Researchers in Wuhan, China, home of the plum blossom, recently took a look ;) at the impact of an instructor’s gaze during video lectures in this article from the January 2020 issue of Computers & Education.
According to Mayer's social agency theory, eye contact can promote a sense of interaction, even in pre-recorded lectures, that can lead to student engagement and deeper cognitive processing. So, does that mean we should stare deeply into the camera when filming instructional videos? Not exactly.
Researchers Pi, Xu, Liu, and Yang studied three different variations of “eye gaze:” direct (looking at the camera), guided (looking at content shown on the screen), or averted (looking off-camera). This study also looked at body positioning, shown in the image below.
Researchers discovered that students who viewed the videos where the instructor was also looking at slides (guided gaze, shown in the image above as images 2 and 5) paid greater attention to the slides and did better on the post-video assessment. One explanation for these findings comes from Sweller's cognitive load theory; the researchers suggest that "the instructor's direct gaze could be a potential cause of split attention, as direct gaze attracts learners' attention to the instructor while learners are also attending to the learning materials."
So, what can we take away from this study, in terms of corporate and customer education? One suggestion: an instructor should not look directly at the camera throughout the entire lecture, but should instead use guided gaze to draw learners’ attention to any learning materials displayed on screen.
Read more: Instructor Presence in Video Lectures: Eye Gaze Matters, but Not Body Orientation (Pi, Xu, Liu, & Yang, 2020) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2019.103713