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How do people learn synchronously/asynchronously with distributed video? 


City, Univesity of London


UX Researcher


As part of my Masters, I had to complete an individual dissertation (project). The project needed to be novel and adding useful knowledge to the Human Computer Interaction Design (UX) field. 


I explored these research questions: 

- The typical challenges faced by groups of students who wish to use video as the focal point for learning in a digital setting and how they tackle them.


- What made a useful synchronous/asynchronous distributed video learning environment. 


I was surpervised by Dr Radu Jianu from giCentre City, University of London. 


The project was awarded a distinction. The project added new academic knowledge about collaborative workspaces. 




Qualitative Analysis

Coding transcripts

Thematic Analysis 

Design Features


DiCot analysis tool

Adobe Photoshop

Camtasia to record video

Windows Voice Recorder 

Observation set-up


Observations involved 14 participants (7 sessions) acting as students in an online learning environment. There were two modes of observation: synchronous use of distributed video and asynchronous use of distributed video.  

The observations aggregated the current actions and behaviours of distributed learning groups.

In the synchronous setup observations participants, were put into different rooms at the same time and told to watch novice level videos about web development together using Skype and YouTube playlist to build a basic web page.

In the asynchronous setup observations participants, were also put into different rooms at the same time. However, this mode was slightly structured to simulate asynchronous ‘viewing times’ and used Skype to bring information together for collaborative sessions. The collaboration element showed whether participants can collaborate  based on viewing the video at different times and can complete a task. They enhanced a web page together by sending each other information from a video on YouTube at different time slots.



After the observations, there were semi-structured interviews. The interviews allowed me to clarify any actions that didn’t make sense or gain further insight. Also, participants were able to raise concerns they felt the need to address from their experience in the session. The short interviews let me hear how participants thought about the fictional MOOC environment they were put into.  

The interview was more open-ended as this project aimed to discover how a new design idea would work so additional questions were asked.   

Coding Transcripts

There was rigorous qualitative analysis regarding how groups of people work with video in distributed settings, in relation to learning topics. As a result, there was an account of how groups of people work in the learning context.


The analysis focussed heavily on participant’s distributed cognition within the distributed setting. Therefore, the project mostly used DiCot and External cognition to analyse the data (academic topics and deep UX analysis). ​

In the data analysis stage, the raw data collected was coded through qualitative analysis to make more sense of it in relation to cognition. Coding presented the key components of the data set for this study. The coding allowed me to see how distributed and external cognition works in an online video viewing environment and how it effects learners. 


Example of some coding that I did

Thematic Analysis

I conducted a Thematic analysis with the transcripts. This allowed me to uncover and detail patterns in overarching themes within the fairly small dataset. It helps inform the second research question by exploring what makes a useful synchronous/asynchronous distributed video learning environment. 

Example of Analysis Results

There was a robust set of findings in this project using the frameworks and thematic analysis. Below shows some examples and shortened versions. Please view the whole dissertation to see all findings by clicking here.  

Synchronous Level 

Arrangement of equipment principle

Participants barely moved their arrangement of equipment but those who did showed useful strategies (below shows an overview). Having a note area and task sheet on the sides allowed the participants to engage with them but still get information free-flowing as the laptop played in their direct observation (in front of them).  Two participants moved the notes for their preference and ability to write.  Otherwise, the equipment was arranged as it was like in the beginning of the session.  

Thematic analysis


Upon completion of the thematic analysis of the interviews, there were four themes identified. The themes can go on to give some evidence to what makes a useful distributed video learning experience synchronously and asynchronously. 


Design features for video learning synchronously and asynchronously 

These were the design features I came up with after looking at my results. These design features could be used to drive or give ideas for MOOC developments that seek video at its core for social learning. Design features are by no means limited to this list but these are strongly justified by all the empirical work carried out.

Synchronous level

For the synchronous level, it is recommended that a video viewing system should: make use of web cam, microphones and remote-control access. Allow participants to have their own cursors, a shared note space, an integrated system, interactive video and short courses.

Asynchronous level

For the asynchronous level, it is recommended that a video viewing system should: have an integrated system, notification system, note sharing, allow preparation beforehand, and create a collaborative space, leverage touch functionality and other tools for participants.

This space is by far too small to explain all design features, please see the PDF above. 


I felt there were three takeaways from this research thus adding knowledge to the field.

A new communication hub for MOOCs

The findings suggest there is space for students to come together and communicate by viewing video remotely in real-time and at different times. Through the interviews and observations, it is clear people enjoyed the sessions and are able to work together fairly well using Skype.


No need for the presence of a tutor

This meant there is no need for extra tutor support as suggested by previous research. Students can help themselves through discussion and pausing video.

The need for more complete systems

It is clear that there is no complete system for learners to partake in a truly fluid distributed digital video viewing learning system. Participants faced barriers in having full coordination. Similar findings were found in old research when students used other tools to complete their learning system.

"In terms of how the results are analysed, how observations are derived and how they are harmonised and presented, this is an exemplary project!"

Dr Cagatay Turkay & Dr Radu Jianu (University of Warwick and City, University of London)

Dissertation markers 

Based on the feedback I received for this work, I feel this project let me prove my skill-set as a UX Designer and able to complete a huge project independently. I showed the ability to observe, interview, analyse and report on user's behaviours. These are skills many UX Designers lack as they are more design (UI) based. My MSc has allowed me to develop skills that are so crucial for all UX Designers.

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