Using Video For Professional Development – Why Size Matters

The pedagogical benefits of using video in education

There’s much discussion in education about the efficacy of using videos to enhance learning. With the use of videos seemingly everywhere in the digital world, is it a medium that educators should be using to complement their own professional development? Numerous studies, including several meta-analyses, confirm the effectiveness of videos to enhance learning.

But what are the video features that educators should look out for when using this medium for their own learning, or as a tool in the classroom to enhance learning effectiveness?

Short and Sweet

Short videos are more engaging than long ones. One study analysed 6.9 million video watching sessions. Those under 6 minutes were watched all the way through nearly 100% of the time. The researcher concluded that videos longer than 6 – 9 minutes in an educational setting are likely to be a wasted effort.

Cognitive Load Considerations

Videos with too much information and too many learning outcomes are ineffective. Less is more. Additionally, if the information is chunked or segmented, it’s easier to digest.

Active Learning

Videos that get viewers actively participating with the material through the use of interactive elements, questions and calls to action increase engagement.

The Personalisation Principle

A formal tone is less effective than a conversational one. Conversational tones are seen as more authentic, and it’s authenticity that’s engaging and will keep people watching and aid learning.

Rate of Speech

Videos where the presenter or voice-over artist speaks relatively quickly and with enthusiasm increase viewer engagement

Flipping the Classroom

Flipped classroom learning is more effective when the pre-class activities include video.

What This Means For Educators

So if educators are serious about their own professional development, or the engagement and motivation of their learners, understanding what works and doesn’t work with this medium is imperative.
Remember, videos that are engaging and aid learning:

– Are less than 6 minutes in length

– Consider cognitive load

– Encourage active learning

– Are conversational and authentic

Contact Tara on Twitter: @TaraWalshNinja

*In the research for this blog, more journal papers were consulted than are referenced. If you’d like a full reference list, please contact the author.

21st Century Skills in Action: Critical Thinking

In the third of a short series of posts we asked Mark Nagurski, about critical thinking in his role as CEO at MakeMatic. Keep an eye out the final contribution in this series, where we’ll tackle creativity.


The one thing you can always count on is change. 

While that’s true in most organisations, at a startup company change is a daily thing. 

And it’s probably the first thing you learn to accept (kind of) as a company founder. More than anything your days are spent dealing with change and managing a constant stream of new information, opportunities and challenges.

Although I’ve never thought about putting a name to it, assessing, planning, strategising and problem solving is a pretty good definition of critical thinking. 

Here are a few strategies that I find helpful.




My inbox fills up pretty quickly and each “non-spammy” email is a problem waiting to be solved or an opportunity to address. You also get a lot of advice as a young company; some of it good, some of it not so much.

A lot of my time is spent figuring out what’s important for us to focus on. You could call it a filter. I try to assess everything quickly through that filter and file it into a mental box – things to tackle now, things that can wait, things to say ‘no’ to and so on …




If I added it all up (and I haven’t, yet) but I’d guess that we’ve probably had at least as many fails as wins.

People talk about being open to failure in the context of creativity, and that’s certainly true. But from the perspective of critical thinking, you kind of have to accept that you will always have imperfect information to work with.

For me, having imperfect information means running lots of little experiments – poking at things until you find the way forward, rather than waiting for the perfect solution to present itself. In other words, you make the best decision you can based on the information you have, but expect to have to change course as better information comes to light.

The alternative is to do nothing.



I’m pretty good in meetings, because I’ve probably visualised the conversation twenty times before I have it. This isn’t necessarily about being prepared, I just use it as a way of mapping out my thoughts. 

I also doodle. A lot. And have maybe half a dozen notebooks on the go at any time. I find it a really useful way to see how things link together.

Nothing happens in isolation. As you make a decision about one thing it’ll have an impact on another thing and so on. I think of it like a logic problem … if A then B, unless C … Doodling helps me visualise this.



Of course, everyone uses critical thinking skills to make decisions every day. However, I’d imagine that most people probably don’t take a very deliberate approach to it.
For me at least, spending a little time thinking about how I reach decisions, assess new information and strategise for our business is really helpful.
Thinking critically about critical thinking sounds very meta, but it helps.

Taking Charge of Your Professional Development

Between marking, lesson planning and administration – making time for professional development can sometimes seem like a luxury.
For schools, staff PD should be a fundamental policy. Ross McGill, also known on Twitter as @TeacherToolkit, sums it up well:

“The schools with outstanding professional development models encourage tailored CPD (continued professional development) pathways for the individual teacher and support members of staff throughout the year – in dropdown sessions and after school groups.
“When sessions are targeted and relevant, teachers can ensure the best use of limited time. By providing practitioners with the opportunity to flag training needs in particular areas or revisit ideas, schools can allow their staff to improve self-efficacy and develop personal interests.”

