Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 18 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Why I prefer text to video


Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 18 seconds

Reading Time: 3 minutes

If you know me, you know I prefer text communication to something like a google hangout, mostly for logistical reasons related to synchronicity.

But I also prefer text to video in asynchronous situations. I would rather read the notes on a TEDtalk than watch the video, read the powerpoint slides than watch the lecture, etc. Few things bug me more than having to troubleshoot a computer/software/app problem by watching a video. I don’t want to generalize to all contexts, as I am sure for some information a moving picture, a voice, has more of an effect than just the text (thinking of things from physics problems to Maya Angelou to one of the scenes in the most recent version of Pride and Prejudice). but in general, I prefer a text-option over a video option. Why?

Video (and audio) is sequential, text is random-access(ish) & searchable
Basically, if you’re looking for something specific and have no time to go through the entire thing, reading is faster and more efficient than audio or video. You can skim through, look at headlines, search for keywords, and easily hone in on what you want. There may come a day when audio and video are easily searchable and “random-access” in this way, but at the moment, you either have to trudge through the entire thing so that you find (or not!) what you’re looking for, or you can skip to a particular minute (or chapter in an audiobook for example) – but that requires previous knowledge of how the video is divided up. That’s why in MOOCs, short 5-15 minute videos are a good idea: if I know what each ‘chunk’ is about, I can choose to only watch the ones that interest me.

But there are other reasons of course.

Video/audio forces you to spend a certain amount of time on something (though you can speed up the narration speed on an audiobook, a feature that comes in really handy if you’re listening to a Southern drawl, believe me), whereas with reading text, you control how fast you read something, where to slow down, when to speed up or skip.

Access: Internet speed & people with disabilities
Yes, that one again. It takes longer to load a video, play a video, etc. I don’t have that luxury. Just give me the text. Clearly, people with visual or hearing disabilities would have different issues. I once needed to show a short video in class that was narrated in Spanish with English subtitles. I had a legally blind student for whom I had to narrate the translation and describe the scenes. In other situations, of course, the blind person would benefit from the audio over just text (since Braille is probably not an option? Don’t know how that would work online?), and the deaf person would benefit from video with subtitles rather than audio.

I know, I am killing all the beautiful things like tone of voice (I am a big fan of audiobooks and a well-narrated book adds a lot of value to a book that has a lot of emotions in it) and visual impact (but I am not the most visually-oriented person).

I believe information should be available in multi-modal ways because different people have different preferences and needs. I am totally ok with keeping a lot of tech support info as videos. Maybe more people prefer that. But please can there always be an easily accessible text version?

[This rant comes after I just signed up for Kindle Unlimited – and the most accessible way to get info was a video not text – and that’s soooo weird, since they’re advertising unlimited reading! The consumer who wants this offer, thats someone who likes to read, they don’t need a gimmicky video that adds no value and takes time to load. I finally found this text “about” which tells me i can keep up to 10 books at once… So cool]

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