation and entertainment.1 Principles of good storytelling apply.

The length should be short – less than 3-4 minutes is usually enough for most purposes, although longer videos with multiple messages/ more complex content may be presented as segments, with intervening discussion.

Copyright issues need to be considered. The easiest approach is to search for videos available under a creative commons license, where copyright has been waived by creators. However Hollywood blockbusters and many other high quality videos won’t be on that list. Laws vary by jurisdiction, but most countries have some ‘fair use’ or ‘fair dealing’ exemptions under which educators can use materials otherwise protected under copyright for limited purposes e.g Australian guidance here. (NB this is no substitute for your own legal advice) Using a video ‘live’ in a talk is mostly ok, but embedding videos into University online lectures or talks subsequently published by conference organisers is generally not ok.

How to use the video

Like any presentation, check the technology – both sound and picture. Picture can lose resolution when viewed on a large projector screen. Bring your own external speakers if any doubt about the classroom or venue’s sound capabilities.

Embedding video into presentation software has become easier, but always take a copy of the raw video as well. Linking to an online source during the talk is potentially risky, and video capturing/ downloading from internet sources prior to the talk is safer bet. Quality video capture software is widely available and inexpensive.

The audience has to be oriented and prepared for optimal impact of the video. Explain the context, background, and provide direction for what you want them to watch/ think about. Check for understanding before you play the video. It might be useful to ask them to write their thoughts and be prepared to discuss in pairs or small groups prior to a large group discussion or deconstruction. Anticipate what those points will be, and prepare carefully for the subsequent facilitated discussion to draw out key points, provocations or dilemmas.

Be prepared for failure. Have a backup strategy for technology issues, including an alternative trigger story, image or case study. Know that sometimes the video just falls flat – the message is overly complex or too simplistic, wrongly pitched at the audience, or perhaps they completely missed the point. It’s tempting at this juncture to explain what you think they should have taken from the video, but I suggest moving on to the issues themselves and chalking it up to experience.

And finally, be prepared for colleagues and partners who just don’t understand that as an educator you need to spend a lot of time watching movies and You Tube videos to prepare your educational sessions….. 🙂


  1. Meryn S (1998) Multimedia communication: quo vadis? Medical Teacher. 1998, 20:2, 87-90.
  2. Hurtubise L, Martin B, Gilliland A, Mahan J. To Play or Not To Play: Leveraging Video in Medical Education. Journal of Graduate Medical Education. 2013;5(1):13-18.
  3. Chaoyan Dong & Poh Sun Goh (2015) Twelve tips for the effective use of videos in medical education, Medical Teacher, 37:2, 140-145,