But what if your school doesn’t follow this advice?
Training consultant and contributor, Susi Arnold advises educators to take control of their own development.

“Don’t just wait for your school to provide you with CPD, go out looking for it. Loads of conferences, teachmeets, eTwinning and British Council events are advertised on Twitter.
“I’ve also been to excellent sessions organised by my union. Once you’ve been to a session, follow up with reading, trying things out in your classroom and joining subject groups. Professional development will be the most engaging when you follow your interests.”

So in practice, what can you do? Here are a few quick ideas:

  • Join local meet-up groups
  • Take part in Twitter chats
  • Seek out online professional learning resources like
  • Look outside education to find events and activities within a given area of interest – for example, there are literally hundreds of free events for people interested in technology
  • Start your own professional learning community with colleagues in your town, or online


21st Century Skills in Action: Communication

In the second of a short series of posts we’ve interviewed our Head of Production, Brian Shaw, about communication in the production process at MakeMatic. Keep an eye out for contributions from other team members on creativity, and critical thinking

Plato was right when he said that wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.
Communication infiltrates every element of our lives, whether that be verbal, written or non-verbal.
At MakeMatic, communication is critical to our success with our in-house teams, those we partner with and the vendors we work with.
But what does communication look like when you work in a production company?


As Head of Production, I spend 80% of my time, on the road travelling between our two locations: Derry/Londonderry and Belfast, and on location at shoots in the UK, Europe and the United States. I’m a ‘mobile employee,’ someone who relies heavily on technology for day-to-day communication.
That’s why I use many forms of digital communication on a daily basis. I use email, instant messaging, Google hangouts, and Skype. But I must admit my favourite digital tool – what I call ‘the one truth’ – is Asana. It’s amazing. It helps me organise my teams, track project progress, manage workflow and deadlines. I’d be lost without it.


The thing about using digital forms of communication is that so many things can be misinterpreted and go horribly wrong. That’s why I have some very simple rules when it comes to communicating with team members, partners or vendors.
The first thing is good manners. This is essential. A simple ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ doesn’t take long to say or write, but it can really set the tone for your interaction. This is especially important as much of my communication is via the written word. I also believe that good manners reflects the type of people we have working for us and represents what we value here at MakeMatic.


An oldie but a goodie, the K.I.S.S. principle – “Keep It Simple, Stupid” – is imperative when communicating with others. Communicators in our business who aren’t clear and concise will struggle.
Mostly we work with educators, many of whom have very little, if any, knowledge of the production process. It is imperative, therefore, that we communicate clearly how our process works and keep jargon to a minimum.


Closing the loop means that, when collaborating with a stakeholder or team member, action points and things that were agreed on are documented and sent to all parties after they have been agreed upon, to ensure that everyone is on the same page.


Having strong interpersonal skills is imperative in my line of work. Talking shop all of the time is so boring. It’s very important that I build relationships with those I manage and work with. Knowing what makes people tick, their strengths and challenges, will mean I get the best out of them.


So in a nutshell my top tips for communicating in production are:

  • All communication should be clear, concise and polite
  • Digital tools should be utilised
  • Interpersonal skills matter

Connect with Brian on LinkedIn 

21st Century Skills in Action: Collaboration

In the first of a short series of posts we’ve invited our Script Editor, Lee Henry, to talk a little bit about his approach to collaboration at Makematic. Keep an eye out for contributions from other team members on creativity, communication and critical thinking

In the beginning was the word, and the word was “collaboration”.
It’s common to think of the act of writing as a solitary pursuit.
One envisages novelists, short story writers, poets and playwrights locking themselves away in splendid isolation, typing or writing longhand till their heart’s content.
Before arriving at MakeMatic, where I currently work as Script Editor, I wrote for various newspapers and digital platforms.
Journalism was never a glamorous vocation, and today, it’s not even a particularly social one.
Days would go by without my exchanging a professional word with anyone – aside, perhaps, from an anxious sub-editor in search of a cover story.
Most of my interviews were conducted via telephone or email. I wrote about people’s lives and careers without ever looking them in the eye.


At MakeMatic, every word that I write is the product of some sort of collaboration.
MakeMatic HQ is a hive of activity – our corridors are populated with producers, directors, animators, sound designers and motion graphics artists.
They all play a part in the finished product; nothing is accomplished in seclusion.
Cinema, after all, is a collaborative medium.
Think of the great movies. Casablanca, The Godfather, Meet the Fockers. All were written by two or more screenwriters.


