Instructor presence effect: Liking does not always lead to learning

Kristin E. Wilson, Mark Martinez, Caitlin Mills, Sidney D'Mello, Daniel Smilek, Evan F. Risko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Online education provides the opportunity to present lecture material to students in different formats or modalities, however there is debate about which lecture formats are best. Here, we conducted four experiments with 19–68 year old online participants to address the question of whether visuals of the instructor in online video lectures benefit learning. In Experiments 1 (N = 168) and 2 (N = 206) participants were presented with a lecture in one of three modalities (audio, audio with text, or audio with visuals of the instructor). Participants reported on their attentiveness – mind wandering (MW) – throughout the lecture and then completed a comprehension test. We found no evidence of an advantage for video lectures with visuals of the instructor in terms of a reduction in MW or increase in comprehension. In fact, we found evidence of a comprehension cost, suggesting that visuals of instructors in video lectures may act as a distractor. In Experiments 3 (N = 88) and 4 (N = 109) we explored learners' subjective evaluations of lecture formats across 4 different lecture formats (audio, text, audio + text, audio + instructor, audio + text + instructor). The results revealed learners not only find online lectures with visuals of the instructor more enjoyable and interesting, they believe this format most facilitates their learning. Taken together, these results suggest visuals of the instructor potentially impairs comprehension, but learners prefer and believe they learn most effectively with this format. We refer to as the Instructor Presence Effect and discuss implications for multimedia learning and instructional design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)205-220
Number of pages16
JournalComputers and Education
StatePublished - Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier Ltd


  • Judgment of learning
  • Learner preferences
  • Mind wandering
  • Online lectures
  • Seductive details


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