Engaging educational videos elicit similar brain activity in students

Summary: Higher similarity in brain activity was noted while students watched educational clips they ranked as most appealing. The findings could help content creators to use neuroscience data in the creation of strong educational materials.

Source: SfN

The most engaging educational videos are correlated with similar brain activity across learners, according to research in young adults recently published in eNeuro.

Yi Hu and colleagues at East China Normal University showed university students two-minute introduction clips for 15 online classes and monitored their brain activity via electroencephalogram. The students ranked the clips based on their desire to learn the material and then rated how interesting and valuable the class seemed.

The students displayed highly similar brain activity while they watched the clips that were universally ranked as the most appealing, while the lowest ranking videos correlated with the largest variety in brain activity. Additionally, the highest ranked videos were chosen because of their interest rather than their value. These results build on previous studies that found that the most effective political speeches and public service announcements are correlated with the most similar brain activity among observers.

This shows a diagram from the research paper
Illustration of the video watching procedure. The image is credited to Zhu et al., eNeuro 2019.

These findings suggest that there are features of learning materials that are universally engaging, which may be explored in future education research.

About this neuroscience research article

Media Contacts:
Calli McMurray – SfN
Image Source:
The image is credited to Zhu et al., eNeuro 2019.

Original Research: Closed access
“Learning Desire Is Predicted by Similar Neural Processing of Naturalistic Educational Materials”. Yi Zhu, Yafeng Pan and Yi Hu.
eNeuro. doi:10.1523/ENEURO.0083-19.2019


Learning Desire Is Predicted by Similar Neural Processing of Naturalistic Educational Materials

Naturalistic stimuli can elicit highly similar brain activity across viewers. How do naturalistic educational materials engage human brains and evoke learning desire? Here, we presented 15 audiovisual course clips (each lasting about 120 s) to university students and recorded their neural activity through electroencephalography (EEG). Upon finishing all the video viewings, subjects ranked 15 courses in order of learning desire and reported the reasons of high learning desire (i.e., “value” and “interest”). The brain activity during the video viewing was measured as the neural similarity via inter-subject correlation (ISC), that is, correlation between each subject’s neural responses and others’. Based on averaged learning desire rankings across subjects, course clips were classified with high vs. medium vs. low motivational effectiveness. We found that ISC of high effective course clips was larger than that of low effective ones. The ISC difference (high vs. low) was positively associated with subjects’ learning desire difference (high vs. low). Such an association occurred when viewing time accumulated to about 80 s. Moreover, ISC was correlated with “interest-based” rather than “value-based” learning desire. These findings advance our understanding of learning motivation via the neural similarity in the context of online education and provide potential neurophysiological suggestions for pedagogical practices.

Significance Statement
This study shows that naturalistic educational materials with high motivational effectiveness elicit larger neural similarity across learners than less effective ones. Importantly, the neural similarity serves as a sensitive predictor of learners’ course-learning desire. It is suggested that the use of emerging electroencephalography-derived inter-subject correlation approach works with evaluating the quality of audiovisual educational materials. Hence, such a novel approach is promising to provide neurophysiological information for pedagogical practices.

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