• Film Theory
  • Film Characteristics
  • Viewer Responses
  • Media, Cognition, and Learning
  • Learning Functions of Film
  • Ways of Using Film for Learning
  • Summary
  • Media, Cognition, and Learning Film as a Learning Resource 1

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    Media, Cognition, and Learning

    Film as a Learning Resource1

    Joseph E. Champoux

    University of New Mexico

    Videotaped films are now widely available for inexpensive rental or purchase, making them an accessible learning resource. Films now available from a video store include contemporary films, classical films, foreign films, documentaries, and some television series. About 24,000 such films are available on videotape, laserdisc, and DVD.

    Film scenes offer a visual portrayal of abstract theories and concepts discussed in typical organizational behavior and management books and taught in related courses. Viewing concepts through different film scenes also shows the application of these concepts in different situations.

    I refer to specific film scenes at several points as examples of the observation discussed. The source article in the footnote for this summary discusses those scenes in more detail.

    Copyright law prevents me from including the film scenes on this Web site. I have included links to a film’s trailer, if it exists within the Internet Movie Database. Click on the film’s name to view the trailer. The trailers will not usually have the full scene information that I use as the basis for learning concepts. They are useful for getting a view of a film with which you are not familiar or refreshing your memory about a film you have not seen in a long time.

    Film Theory

    A review of the film theory and the film studies literature suggested some unique features of film that make it an uncommonly powerful learning tool. An early film theorist, Siegfried Kracauer, captured this view of film when he said: “[A unique property of film is its ability to] make one see and grasp things which only the cinema is privileged to communicate.”

    Some unique aspects of film and film making let this medium show organizational behavior and management concepts in an uncommonly powerful way. Understanding these aspects of film will help you understand how viewing film scenes can improve your learning.

    Film Characteristics

    Film records physical reality but sees it differently from ordinary human experiences. Film is unequaled in its ability to hold and direct the attention of the viewer. Lens techniques, focusing techniques, camera movements, camera angles, framing of shots, and film editing can create gripping views not found in reality. The following summarizes these major film characteristics.

    • Close-up shot: Lets a director show a viewer something that might go unnoticed with ordinary vision. Example: 12 Angry Men

    • Long shot: Shows the viewer more than what ordinary vision shows. Example: Broadcast News

    • Deep focus: All parts of a scene are in focus from the nearest object to the farthest. Example: The Hudsucker Proxy

    • Shallow focus: Keeps objects nearest the viewer in focus; puts objects farther away out of focus. Example: Top Gun

    • Film editing: Puts a series of images together in a unique sequence intended to have specific effects on the viewer. Example: The Godfather

    • Shot/reverse-shot: Shows social interaction between two or more parties; scene switches from a view of one party to a view of the other party in the conversation. Example: Broadcast News

    • Sound, dialogue: Delivery of dialogue by the actor or actress adds to the drama, humor, or satire of a scene. Example: Head Office

    • Sound, composed music: Deliberately controlled in tempo, loudness, and color to give desired effects to the cinematic experience. Example: Top Gun

    • Sound, music taken from other sources: Often has meaning for viewers from earlier exposure to the music; lets a director use borrowed music as a satirical device or emphasize meaning to certain film themes. Example: 2001: A Space Odyssey

    • Special effects: Enhancements that come from many sources; computer effects are increasingly common in modern films. Example: Metropolis

    Viewer Responses

    Viewers are not passive observers of images on a screen. They can have many different responses, some of which come from film’s unique features. Viewer responses often become an essential part of the film experience.

    The shot/reverse-shot editing technique described earlier creates a viewing experience that does not happen in the real world. A viewer can see all aspects of the conversation the director considers important to the film’s story. Nonverbal cues from eye movement, facial expression, and body movement can load images with information a viewer interprets. Directors can embed these scenes with high emotional, satirical, or comical content that a viewer can only experience with the film medium.

    Media, Cognition, and Learning

    Traditional learning media include lecture/discussion and printed media such as book materials or projected text. Visual forms include overhead projection of drawings, slide projection of images, or computer projection of slides. I recommend adding film and film scenes to existing learning and instructional media. Several lines of research suggest different learning effects of different media forms. The conclusion from both brain and media and cognition research points compellingly to using multi-media for learning.

    Learning Functions of Film

    Films can serve many learning functions. The functions that will work for you depend on your learning style and learning goals. The following is an overview of ways of using film as case, metaphor, satire, symbolism, meaning, experience, and time.

    • Film as Case: Case analysis is an obvious use of film and perhaps the first that one thinks of when considering film for learning. Scenes from a well-acted and well-directed film present material more dramatically and engagingly than a print case. Example: The Coca-Cola Kid

    • Film as Metaphor: Metaphors serve many functions in prose and poetry and can serve similar functions when using film for learning. Metaphors often leave lasting impressions that a person easily recalls. Example: Scent of a Woman

    • Film as Satire: Satire is an effective art form for burning concepts into a person’s mind. It uses humor and ridicule to contrast pretense and reality. Well-done satire can leave an unforgettable image of concepts you are trying to learn. Example: Modern Times

    • Film as Symbolism: Some scenes from films can offer a symbolic way of communicating theories and concepts. Unusual shots, sequencing, lighting, and the use of black and white film often convey symbolism. Example: Ikiru (to Live)

    • Film as Meaning: Film is an excellent medium for giving meaning to theories and concepts. The visual and auditory effects of great films can convey a message better than printed or spoken words. Example: 12 Angry Men

    • Film as Experience: The unique qualities of film described earlier can create strong experiences for viewers. You can use this feature of film to introduce yourself to other countries’ cultures. Example: Ciao, Professore!

    • Film as Time: Films portraying earlier periods can help show aspects of organizational behavior or management during an earlier time. Example: Tucker: The Man and His Dream

    Ways of Using Film for Learning

    There are several ways of using film for learning organizational behavior theories and concepts. Experimenting with each method will show you which ones are most effective for your learning style and course content.

    • Before: Viewing film scenes before reading or studying can give you a recallable visual image to which you can compare the topics you are studying. This approach allows quick reference to easily recallable examples shown in the film. Example: Top Gun

    • After: Viewing scenes after reading or studying theories and concepts lets you use the scenes as a video case. This approach helps develop your analytical skills in applying what you are learning. Example: Top Gun

    • Repeat: Repeating scenes is especially helpful when trying to develop your understanding of complex topics. View the scenes before studying concepts to give you a visual anchor. Rerun the scenes to analyze them with the concepts you have studied. Example: The Firm

    • Comparison: Films offer rich opportunities for comparisons in several ways. Remakes of the same film can offer a chance to see the same culture at different times. Example: Sabrina (1954) : Sabrina (1995)


    Film and film scenes are a widely available, easily accessed, learning resource. Many unique characteristics of film as a communication medium give it especially positive effects on learning. You can use film in different ways to enhance your learning: as case, metaphor, satire, symbolism, or experience. You also can align film scenes in different ways in your studying program.

    Try the film scenes in the At the Movies: Organizational Behavior or At the Movies: Management book as enhancers for your study of organizational behavior or management concepts and theory. You will surprise yourself about how much film can improve your learning and retention.

    1 Source: Adapted from Joseph E. Champoux, “Film as a Teaching Resource.” Journal of Management Inquiry, Vol. 8, No. 2 (June 1999): 206–217 © 1999 Sage Publications, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Sage Publications, Inc. See this article for a more detailed description and full citations for this summary on learning with film.

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    Media, Cognition, and Learning Film as a Learning Resource 1

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