My process at MakeMatic generally follows a tried and tested creative path.
Step One – Before I write a word, the entire team get together to discuss what a project is and what we want each video within that project to look like.
Step Two – Next, I work with our Senior Learning Designer to break each script down into its component parts.
Step Three – I might spend a couple of hours deep diving into the subject area with our clients.
Then, and only then, do I begin to write.
But the collaboration doesn’t end there.
Clients are given a “pass” at every draft of a script – D1, D2, D3 – and I reshape with their comments in mind until we get green light to “lock”.


At which point, I’ll pass scripts onto a producer, who will read them through with an animator, who will work their visual magic and pass them onto an audio designer…
So many cogs in the creative wheel but all intrinsic to the success of the written word.
I have each member of the team in my head as I type.
Opening lines should begin with the object – otherwise, our animators have nothing to work with.
Assonance or alliteration should be avoided because treating repetitive vowels or consonants can drive audio designers crazy.
And, most importantly, each section of a script (or stanza, as I geekily refer to them) must be informative – otherwise our audience will go away empty-handed.


So, what advice would I have for aspiring bite-sized educational screenwriters?

  • Don’t be precious – know that your scripts are likely to go through several iterations before they make it to the screen.
  • Be open to the idea that other people’s creative opinions count.
  • And learn to take on constructive criticism with a smile, not a frown – divas are likely to be written out of history faster than they can type “once upon a time”.

Connect with Lee on Twitter at @leejhenry

The Science of Successful Learning

‘Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning’

Book Review –  ‘Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning’: Roger Brown, Henry Rosdiger III, Mark McDaniel

Does it stick or come unstuck?

I just want to start by saying that I love a good pedagogical text, especially if there are really useful takeaways and practical tips that I can use straight away. So, when I heard about ‘Make It Stick’ by Brown, Rosdiger and McDaniel, I’m not lying when I tell you that I was very excited. Yes, it’s sad, but very very true. If that wasn’t enough, when I read the words,

“A great deal of what we think we know about how to learn is taken on faith and based on intuition but does not hold up under empirical research,”

in the first chapter of the book, I was well and truly hooked.

Who would this book appeal to?

Educators – face to face or online, curriculum and instructional designers, coaches, tutors, parents, and even students.

So what’s the book about?

This book analyses empirical research by cognitive scientists to try and understand how learning works.

What I like about it
  • I love that it is science and evidence based. So many educational texts are anecdotal, and whilst they have some interesting insights, they’re not always practical in other contexts

  • It dispels myths and provides some real practical applications to improve teaching practice

  • It’s easy to read and not overly academic. The language that is used is accessible to everyone who would have an interest in the subject

What I don’t like about it

Personally the anecdotes grate on me. In my opinion, there are way too many. I’m not saying that anecdotes don’t have a place, it’s just there are just too many in this book. That said, the anecdotes are what may make this text appealing to a wider audience.

Key Takeaways
  • We are poor judges of when we are learning well and when we’re not

  • Rereading text and massed practice of a skill or new knowledge are by far the preferred study strategies of all learners, but they’re among the least productive
  • Retrieval practice – recalling facts or concepts or events from memory – is a far more effective learning strategy that review by re-reading.
  • When you space out practice, retrieval is harder, but the effort produces longer lasting learning. That’s because learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful
  • There is no empirical evidence to support the popular notion that people learn better when they do so in their preferred learning style
Top 3 Practical Applications
  • Create desirable learning difficulties. Failing and finding tasks difficult will help learning and understanding

  • Use active learning methods. Retrieval, elaboration, reflection and generative practices should be used in the classroom as often as you can

  • Provide constructive feedback regularly and teach your students how to deliver feedback to each other

On a final note, I would definitely recommend reading this book even if it’s only to reiterate that what you are doing is right. There are many useful applications, great notes and additional reading for you to delve further into areas that you find particularly interesting.

Why teacher professional development is like whiskey

Why professional development is like whiskey

Despite the fact that I live in Northern Ireland, and have an Irish name and complexion, I’m actually an antipodean.

I’ve been living here for nearly six years, and I’m proud of the fact that when I greet people I say, “What’s the craic?”, eat some form of potato product every day, and am acquiring a taste for whiskey.
And it struck me last week whilst walking to work, how whiskey is like professional development.

Now before you stop reading, indulge me for a moment, because despite the fact, that they seem unlikely bedfellows, let me put my case forward.

