How Short Form Film Docs Are Helping Influence Next Generation Youth

In the arena of learning, one style does not fit all.

According to educational theorist Neil Fleming’s VARK model of Student Learning1, there are four types of learning styles: Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic.2

  • Visual learners prefer the use of images, graphics, maps, and pictorial materials to help them clearly visualize what it is they’re learning.
  • Auditory learners learn best by listening to lectures and speaking to fellow classmates about the topics being discussed. Aural learners fall into this category as well – preferring the use of reputation as a way to remember what’s being taught. These learners can benefit from using mnemonic devices.
  • Read & Write learners feel the most comfortable when there is a strong use of words. These students tend to be the notetakers, the avid readers, and the ones that are able to take a complex subject and easily translate it into words or an essay.
  • And lastly, the Kinesthetic learners, those who understand by doing – the hands-on learners.

You may be thinking to yourself; how do educators best reach these four very different types of students? Simple, it takes versatility and a little creative thinking.

Thinking Outside the Box

Films are a great way to engage all four types of learners, especially short-form educational films. These films are typically made with a lesson plan already in mind and can be used to help students better understand a topic while making it fun.

(An example of a film educator tool guide can be found here.)

For the visual learners, they can watch the lesson/story being told. For the auditory learners, it gives them a jumping-off point for key talking points to discuss with the rest of the class. For the readers and writers, the activities built into the educational toolkit can help educators with unique and creative ways to engage with the students, and the same goes for activities that the hand-on kinesthetic learners can benefit from.

Keeping films short and sweet, combined with an interesting and compelling storyline, helps safeguard against too much time lost in the classroom. With plenty of distractions available these days, it’s important to help find ways to keep students focused – and a film about interesting and educational story matter that’s 40 minutes or less, helps with that.

The Impact of Dreaming Big

In 2017, we released a film called Dream Big. One of the key goals for Dream Big was to answer the call from the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Research Council to change the conversation in regard to the public image of engineering and to inspire students to consider careers as engineers.

Why does this matter?

From that one campaign, a comprehensive study was done on the film, and the educational materials and the results were phenomenal.

The study revealed:

  • 72% of kids reported that the film inspired them to become engineers.
  • 86% of people, including kids, reported that the movie changed their perceptions of engineering in a more positive way.

In a survey conducted with teachers evaluating the Educator Guide:

  • 98% reported that Dream Big helped their students become more interested in other engineering activities.
  • 86% reported that they were more interested in leading engineering activities after using Dream Big.
  • 82% reported that they gained confidence in leading engineering activities after using Dream Big.
  • 96% reported that Dream Big helped their students learn to work in teams.
  • 96% reported that Dream Big helped their students think in new ways.

This further proves the impact that short-form documentary-style films have the ability to change lives and inspire, which is what teaching is all about.

The 12 Benefits of Screening Short Form Film Docs in Class

There are a number of different ways that these types of films can be used to an educator’s advantage in the schoolroom.

  1. Extend learning beyond the textbook. Books are a great way for students to read and follow along with lesson plans, while also having something to reference again and again and use as a study material. However, the use of film as an additional teaching method helps break up the monotony and give students who are less likely to be fully engaged in the traditional book-learning method an alternative way to learn new materials.
  2. Use as a pre-teaching or interest-building exercise. Educational films can be a great way to get students excited about something completely new. Allowing them to watch something that will tell them a story, rather than listening to a lecture alone, can help build interest and generate conversation around the lessons being taught in the film.
  3. Address additional learning styles. This goes along with what was mentioned previously – there are four different types of learning styles according to the VARK model of Student Learning. Using 40 minute or less films as a part of your overall toolkit can help include students who are more auditory and visual learners. While the educator guide, used after the film, can be a perfect fit for the reader/writer and kinesthetic learners.
  4. Show teachable moments. Have you ever heard of the phrase, show, don’t tell? It’s big in the screenwriting industry and can apply to every day learning too. Most people like to be shown an example of what they are learning about, rather than being told about it. What’s the takeaway? What do you mean by that? I hear you, but I want to see it for myself. By showing students teachable lessons in film, it helps them better understand topics and can reference those real-life examples again later on in the future.
  5. It can be used on days where students are unfocused. Every educator is going to have those not-so-focused-student days. Whether you’re teaching a classroom full of kindergartners, or a room full of college students acting like kindergartners, there are going to be days where the focus is going to be hard-fought. Perhaps it’s before a big holiday or event. This may be the perfect time to try switching up the style of teaching for the day and show a film that will help direct the attention of antsy students to an interesting and compelling story.
  6. Enhancing comprehension. Sometimes films are able to take complicated subjects matters and make them easy to understand. For example, in Dream Big our goal was to get students interested in pursuing careers in S.T.E.M. That’s a pretty complicated and dry subject matter, but with engaging characters and storylines – showing how these men, women, and even high school students have made a difference in the world – we saw enormous success and interest in the topic thanks to the film.
  7. Encourage unmotivated readers. Due to the different types of learners, not all students are going to be readers or even notetakers at that! To help encourage students that learn by seeing or doing, showing them the lesson (in addition to explaining it again in more depth afterward) may be a beneficial learning tool you can use to your advantage.
  8. Develop extended thinking strategies. The think-outside-the-box strategy helps if you show students some examples of others who have taken what they’ve learned and applied it to real-life situations. Educational films are great for this! They take an important topic and show viewers how it matters, why it matters, and ways they can apply the lessons being shown/taught to their own lives.
  9. Experience the world. For students who may not have much life experience outside of the area they live in, or what they already know, film can take them to places they’ve never been before and show them what the world can offer if they work hard and pursue their dreams. Films don’t just teach; they inspire and help fuel dreams.
  10. They bring technology into the classroom. As time goes on, kids younger and younger are growing up with iPads, cell phones, and using the latest technologies. Their minds are processing information faster than ever and film can be a great way to bring technology into the classroom to help keep student’s attention spans longer.
  11. It can help further extend activities that students show deep interest in. If you find that students are interested in a specific topic they’ve watched in a film, building off that excitement using fun and hands-on lesson plans, found in a film’s educator tool guide, can keep the excitement going and show students examples of how they can apply what they’ve learned in the film to real life.
  12. Reinforcement of the topic. Film is a great way to further students understanding about a topic you may have already lectured on. It can be used as an additional resource to help drive home what’s being taught and may help students understand it from another perspective.

Bring Thought-Provoking Films to Your Class


For inquiries about bringing a MacGillivray Freeman film to your school, classroom, or lecture, please contact Patty Collins, Director of Global Sales, or Chip Bartlett, Director of Distribution Media,

We love to hear from you!

How do you get students to engage more in your lesson plans? Do you have a success story you’d like to share with us? Send your stories to Candice Currie and




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