Based On A 2020 Study

Educators are constantly trying to find new ways to keep learners’ attention and improve their knowledge retention. This task has perhaps become even more complicated in the age of online learning. Educators attempt to keep things engaging by using all manner of different activities, such as discussion forums, readings, quizzes, and videos. Videos can be great ways to present information to learners. But how can educators be sure that the learners are paying attention to the video? More importantly, how can they be sure the students are learning?

eLearning Video Pop-Up Questions

An increasingly common sight in eLearning environments, video pop-up questions aim to keep students engaged with longer videos, keeping them from getting distracted or “zoning out” while the learning material plays on the screen. To find out whether these questions indeed help students learn, researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands studied the effects of pop-up questions on students’ information retention, as well as how the students experience and use them. Using 16-minute videos about molecular biology, the researchers included a pop-up question every 5 to 6 minutes for the experiment group. Researchers then tested the students on the material from the video. They found some interesting results.

Students who had pop-up questions on their videos did in fact do better on tests of their knowledge of the material. However, the researchers found that the students did not seem to do better on the questions specifically covered by the pop-up questions in the videos; they performed the same on these as the group who received no pop-up questions. This was particularly strange, as multiple past studies have shown direct testing effects for pop-up questions. The researchers note that the difference in their findings could be due to the fact that the previous studies used pop-up questions in an effort to aid memorization, whereas in this study, they were aimed at gauging comprehension of concepts. Further, they note that they inadvertently included a pop-up question that relied on memory; this was nearly identical to the later evaluation question. On this question, the students did in fact perform better than their counterparts who did not have the earlier pop-up question.

So, if pop-up questions do not necessarily increase students’ comprehension and retention of the specific facts covered in them, should we still bother to use them? In short, yes. There are still some pretty compelling reasons to use them in videos. While they did not show a strong direct testing effect, they did show a significant indirect testing effect, by helping to increase student comprehension and retention of the material overall. Arguably, this is more important than students doing better on certain, specific questions, and shows they have not just memorized, but also understood, the material. It’s hard to argue with students doing better on tests!

Questions In Videos Help Students To Study

Additionally, students like pop-up questions. In this study, 91% of the students reported that the pop-up questions in videos helped them to study. Some students reported rewinding to find the answers they could not remember, or looking online, or in their textbook. Interestingly, the researchers found that overall, students who received the questions rewound and fast-forwarded their videos less than their control group counterparts. Previous studies have proposed that pop-up questions help students keep their minds from wandering during videos, suggesting that they help keep students’ attention. Previous studies have also found that pop-up questions are associated with more note-taking and with students spending more time with the material. All of these factors may show that students are better able to absorb the material when they have questions to answer throughout, accounting for the lack of fast-forwarding and rewinding and possibly explaining the indirect testing effect found. While some students admitted to just randomly guessing answers to get to the next part of the video, 79% reported that they did not want to see a decrease in pop-up questions. This is worth taking note of, as it’s important to keep student wants, as well as their needs, in mind when designing coursework.

Ultimately, pop-up questions seem to boost engagement with longer videos that may otherwise lose students’ attention, assist students with studying, and have a positive impact on test scores. With no discernable detriments associated with using these questions, they continue to be a useful tool in the age of eLearning.


Haagsman, M. E., K. Scager, J. Boonstra, and M.C. Koster. 2020. “Pop-up questions within educational videos: Effects on students’ learning“. Journal of Science Education and Technology 29 (6): 713—724.

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