Screencasts and practice breaks

I’ve seen more than one screencast where the narrator has invited me, the viewer, to pause the screencast to try going through the steps myself. Usually, the invitation is accompanied with the author saying that I’ll learn more if I do.

Of course I’ll learn more, because I’ll spend more time watching the screencast. But will I learn more efficiently? I’m not so sure. Here’s why:

  1. It disrupts flow. The author goes from teaching me something about the topic I’m learning about to talking about something he or she isn’t necessarily an expert about.
  2. It breaks up the screencast if I don’t have a long enough block of time to watch it with breaks.
  3. It makes it take longer to view the screencast more than once. Too long, for me, anyway. I remember reading somewhere in Brain Rules that repetition works better as a memory tool if you repeat something on a different day than if you repeat it back to back. I know this, intuitively, to be true. I also remember John Medina saying that if you vary where you are when you hear something, or what medium it’s in, it works even better. That’s why it’s smart to distribute example code with screencasts.

I wish the suggestion to pause and try following the instructions would come as a little text blurb distributed with screencasts instead of narration. And if, on the second or third viewing, I decided to follow along with every little thing, I would pause more often than the video suggests. So whether I’m pausing or not pausing, I find being instructed to pause to be distracting.

By the way, Brain Rules is a great book. So is Food Rules. They’re written by different authors, and are about different topics, but both are written by experts in their fields, who are also great writers, and both are awesome.

One final point: for screencasts that aren’t immediately relevant to me, but are still interesting, watching them all the way through without trying things makes even more sense. That way I can peruse more screencasts to find the ones that are most relevant to my current interests. I can learn about more tools and domains and better decide which ones I want to work with.