Does Size Matter?

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Does Size Matter?


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Does size matter, particularly in an online world?

During COVID-19, the teaching world has broadly turned its attention to online teaching in a bid to provide better opportunities for pupils stuck at home.

After the initial shock of lockdown, I’ve since turned my attention to writing and reading to learn how teachers can work more effectively. Over 70,000 teachers have read 46 ideas: How to teach online, finding new tools to reference and learn how to work more effectively with your students.

However, regardless of whatever tools you are using online, does size matter?

I’m a huge fan of non-verbal communication in the physical classroom and having delivered over 30 webinars to 1,000 teachers in 25 different countries over the past month, I’ve been keen to explore how my ideas translate online through video teacher training. As ever, ‘teaching teachers’ uses a range of strategies that you would use with pupils, albeit without significant behavioural issues. As ever, context is key.

What does the research suggest?

A paper published by, asks two key questions which assessed the degree of task difficulty and the mental effort involved in learning:

  1. How difficult do you find learning from the video lecture? and
  2. How much mental effort do you make learning from the video lecture?

“Video lectures are powerful learning tools, as they can present knowledge through vivid visual and audio forms at the same time” (Giannakos, 2013) and according to various multimedia theories, “presenting the instructor’s image has the potential to improve learning outcomes.”

Test yourself

Take a mock-webinar image below as an example. For a moment, I want you to consider that I was teaching you online in a synchronous (live) webinar and teaching you about sensory environments (your bedroom, office or classroom) and how this impacts on working memory, then explaining how any knowledge may or may not be transferred to your long-term memory. For the sake of this blog and expediency, I haven’t adjusted the content of the slides (as some of it covers the actual content itself).

If you saw ‘my face’ in a ‘live video’ alongside the slides:

  1. How would the image of me impact on your retention?
  2. Which slide (scale) image do you prefer?

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The first research of its kind?

The image of the teacher/instructor is presented in many of today’s video lessons and to the knowledge of the researchers, no previous study has compared different image sizes of the instructor in video lectures. “According to the studies on the effect of screen size on learners’ attention, learners require fewer attentional resources to process a small image of an instructor in video lectures than a large image.

Something for the teaching world to consider…

As long as the gestures, eye contact and facial expressions in the small image of an instructor could be viewed clearly, “the small image should reduce the redundant cognitive load while preserving the social and nonverbal benefits of the instructor.”

Note, the study consisted of three groups according to their order of arriving at laboratories, each group including 29 participants. Although the sample is relatively small and countless research studies have been smaller, this new research should give the world something to consider when teaching online during a pandemic.

The key insight is that learners gained more knowledge from the video lecture with the small image of the teacher, and they experienced more satisfaction with it.

The question is, does it support long-term retention in an online world?


7 thoughts on “Does Size Matter?

  1. That is interesting – that now makes we wonder about the position of the instructor. Intuitively, I stuck ‘myself’ in the top right hand corner rather than at the bottom….. Any thoughts about that – I’ll see if I can generate some data on that!

  2. I love learning new information that I didn’t even think made a difference. Little differences can make drive bigger results with research, a messenger (Ross), and strategic use.

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