Documentary style

Factual film that often includes a strong story line, told through interviews, observation, and/or narration.


Documentary style videos are not as common as some other styles of video in education, as they can require a change of perspective when coming from a background of direct instruction. While television documentaries often employ studio techniques, it is entirely possible to create DIY documentary videos by recombining familiar styles of educational delivery, for example by intercutting lecture presentations, interviews and narration to create a story line.


How Music Can Change Your Life, Massive Open Online Course, University of Melbourne 2017

In the massive open online music therapy course How Music Can Change Your Life, Kat and Ellie interspersed studio recorded presentations with short documentary case studies that showed music therapy in action in a variety of community settings. Some of these were self-recorded using an iPhone and a Zoom pocket audio recorder.

What the research says

Documentary style educational videos are most often found outside of an academic setting, (Winslett, 2014) and are generally regarded as engaging and enjoyable. While considered to be an effective way of combining factual information with an engaging narrative, there is so far little evidence that documentary style videos have a significantly positive impact on learning when compared to traditional modes of direct instruction. However, we do know that creating a sense of context can be an important strategy, particularly case-based and problem-based learning environments. Emotion is also intertwined with cognition, motivation and learning (Karppinen, 2005). These are all areas where documentary film making can excel.

Production tips

  • Regardless of what final style your video is going to take, finding and developing a strong narrative or story line can be a valuable tool in the educational tool set.
  • While documentary film making has traditionally been a time-consuming and expensive affair, iPhone documentary film making is entirely possible. Support is accessible through the large, organic community that exists online.
  • Observational documentary film making can be accomplished with just a phone and a basic familiarity with free video-editing software, however some kind of external microphone will be required to capture clear audio if conducting interviews or capturing soundbites.
  • If you have a strong idea for a story but resources are constrained, audio documentary making (aka podcasting) might be a great way to start.

Further resources

Learning Environments runs Storytelling with iPads filmmaking workshops

Join the University of Melbourne podcasting community of practice for free training and advice

Look online to find numerous how-tos on iPhone filmmaking

The University of Melbourne has access to a wide range of educational documentaries that can be incorporated into teaching via the Kanopy streaming service

Further reading

Choi, H. J., & Johnson, S. D. (2005). The Effect of Context-Based Video Instruction on Learning and Motivation in Online Courses. American Journal of Distance Education, 19(4), 215–227.

Karppinen, P. (2005). Meaningful Learning with Digital and Online Videos: Theoretical Perspectives. AACE Journal, 13(3), 233–250.

Winslett, G. (2014). What counts as educational video?: Working toward best practice alignment between video production approaches and outcomes. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 30(5).

This page was last updated on 23 Oct 2018.

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