Whiskey is loved by some and hated by others

From what I’ve observed, people love and hate whiskey in equal measures. It seems that if people have been introduced to peatier flavoured whiskey too early, they are lost forever. The same can be said for professional development. Bad experiences are remembered longer, far longer than good ones, and can turn people away from engaging in professional development as regularly as they should.

A little goes a long way

Whiskey, I’ve been told by a connoisseur I know 😉 is best enjoyed in small amounts with few adornments. A drop of water, and maybe ice, although that can be controversial, is the best way to enjoy it. The same goes for professional development, you don’t need to do a lot for it to be useful. In fact in many cases, less is definetely more.

Buying whiskey is a good investment

Whiskey can last for almost forever, and if you invest in a good bottle and don’t open it, it’s price can soar. Learning is never wasted and good professional development experiences will continue to pay dividends, personally and professionally, long after the formal learning is over. Not only will it improve your professional practice, learning has a number of other benefits. Exercising your mind, for instance, is one of the recommended ways to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s. 
Millions of people surely can’t be wrong about whiskey. With time and persistence, I’m hoping to acquire a real taste and appreciation of this much loved spirit. So if you haven’t acquired a taste for professional development yet, don’t give up. Take control of your own professional learning, and find ways to enrich yourself and your professional practice in ways that work for you. You’ll soon find something that’s to your taste, and then I have no doubt, they’ll be no turning back.

Tara Walsh 
Connect with Tara on Twitter:@TaraWalshNinja 

Everyone is talking about bite-sized learning. Does it actually work? (Part 2)

In the previous blog post I talked about what empirical research tells us about the effectiveness of bite-sized learning. In this article I’ll look at what the critics have to say and how you can apply bite-sized principles in the classroom, or in your own professional development.
Now it’s time to hear from the critics …

The critics have said many things about bite-sized learning. In summary, critics have said it’s a cheapskate fad to cut time, reduce training budgets, is often delivered badly, lacks context and very few studies have evaluated its effectiveness.
Whilst in some contexts the criticisms above are valid; a bite-sized approach to professional development and teaching can aid motivation, engagement and retention. Although bite-size learning is less effective when learning complex skills, processes, or behaviours, that doesn’t mean that bite-sized approaches can’t be used as a part of that learning.

So, where do you start?

When looking at bite-sized learning we need to start by looking at where it has worked, and replicate the approach in our context. Where does it work best?

Bite-sized learning works best when it’s used with other learning in a blended approach, and when learners have autonomy over what they are learning.
Over to you

Whether you engage in bite-sized learning as part of your own professional learning journey, or you embrace bite-sized learning principles into your teaching practice, what’s important to remember are the following:

  1. Bite-sized learning needs rigorous planning. It’s not about cutting up a module into bits and pieces and delivering it that way. It’s about clear ideas and concepts explained in easily digestible chunks.
  2. Bite-sized learning experiences can take many forms, including: videos, articles, infographics, activities,  games or microblogging.
  3. A blended learning approach is the best way to implement bite-sized learning design into your classroom. Blended approaches work best for professional development too.
Bite-sized Learning Uncovered: Microblogging

Have you ever considered using microblogging platforms like Yammer, Slack or Twitter in your classroom or for professional development?

Here’s how one company used microblogging …

A multinational organisation in the ICT sector used Yammer as the platform to deliver bite-sized learning units from subject matter and knowledge experts to those within their organisation. They found success in using it to disseminate information to all departments to ensure they are on the same page.  

Are you on Twitter?

Twitter is my favourite micro-blogging site for professional development. Now, I’m not going to lie, I avoided Twitter like the plague until about 6 weeks ago. Now I’m on it, I wish it hadn’t taken me so long! I’d read a lot of bad press about it, and yes, if you follow certain individuals you will definitely see things you wish you hadn’t. But you can make choices about what you want to see and who you want to engage with. Not only have I increased my professional network, all around the world, I have been introduced to such a lot of really useful bite-sized resources, many of which I have shared via Twitter and to my other networks as well. What’s not to like about that?
Not sure how to get started on Twitter? Watch this video and you’ll be as hooked on Twitter as I am.

Tara Walsh – Senior Learning Designer

Connect with Tara on Twitter:@TaraWalshNinja 

Everyone is talking about bite-sized learning. Does it actually work? (Part 1)

Everyone in the education and professional learning space seems to have jumped on the bite-sized bandwagon. But is bite-sized learning a fad, or does it have have teeth?
Let’s start with the basics.

What does bite-sized learning actually mean?

