Study: Pushing the Button – how users use the pause function in learning videos

Video usage data from the TIB AV Portal provide insights into the importance of the pause button for understanding learning videos

How do you calculate the oxygen content of water? How does the European Union work? These and many other questions are addressed in countless videos on various internet platforms, the most prominent of which is YouTube. But how do people actually use these educational videos? In the context of an interdisciplinary research project, scientists at the Leibniz Institut für Wissensmedien (IWM), the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE) and the TIB – Leibniz Information Centre for Science and Technology have now gained first insights into when and why users of online video platforms push the pause button.

Educational videos and tutorials are in high demand – among all age groups. “These formats are readily and frequently deployed across all educational sectors, whether in schools, universities, in-company training or simply on YouTube,” says DIE researcher Dr. Martin Merkt. If you haven’t understood something, you can press the pause button, rewind, and repeat the sequence as often as necessary – in contrast to the traditional chalk and talk method of teaching. But when exactly do users push the pause button during educational videos? A recent study by the Leibniz Institut für Wissensmedien (IWM), the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE) and the TIB – Leibniz Information Centre for Science and Technology addresses this question.

When Do Viewers Push the Pause Button?

Based on video usage data from the TIB AV-Portal, the researchers investigated when and, above all, why users pause educational videos. “This essentially depends on two factors,“ explains IWM researcher Prof. Dr. Markus Huff. The head of the IWM’s Knowledge Exchange lab notes that “a frequent use of the pause button can be observed at particularly complicated passages and between different content sequences in the videos.” In contrast, the formal video structure, such as edits and graphic design elements on the video platform, did not affect viewing behaviour.

The study findings can be incorporated into the conceptional design of educational videos: „In the next step, we can tailor educational videos to the needs of different target groups,” says Dr. Martin Merkt, who leads the junior research group Audiovisual Instruction and Information at the DIE. By setting automatic pauses or inserting comprehension questions at suitable video sequences, complex content can be presented in a way that is easier for users to understand.

Authentic Usage Data as a Milestone for Future Research

“Moreover, the study results are also significant for future projects from another point of view: For their study, the researchers relied on anonymised usage data from real applications and not on data from controlled experimental settings in order to obtain the most authentic picture of viewing behaviour possible,“ explains Prof. Dr. Ralph Ewerth, head of the Visual Analytics research group at TIB.

“We have succeeded in drawing psychological conclusions with real video log files and thus gaining an insight into natural viewing behaviour,“ Prof. Dr. Markus Huff emphasises. In the future, this approach can help shed light on further questions concerning the natural viewing behaviour of users.

The study results were published under the title “Pushing the button: Why do learners pause online video?” in the international journal Computers & Education.