Cognitive theory of video production for universities and higher education

Jul, 13, 2023
Senior Account Executive


Cognitive theory allows us to understand how viewers process and retain information. It enables us to design e-learning videos in a way that best aligns not only with our projected outcomes but also the cognitive abilities we want our viewers to train.

Through the adoption of the principles of cognitive theory, educational facilities and course designers can create engaging and effective e-learning videos that make even the most complex subjects easier to understand for their audiences.

In today’s blog we’ll take you through some of the best practices in higher education video production and their applications within the context of cognitive theory methodology πŸ‘¨πŸ»β€πŸŽ“


  1. Learning objectives in educational video production
  2. 3 main determinants of high quality video production for universities
  3. 7 best practices for university video production
  4. Consider Blue Carrot your trusted partner in video production for universities
  5. Final thoughts

Learning objectives in educational video production

When talking about the production of video content, be it for promotional or educational purposes, it is crucial to prioritize the objectives the video aims to accomplish over other factors such as style or type of video. These are the objectives you set that define what the video will look like, how long it will be, what visual techniques it will utilize, and so on. The objectives here are basically your guiding principles.

In the case of e-learning videos, we’ll be looking at learning objectives that typically are aligned with one or several cognitive abilities outlined by Bloom’s taxonomy. According to this approach, educational objectives get split into six primary areas, often referred to as learning stages. Each stage comes with its own level of complexity and is described by specific descriptors β€” verbs:

  • Remember β€” the ability to recall information, facts, or concepts. Here the aim is to make learners remember learning material, definitions, dates, formulas, etc.
  • Understand β€” grasping the meaning or significance of the presented information. At this stage, learners are expected to comprehend ideas, be able to summarize, and interpret or explain them.Β 
  • Apply β€” putting acquired knowledge to use in new situations or real-life scenarios. Learners are supposed to learn how to perform tasks, solve problems, or create something completely new with the help of information they are presented with.
  • Analyze β€” breaking down complex subjects into smaller components in order to better understand their relationships, identify patterns, and recognize interconnections. Here learners are also expected to draw conclusions based on the information analysis they perform.
  • Synthesize β€” combining multiple elements or disparate chunks of information into a single coherent whole. Learners should be able to bring together different topics, concepts, or sources of information to come up with certain ideas, draw conclusions or generate solutions.
  • Evaluate β€” making assessments based on the proposed criteria or metrics. Learners are expected to analyze information, arguments, or different perspectives to determine their characteristics (value, quality, effectiveness, etc.).

Essentially, what we’re looking at here is the learning progression β€” from basic remembering to understanding to more complex cognitive activities like synthesizing or evaluating. Choosing which stage of the cognitive domain to target allows not only to set learning goals correctly but also to structure learning material in a way that would make the most sense for the learner in the context of a specific cognitive activity.

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3 Main determinants of high quality video production for universities

Now let’s look at the three main components that play a crucial role in the development of high-quality educational videos. When properly implemented, they can establish a solid base for a video or entire course and allow you to come up with effectively performing content β€” even if you cannot afford to record hours-long videos with subject matter experts (SMEs) themselves directly presenting material on camera.

β˜‘οΈ Cognitive load

Cognitive load is basically the capacity of our memory. It denotes the amount of information our brain can process per unit of time. Cognitive load, in turn, gets broken down into three components:

  • Intrinsic load β€” is the complexity of the learning material and the amount of mental effort required to understand and process the information.Β 
  • Extraneous load β€” the amount of effort spent on processing information unnecessary or irrelevant to the main subject information. This is any type of distraction that takes the learner’s attention from the learning material: poorly designed visual elements or excessive amounts of those, confusing instructions, hard-to-read fonts, etc.
  • Germane load β€” the amount of mental effort required to build connections, and process new information into the long-term memory.

When creating e-learning videos it’s important to work effectively with all three components β€” optimize the intrinsic load to keep learners engaged with the material; reduce extraneous load to allow learners to focus on essential information; maximize germane loads to promote knowledge retention.

β˜‘οΈ Student engagement

Another important factor is student engagement. One of the main goals of video producers is to capture the viewer’s attention for as long as possible. In the case of educational videos, this task becomes a top priority here because if students don’t watch a video, they don’t learn.Β 

There are a lot of techniques you can use to make your video more engaging. Some of them are quite obvious, like using conversational tone or visual elements, while others, like keeping videos relatively short, might not be that obvious. However, they are equally crucial for boosting viewer engagement, and we’ll go through the most popular ones later in this article.

β˜‘οΈ Active learning

The effectiveness of any educational video or course depends not only on how well the learning material gets presented but also on how well the learners can actually grasp it. One of the main goals of video producers is to make sure that the experience the viewer gets with a video goes beyond passive viewing, listening, or reading the content.

The video should encourage learners to actively participate in the knowledge acquisition process. They are expected to analyze the material, ask questions, solve problems, participate in discussions, or interact with the SMEs. In other words, apply the knowledge in real-time. This is what the use of best practices for production educational videos (quizzes, home assignments, gamification elements, etc.) in the context of active learning allows video producers to achieve.

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7 Best practices for university video production

After we’ve checked the three components of a successful e-learning video, let’s see what best practices for university video production can be used to manage cognitive load, engage viewers in the learning process, and help them retain knowledge.

1. Visual highlights

The use of different visual highlights in your video reduces extraneous loads while also enhancing the germane component. Various elements, graphics, illustrations, and generated subtitles can be used to highlight important points in videos and enhance understanding.

