By now you’ve probably visited VCQs in Very Short and VCQs in Short. So let’s go backstage and answer why VCQs work!

About Teaching and Learning

When consulting psychological and neuroscientific books about learning, we find out that to learn means to deal with a subject intensely while being attentive, motivated, curious and emotionally aroused. [1]

In a somewhat down-to earth way, teaching can be defined as “making someone learn.” The “making” has – on closer inspection – a lot to do with the learning environment, especially when considering (quite modern) constructivist ideas or Dewey’s (almost 100 years old) statement that “we never educate directly, but indirectly by means of the environment”. [2]

Thus, to teach is to provide a setting, in which the learners are inspired to deal with a subject intensely while being attentive, motivated, curious and emotionally aroused.

One of the Problems of e-Learning

Let us pick up Piaget’s concepts of assimilation (the application of an existing pattern to a new circumstance) and accommodation (the development of a new pattern because of a new circumstance) and apply them to what is happening in e-learning. For example: Books are scanned and the scans are uploaded, which in this manner of speaking is assimilation and provides only little benefit compared to the books themselves; much more benefit could be generated when a book gets converted into a hypertext (just think of Wikipedia), which then is accommodation.

It seems obvious that in e-learning there is an awful lot of assimilation and not enough accommodation. [3] But the meaningful application of digital media in the area of education definitely requires new patterns! As an explanation to that problem, let me quote Abraham Maslow: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”


The problem is that quite a few e-learning courses don’t provide a conducive environment. In many, the learner is confronted with a heap of scanned texts and the task “Read!” There are probably a couple of issues that contribute to this situation and one of them is, that there aren’t enough “little methods”, i.e. convenient and easy to use concepts for the use in e-learning environments. And this is, where the VCQs come into play.

A View on VCQs

When dealing with a VCQ, the learner has to complete five steps:

  1. She has to read the masked question or task
  2. She hast to watch the video and to extract a clue
  3. With the clue, she has to rephrase the question or task
  4. She has to do some research (usually in the web)
  5. She has to formulate an answer

The first thing a learner sees is the still image of the video and the masked question or task. At this stage, she is (from a psychological point of view) confronted with an insolvable task or barrier, which is qualified to evoke motivation. This is why it is so important to mask the task. [4]

When watching the video, she has to look for a clue that helps to unmask the task. In the Patriot example that you have seen, this could be the uniforms of the soldiers or the flags. Note that it’s better to use movie trailers or music videos as these are already produced to arouse emotions (in contrast to an educational video).

After she has unmasked the task, the learner is able to rephrase the question and thus gets to “From when to when did the American Revolutionary War last?”

In the fourth step, the learner can google the problem or carry out another form of research and finally formulate the answer. Here, it is necessary that the answer cannot be found just by watching the film (“How many people do you see in scene …?”), otherwise the research is needless.

As you can see, with a VCQ we can create a learning environment that allows a learner to deal with a subject intensely while being attentive, motivated, curious and emotionally aroused, and which uses digital media in an appropriate way. But there is still more …


You can find supporting evidence in many books. I used these:

[1] About “Learning” from a psychological and neuroscientific point of view

  • Sandra Winkel, Franz Petermann & Ulrike Petermann (2006): Lernpsychologie. Paderborn: Schöningh.
  • Manfred Spitzer (2003): Lernen. Gehirnforschung und die Schule des Lebens. Heidelberg, Berlin: Spektrum.
  • Norbert Herschkowitz (2008): Was stimmt? Das Gehirn. Die wichtigsten Antworten (3. Auflage). Freiburg: Herder.

[2] About “Teaching” from an old an new point of view

[3] The problem with “didactical fantasy”

  • Rolf Schulmeister (2001): Virtuelle Universität – Virtuelles Lernen. München, Wien: Oldenbourg.

[4] About barriers and motivation

  • Philip G. Zimbardo (1995): Psychologie (6. Auflage). Berlin u.a.: Springer.
  • Heinz Heckhausen (2003): Motivation und Handeln (2. Auflage). Berlin u.a.: Springer.