The Use of Cinema in Education: A Synthesis of Sources (Part 2)

Researching the history of the use of cinema in education resulted in the discovery of vast amounts of information; nevertheless, the sources analyzed were narrowed to the five most appropriate, and within these sources, themes were identified that are relevant to the furthering of research in this area.  This paper identifies themes discovered through the exploration of five sources surrounding this topic, bridging a period of one hundred years; that each respectively examined the use of cinema as an innovative tool for teaching and learning.  Both anecdotal and scientific evidence was provided in the respective sources to support claims of productive uses of cinema in education, though additional patterns arose through critical analyzation.  These patterns indicated gaps, limitations, and concerns requiring further contemplation and investigation.  This paper will focus on the juxtaposition of these themes and make connections in order to postulate the implications of using this medium for effective teaching and learning.  This essay will begin by first discussing some common themes that arose for the corresponding authors when using cinema in a variety of educational settings, including, improved understanding and empathy, increased student engagement, and enhanced learning opportunities; it will then go on to critically analyze the collective gaps, limitations, and concerns identified in these separate articles which demand further scrutiny.

Using cinema as an educational tool to promote understanding and empathy was a common theme discovered in the literature review.  Campos and Knudsen (2018) and Rorrer and Furr (2009) claimed that film could provide an appreciation for various perspectives and promote cultural awareness and empathy.  Data collected from 180 surveyed medical residents supported this notion, as 89% of respondents reported that their understanding of suicide assessment and treatment, as well as the grief process and impact on families, was increased (Retamero, Walsh, & Otero-Perez, 2014, p.609).  In addition to these findings, Kaye and Ets-Hokin (2000) argued that the use of the film “The Breakfast Club” during residency promoted the understanding of adolescent development and identity formation and cemented future empathetic attitudes towards adolescent psychiatry patients.  Kaye and Ets-Hokin (2000) and Rorrer and Furr (2009) agreed that the reason film could increase understanding and awareness was that cinema was an engaging teaching tool.  This assertation aligned with the second theme extrapolated from this literature review; learner engagement, and the augmentation of learning using film as a medium.

Nearly one hundred years ago, Crandall (1926) suggested that not only could using cinema in education engage learners but could also, in fact, enhance the learning.  This older suggestion is strengthened by the recent findings of Campos and Knudson (2018), who discovered that cinema used in a classroom setting cultivated the development of critical thinking and analytical skills.  Retamero, Walsh, and Otero-Perez (2014) found that concepts shown through multimedia could enhance the learning when addressing the topic of suicide with psychiatric residents, and in a similar healthcare educational setting, Kaye and Ets-Hokin (2000) concurred that the use of cinema allowed the medical students to draw connections for future applications when diagnosing developing adolescents.  These common findings support the use of cinema as an effective tool in teaching and learning; even so, there were some corresponding limitations and contradictions identified throughout the five articles that warrant consideration.

In contrast to the previous evidence that supported the use of cinema in education, several parallel gaps discovered in the literature established that further study might be needed to validate the use of cinema as an effective teaching tool.  Crandall’s 1926 piece noted that instructors could not merely be “throwing motion pictures at the children” (p.114) and that cinema, like other educational devices, must fit the purpose.  Crandall (1926) predicted that pedagogical practices would be resolved in the future, and this would no longer be an issue.  Campos and Knudson (2018), Kaye and Ets-Hokin (2000), and Retamero, Walsh, and Otero-Perez (2014) all agreed that instructional design and methods of instruction are critically important when using cinema to educate and confirmed that the issue of sound pedagogy continues to plague educators.  Crandall could not have predicted the complexities of future education in 1926, and arguably nor could current researchers predict the complexities of education in the future; what can be safely established from analyzing these various works is that films should be selected to support the pedagogy, and instructors using cinema as a teaching tool require instructional supports (Crandall, 1926., p.114., Rorrer & Furr, 2009, p.164).  This is as significant today as it was when Crandall (1926) stated that in the future every established educational institution would have solved the “technique” problems and be using cinema with purpose (p.115), which arguably continues to be a complex issue in the current, increasingly digital learning environment, where the efficacy of pedagogy is reliant on the instructor understanding technology, learner diversity, and adapting the learning context to the instructional  environment (Murty & Rao, 2019, p.1).  Acknowledging the importance of pedagogical practices and instructional design was highlighted in several of these articles and strengthened the author’s assertations, that said, there were also limitations and contradictions encountered in their respective arguments.

Several limitations and concerns were identified through the analyzation of the five articles, which included antiquation, limited sample sizes, and inadequate ethical considerations. Crandall (1926) and Kaye and Ets-Hokin (2000) are both antiquated, with the former being postulated nearly one hundred years ago long before digital film and streaming modalities; and the latter by using “The Breakfast Club” as the film choice to represent adolescent archetypes from 1985.  Rorrer and Furr (2009) conducted a study using only thirty-three participants from a region of North Carolina, and Retamero, Walsh, and Otero-Perez (2014) failed to include a comparison group and thus were unable to verify the impact on student’s attitudes post-screening.  Finally, and arguably most important, several studies demonstrated inadequate ethical considerations; Campos and Knudson (2018) screened films that contained complex themes that may have required further supports be in place, and Retamero, Walsh, and Otero-Perez (2014) attached an incentive grade to the viewing of the film and participation in the study, and four students vocalized they felt required to watch as a result (p.608), moreover, actual footage of suicides were used in the film (p.610) and two students required post-screening counseling (p.608).  Despite these concluded limitations and concerns, the history of the use of cinema in education explored through these five articles was encouraging, with all collectively finding cinema to be an effective tool in teaching the desired concepts.

By comparing and analyzing these five articles focused on the use of cinema in education, common themes emerged that connected arguments and supported findings for the continued use of film as a teaching tool in various learning environments.  Additionally, the literature review allowed for the examination of potential limitations and concerns for future use of cinema in education.  Historically, cinema has been used in many educational contexts with varying success, although the sources here were narrowed to a small collection, patterns developed through the comparison, and should be noted when using cinema as a teaching tool.  We are streaming, downloading, webcasting, webinaring, and PVR’ing, and it may be concluded that no one can predict how films will be accessed in the future; nonetheless, the use of cinema for effective teaching and learning can be an excellent tool if used with sound pedagogy and purpose.


Campos, D., & Knudson, E. (2018). Using film to expand horizons. Educational Leadership, 76(4), 73-78.

Crandall, E. (1926). Possibilities of the cinema in education. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science,128, 109-115.

Kaye, D.L., & Ets-Hokin, E. (2000). The breakfast club: Utilizing popular film to teach adolescent development. Academic Psychiatry, 24(2), 110-116. doi:10.1176/appi.ap.24.2.110

Murty, B., & Rao, K. (2019, April). Digital pedagogy: An opportunity or a threat? Proceedings of International Conference on Digital Pedagogies (ICDP).

Retamero, C., Walsh, L., & Otero-Perez, G. (2014). Use of the film the bridge to augment the suicide curriculum in undergraduate medical education. Academic Psychiatry, 38(5), 605-610.

Rorrer, A., & Furr, S. (2009). Using film as a multicultural awareness tool in teacher education. Multicultural Perspectives, 11(3), 162-168.




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