By changing the size, color, or contrast of the on-screen text, you can help learners figure out the relationships within information faster, let them understand which ideas are of higher importance, and why learners should pay attention to those in the first place. Another good practice is to use elements that directly guide the viewer’s attention in real-time β€” arrows, dotted lines, exclamation marks, etc.

2. Subject segmentation

If your video deals with a complex or massive subject matter, a great option to consider is breaking it into smaller segments or modules that students can process more effectively. By doing so not only can you help viewers grasp the content more easily but also allow for better organization of the material, which is extremely important for hours-long e-learning courses.Β 

3. Weeding

The term ‘weeding’ derives from the process of removing unwanted plants from the ground. When it comes to e-learning video production, we can use it to refer to the process of eliminating or removing unnecessary information from the educational material.

Here, the goal of video producers is to review all the material to identify sections and information that do not contribute that much to the learning process and may only distract the student’s focus. By eliminating these extraneous ‘plants’ it is possible to prevent cognitive overload and make the material more focused.

4. Visual illustrations

Imagine yourself sitting in a class and watching a teacher presenting new material. It is very likely that their commentary will be accompanied with writings and drawings on the board. More and more drawings emerge on the board as the teacher progresses through the subject. It’s all done to make it easier for the students to visualize the information they are presented with. Pretty much the same methodology can be applied to learning videos too.Β 

If you look at the Khan Academy (β€œKhan Academy.” YouTube,, 2024) videos, one of the main devotees and propagators of this video design approach, their content is packed with tons of visual illustrations that get drawn on the screen by the tutor’s hand in real-time. The closest analogy to this approach would be whiteboard animation. So, integrating a Khan-style component into your video can make abstract concepts, ideas, and formulas more tangible to a viewer.

5. Limited lesson length

For educational courses to prevent information overload, it’s necessary to keep videos relatively short β€” 6 minutes or less. Aside from maintaining student engagement, such segmentation allows for the learning process to be more flexible. With shorter videos, students can spend less time finding particular information they are interested in or switching between different topics.

6. Conversational modality

Oftentimes, educational courses use overly complex or formal language that might be difficult for some viewers to grasp. As such, a potential barrier can get established that prevents learners from being open to learning or even make them skip sections they don’t understand.Β 

Alternatively, using conversational language and a friendly tone helps to not only make complex concepts more accessible to learners but also to establish a sense of partnership between the learner and tutor. This, in turn, makes the learning environment more relatable and comfortable for viewers.

7. Interactive elements

Incorporating interactive elements in your videos is essential for promoting active learning. Quizzes, tests, assignments, questions, and interactive hotspots where viewers can click to access additional information or go to a dedicated webpage all can improve student involvement in the learning process, making their viewing experience more personalized and memorable.

By using such elements in a video, course designers allow learners to apply the knowledge they receive literally ‘on-the-go’. This approach ensures that learners actively engage with the material, preventing them from becoming mere passive participants in the course.

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Consider Blue Carrot your trusted partner in video production for universities

At Blue Carrot we specialize in producing e-learning and other types of videos that align 100% with the educational goals of the client. What sets our e-learning video production company apart is that we take the time to find a solution that perfectly fits the project’s unique requirements and deliver an outcome that performs as expected. Our portfolio comprises multiple videos developed for various industries. Some of the most prominent examples are:


Our team produced 50+ minutes of educational content for the International Republican Institute (IRI) course that focuses on the development of democratic societies. The primary objective of this project was to present numerous political concepts and ideas in an easy-to-understand form for a viewer. Aside from grasping the intricate aspects of political theory, we wanted to also make sure that the viewer can get an idea of how to apply that knowledge in practice.

The videos incorporate a variety of styles, including whiteboard animation, screencast-like sequences, and animated overlays. For IRI, in total, we’ve developed 34 minutes of whiteboard animation, 24 of animated overlays, and produced 5 minutes of live-shooting footage, plus designed 26 illustrations.


A client who has extensive expertise in the logistics field reached out to our team with a request to produce a series of e-learning videos for their white-glove last-mile certificate course. Our main goal with this project was to ensure that visuals do not interfere with the information presented in the course. To achieve this, we kept the visual style to a minimum, using only a few colors throughout the animation sequences and maintaining a clean background.

As a result, our team produced 30 minutes of 2D animation over the course of 4 months. Additionally, at the client’s request, we also created a Spanish localization for this course.

Final thoughts

So, let’s summarize all the abovementioned video production techniques for higher education institutions. First, it’s important to remember that educational material should always target specific cognitive activities β€” whether it is a video made for informational purposes only or a training course. You should define beforehand what you want your viewers to learn, achieve, or practice.

To ensure that your video hits the projected goals, keep it brief, remove all the excessive information that has little to do with the main subject, highlight the most important concepts or ideas, and incorporate interactive elements. All this will make it easier for the learners to maintain focus and progress through the course material.


What makes a good educational video?

Concise and focused structure, alignment of the content with the learning goals, and clear and engaging visuals. Plus, the utilization of best practices of teaching video production with regards to Bloom’s taxonomy model (cognitive levels).

How long should educational videos be?

The length of an educational video depends on various factors, including the topic, audience, and learning objectives. Generally, however, shorter videos up to 6 minutes long tend to be more effective in maintaining learner focus.

How to make educational video accessible for all learners?

To produce an accessible video, add captions or subtitles. Incorporate various visual elements that would highlight important information on-screen. Ensure also that your video comes with a high-quality voiceover and choose easily read on screen text fonts to help those who prefer reading or have visual impairments to easily access the information.

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