Lately I’ve noticed a significant change in the way my wife Cyndi understands new recipes, and it has me wondering if there’s something here for hybrid learning platforms, especially for adult learners.
(I should confess first that for me cooking is mostly a spectator sport.)
As she trolls online for ideas, I’ve seen she remains careful about what she eats, but not about what she looks at. She browses and lingers over recipes high in calories, cholesterol, and appeal. I am not the first to call it food porn.
What I find really interesting about these videos – and what prompted me to write about them here – is the educational approach.
If you can’t picture the scrolling videos I’m talking about, then you may first want to see this account from last year’s issue of The Cut, “Why These Recipe Videos Are Taking Over Your Facebook Wall.” The trend began with a feed from Tasty, whose sample video in the article is copied here:
There are a couple of things about this style of teaching and learning that I think could inform, and maybe reassure, those in my walk of life.
- Visual doesn’t mean aliterate. These short films have an interesting pedagogical approach, giving you an overview of the work you’re in for if you decide to make the dish. Because they’re short, sped up, and skimpy on the prep and clean-up they can be criticized as misleading, but that’s what you get with any gist. For most users – Cyndi for one, but others I’ve checked with – the video is never the last stop. It’s just the preface, followed by familiar text-based learning.
- The comments are just as instructive. Following the text recipe comes the string of user exchanges, reactions to the recipe, ideas for substitution, arguments. It’s learning made personalized, interactive, and crowd-sourced.
This would be revolutionary, except that no regime was overthrown. The written recipes remain at the center, as they’ve always been. They would be familiar to 1960s readers of the Joy of Cooking, but as if it had been accompanied by 16mm previews and prepaid chain letters.
Only – and this was the surprise for me – the learning isn’t just easier. It’s better, deeper. The combination of video and text would delight a cognitive psychologist or instructional designer.
It’s hard to overstate how fully our brains are dominated by visual modes of learning – not as text but as moving images. One of my screenwriting professors encouraged us to exploit this dominance, for example by letting the staging contradict the dialogue. He cited an old Arabic saying, “the eye is the thief of the senses.” He’d encourage us to think carefully about where scenes were set, what was in the background, how people looked . . . the things beyond words that tell an audience what’s really going on. (This old Arabic saying is, as near as I can tell, a sample of my professor’s creativity. But it stuck with me.)
Updating his advice are current brain scans suggesting that about two thirds of the human brain are recruited for processing visual information, and a quarter of those neurons have no other known use. That’s an awful lot of cognitive horsepower, enabling a kind of parallel processing that perceives traits like size, shape, color, distance, speed, and direction all at once, instead of in the single-file sequence of words.
The Tasty videos on Facebook make full use of that advantage, conveying more information faster than you get verbally. But if the user likes the video and decides to go further, then the mode of instruction switches to the plodding, sequential, precise world of words and numbers .
The interaction with fellow learners afterward is also impressive, harnessing a known leverage point for the social dimension of cognitive growth. That feedback loop, giving the learner a chance to paraphrase and personalize, is missing from the traditional cookbook.
To me this suggests that free online content like Khan Academy is akin to the video side of Tasty. And our ubiquitous arrangements of learning communities and peer mentoring seem like the comment sections that follow. Neither one seems ready or able to replace the precise, plodding modes of text and lecture in the middle, and maybe – to judge from this analogy, anyway – never needs to.
They’ll just make it better. They may help us devise efficiencies like shorter semesters and three-year bachelor’s degrees, that bring college within easier reach.
Image credits: legendsofamerica.com, AV Club, SD Caterings.