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TD Magazine

The Long and Short of Video Content Creation

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Microlearning may be popular, but long-form videos also have a place in your training arsenal.

During the past decade, the trend in L&D has been to create short educational videos, but is that a superior instructional solution to longer videos? Has the training industry's move to a shorter video length obscured the focus on creating effective long-form instructional videos?


Research points to using shorter training content segments to optimize knowledge transfer, and the industry followed suit by beating the drum that all training content should be concise and by using terms such as snackable, bite-size, and microvideo. However, there are moments along the learning journey when an information-rich video is a proper media selection for transferring knowledge.

Instructional strategies

The instructional strategy described in this article supports adult learners who are part of a prescribed education program (andragogy) and are independent learners (heutagogy). That audience will consume a large amount of information throughout the learning journey that includes video and other supporting content.

Before mapping a long video in the learning journey, let's establish what constitutes a long training video.

The video contains more than one learning objective. This criterion is easy to identify. If you have multiple learning objectives represented in a video, you will want to pay attention to its structure to alleviate viewer cognitive load issues.

The learning objective within the video has more than four concepts or ideas. It's shortsighted to say one learning objective constitutes a short video, because it's relatively easy to go deep into a single learning objective depending upon the topic. If a learning objective goes beyond four concepts or steps, as the video continues, viewers will experience issues related to content retention in working memory—another factor to consider when developing content for long-form videos.

The video length is longer than one minute. Sixty seconds is the line I've drawn in the sand when describing either a short or long training video. There's evidence audience retention begins to significantly drop around the six-minute mark; thus, some professionals consider six minutes the benchmark for a long training video. However, odds are you are filling up viewers' working memory within one minute if you mention four or more concepts within that time. That means there's a lot of information viewers are potentially ignoring after 60 seconds.

Topics best suited for a long-form training video in terms of knowledge and skills transfer include:

  • Employee onboarding
  • Health and safety issues
  • Operating machinery and vehicles
  • Software, mobile, and web application workflows
  • Sales selling techniques
  • Financial, insurance, and government compliance

Feature 1, Chart 1
A video instruction plan timeline. There are five parts of the timeline: instructional marketing, pre-training, training, post-training, performance. Broadcast messages and leadership presentations fall in the instructional marketing phase; knowledge priming and training preparation in the pre-training phase; instructor-led training and e-learning in the training phase; boosts in the post-training stage; performance support and then curation in the performance phase. Macrovideos span the instructional marketing, pre-training and training phases.
Source: Josh Cavalier; reprinted with permission

Mapping video in the learning journey

Where in the learning journey do learners consume a macrovideo? Learning professionals primarily focus on video content for training and performance support, but the learning journey comprises additional moments where L&D can leverage video. Viewers' progression as they gain knowledge, learn a new skill, or modify a behavior typically follows these steps:

1. Instructional marketing builds audience awareness and excitement for the topic.

2. Pre-training primes the audience with an overview of the content and any preparation before the training.

3. Training comprises the core knowledge transfer events.

4. Post-training reinforces concepts immediately following the training.

5. Performance support occurs when learners seek information to complete a task or answer a question.

Use long-form training videos in the learning journey's first three steps. Post-training and performance support videos are typically short and contain one instructional element or learning objective with fewer than seven information elements.

Instructional marketing videos help build an emotional attachment to the training content—for instance, a video featuring company leaders enthusiastically describing a new software platform that affects the entire organization or a promotional video with an online course author who informs the viewer of the course benefits and content. Typically, to tell a story properly about a training initiative, multiple information points will easily take longer than one minute to describe correctly.

Pre-training videos prepare the audience for the upcoming training content. They enable viewers to understand training length, any pre-training preparation, and housekeeping items to ensure a successful training experience. You can use both macro- and microvideos during this phase. Use macrovideos if you want to reduce the number of audience touchpoints or your learning ecosystem doesn't lend itself to delivering spaced, interval videos. If you have a method for delivering videos in a timed sequence, consider a series of microvideos leading up to the training event.

