January 29, 2013

How to Get the Most Out of Lecture Recordings

Lecture recordings are a potentially very beneficial resource when used properly. The current conventional use of them is that if you miss a lecture, you could catch up on the information you missed. Additionally, if you didn’t understand something or it was too fast, you could go back and better understand the material.

However, with the availability of lecture recordings found online, you could also listen to and learn about all sorts of academic disciplines that you might otherwise not have learned about due to time or budgetary constraints. In order to fully utilize these resources, here are some basic tips based on my experience to help you out. In the end though, using lecture recordings for self-studying or exploration really depends on your individual situation and I hope at least one aspect or another is helpful for you.


The first thing I found that is useful is the ability to quickly survey and explore different academic disciplines and see if they interest you. Most of us don’t have the time and money to take an introductory course in everything, so this is a nice method to help us find something we enjoy studying at an earlier stage in our post-secondary careers. You can also use books along with lecture recordings to help in your exploration. I recommend textbooks and course reserved material.

Another advantage is the opportunity to learn about all sorts of diverse topics at a comprehensive level. Online there are a variety of courses; I’ve learned about: the psychology of emotion, the psychology of dreams, terrorism, Fantasy and Science Fiction (via Coursera), Science, Magic and Religion (via Academic Earth), close relationships, sexuality, death (via Yale OYC), and economic geography (via UC Berkeley Webcast) to name a few.

This blog post details the experience of someone who utilized online courseware, online lectures, and textbooks to complete an education in computing science.

Speed up and Read

There are two basic tips I have found useful when listening to lecture recordings:

  1. Speed up the recording a little bit. I do this because I prefer a faster speaking professor as it feels more exciting and engaging for me and I can learn more at a faster pace. Slowing down a recording is also potentially helpful. To do this for downloaded recordings, I recommend using VLC media player. For YouTube videos, there is the HTML5 video player.
  2. (This tip is mainly for people who want to substantially learn a subject or course, as opposed to just seeing if they want to possible take future courses in the subject). In my experience, I find that simply listening to recordings is not enough. It’s important to find the course outline as well and to do the weekly readings and assignments. Hopefully some of the textbooks are available in your school library or even your public library, but you may need to purchase them. While this means the education is no longer free, it is at least not costing you thousands of dollars!

A few more tips

Some recordings (such as those from my school) aren’t cleanly edited so you may want to either edit the recordings or fast forward different parts. For instance, there might be a 10 minute break, or a stretch of silence at the beginning or ends of recordings. Sometimes recordings are just entirely empty. Another thing you could do is open the recording up in an audio editor so you can see the breaks and delete it, or skip it if you are using the editor for listening. But if you use an editor for listening, I don’t think you can listen to the recording at a higher speed. Regarding fast forwarding, in VLC there is a small feature that allows you to skip either 5 or 10 or 60 seconds ahead with any of the following keyboard combinations: CTRL + Shift + right arrow key, or CTRL + ALT + right arrow key, or just CTRL + right arrow key.

One small warning

In my own experience, I have found that it’s probably not a good idea to listen to a lecture recording for a class you might take in the future. It might be okay to just listen a little bit to see if you’re interested, or maybe better to read a bit of the textbook. I figure I already will have learned a bit from the recordings and if I formally take the course, I won’t really be getting my money’s worth, it may be boring at times, or I’ may be hearing a repeat of things as I sit in lecture. Therefore, it’s a good idea to know what you want from listening to lectures, be it learning about something you will never take, or just surveying the wide range of academics subjects out there to see what you might want to pursue further studies in.

About the Author

Recultured Team
Recultured Team
This is where you'll find the blog posts that the team has contributed to collectively! What team? Wildcats! -Nope, wrong team. Recultured!

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