In a nutshell, it’s learning that is delivered in bite-sized pieces.  Bite-sized learning is easy to consume and takes many forms. For example, watching a video, can be considered bite-sized if it aims to achieve specific objectives and outcomes, and manages to achieve this in a short amount of time.

Better knowledge retention. How?

Bite-sized learning approaches use what cognitive psychologists call chunking to aid retention. This is a strategy of breaking down information into chunks (bite-sized) pieces so that the brain can easily digest it. In fact, we use chunking everyday. Do you remember how you learned your telephone number? You probably used chunking to do it.
Chunking uses what we know about our brains memory and exploits it. The brain can only digest 7 plus or minus 2 pieces of information at any one time in the short term memory. That means that if it’s not transferred to the long term memory, it disappears, never to return again.

But does it work?

Now if you scroll the internet you’ll see a myriad of articles extolling the virtues of the bite-sized phenomenon, but most, and I have to stress this, most of what you read is opinion and does not in any way reference empirical research. Sometimes the articles refer to some study conducted by a consultant, and of course the sample sizes and methodology are never explained. I’m not saying such research doesn’t have its place, but I’m only interested in empirical peer reviewed studies and research conducted by professional organisations like the CIPD or a relevant government body.
The first thing that you need to know is that there isn’t a plethora of studies that have been conducted. Given that bite-sized learning is a new trend, this is not surprising.
The other thing to note is that most of the learning in this area refers to micro-learning, which for the purposes of this blog article we will lump together with bite-sized learning. Why? Because the terms are often used interchangeably, and have similar objectives. I’ll look at the differences between the two in a future post.

Here’s what the research says:

Bite-sized learning:

Caveat emptor

The studies that have been linked to the points above are only a handful of the studies that have been conducted.* 
However, despite the small body of research, bite-sized learning approaches can work.

Join the conversation

How have you used bite-sized learning for your own professional development or in the classroom? Share what you’ve done on the blog thread @MakeMatic

In the next post, I’ll share with what the critics have to say about bite-sized learning. I’ll also give you some practical tips and tricks to enhance your classroom practice, and advice on ways bite-size learning can enhance your professional learning.
About the Author
Tara Walsh is the senior learning designer at MakeMatic. She’s been working in secondary, tertiary and learning and development for nearly 20 years and is passionate about dispelling myths about professional development trends. She’s also addicted to coffee, is a crazy cat lady and ninja in her spare time.

Connect with Tara on Twitter:@TaraWalshNinja or LInkedIn
*In the research for this blog, more journal papers were consulted than are referenced. If you’d like a full reference list, please contact the author.

Community Organisations Wanted

We’re looking for 15 community organisations, based in Northern Ireland, to take part in a pilot programme supported by the NI Department for Communities
Details are here: and the closing date for registrations is March 9th
Selected organisations will receive access to our library of professional learning content free of charge for one year. Up to 6 members of your staff or volunteers can take part.
To apply you must be a formally constituted voluntary, community or social enterprise organisation. Ideally you will work with young people.
Preference will be given to groups outside Belfast. If you are based in Belfast, you can access these resources via this programme.

We've Launched a New Programme with Belfast City Council

We are excited to announce our new initiative with Belfast City Council and the Urban Villages programme.
The Urban Digital Futures programme will provide online professional learning for 900+ teachers across 38 schools in Belfast and Derry-Londonderry. Each teacher will have access to over 12hrs of professional development content focused on technology, innovation and design. In addition, we’ll be hosting a series of face-to-face workshops to support exciting student digital media projects.
Councillor Mairéad O’Donnell, Chair of Belfast City Council’s City Growth and Regeneration Committee said:

“This is a very exciting opportunity to develop digital capacity in our schools and communities, and to give young people a deeper insight into the importance of digital technologies to our economy – given the huge growth potential that our creative industries and IT sectors hold.

Linsey Farrell, Director of the Urban Villages Initiative commented:

“This project will connect schools and young people across Belfast and Derry~Londonderry and build the capacity of teachers and local groups to help young people achieve their full potential. It will help inspire the next generation of creative entrepreneurs and strengthen partnerships between schools and local communities.”

Here’s a little more info on eligibility for schools.

Early Years Education with P21
We’ve been really privileged over the last few months to work alongside the amazing team at P21 – the Partnership for 21st Century Skills – to develop a series of short animations aligned to their new framework for Early Years 21st Century Skills.
Back in June we had the chance to attend P21’s Strategic Council meeting in Washington DC and the meet the truly impressive team and members from organisations like Crayola, Fisher Price and Pearson. P21 are driving the message of 21st Century Skills in education and provide a range of resources and services that every educator needs to know about.

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