Training videos are going to be the sweet spot for macrovideos. This is where you will use most of your time producing content, and it will have the highest impact on the learning journey—only second to short-form videos used for post-training reinforcement.

Audience considerations

Throughout the day, people make thousands of decisions that entail a constant dialogue in individuals' minds about what actions they will or will not take. That thought pattern—decision, path, outcome—likewise repeats in a viewer's mind regarding your video.

  • Decision: Should I perform an action (for example, click the video's play button)?
  • Path: As the video plays, is the content putting me in the right direction?
  • Outcome: Is the information I'm gathering going to give me the desired result?

When a viewer's path is not clear or they don't desire the perceived outcome, then the learner may stop paying attention to the video or stop playing it altogether. Therefore, when developing video content, ensure there is a clear path to the result and that the information transferred represents the perceived outcome. As an example, for a video that instructs on how to change a tire, the pattern may look like the following.

  • Decision: Viewers confirm it is the correct training video by reviewing the thumbnail, video description, and length and then begin to play the video.
  • Path: As the video plays, the narrator states, "In this video, I'm going to show you how to properly change a car tire in six easy steps." That confirms to viewers the path to the knowledge outcome.
  • Outcome: As learners continue watching, does the video go through the six steps, and are those steps in fact easy? Are viewers engaged? If not, then viewers will decide to skip ahead or stop watching.

Feature 1, Chart 2
5 colored squares in a line horizontally. The first is green and says Emotional Pull; the second is pink and says Prime; the third is black and says Content; the fourth is pink and says Reflection; the last is green and says Emotional Push.

Video structures

To maintain viewers' interest in long-form skill-based videos, strategically use short emotion segments as illustrated in Figure 2.

The core video structure comprises five segments.

Emotional pull. Gain the viewer's attention with awe, excitement, and even humor. Viewers usually take between five and eight seconds to decide whether to continue a video.

Priming. Relay the video's learning objective. It could be a simple statement such as the narrator's message mentioned earlier about how to change a tire. By priming viewers, you are validating that learners are going down the correct path and mentally ready to take in information specific to the learning objective you shared.


Content. This is where knowledge transfer takes place. Methods to maintain viewer focus during knowledge transfer include:

  • Encouraging active viewing—ask a question or tell the viewer to focus on an item on the screen.
  • Using strategic emotion—inject a brief emotional moment during the video's knowledge transfer portion, such as the host briefly coming back on screen to emphasize a critical moment in the video.
  • Empowering independent construction of knowledge—give viewers time to synthesize the information they currently have in working memory. For example, ask them to pause the video and take a note or screenshot the moment, such as a list of tools required to change a tire, so they can use it later.
  • Reducing cognitive load—less is more, so use symbols, white space on the screen, and exceptional audio quality to help minimize learners' cognitive load.
  • Incorporating microreinforcement—repeat a step, show a technique from a different angle, or challenge viewers to perform the action and then return to the video.

Reflection. Repeat the learning objective or summarize the steps covered in the content section—for example: "Let's review what we covered. When you change a tire, make sure you find a safe place, use your hazard lights, check your materials, loosen the lug nuts, lift your vehicle off the ground, change the tire, drop the vehicle, and replace the lug nuts."

The visual to support that statement could be a montage of all the steps reviewed in the content section. By summarizing what was covered, you present an opportunity to transfer information from viewers' working memory to longterm memory.

Emotional push. Learners have reached the end of the video. The moment could be nothing more than an end card with music, or it could be more elaborate with a subject matter expert or video host describing a call to action or a challenge based upon the video content. For instance, the final statement could be: "Now you understand the steps to safely changing a car tire. Go out to your car today and make sure you have a good spare tire, a car jack, and a tool to remove the lug nuts. That will ensure your safety and others' if you get a flat tire."

That five-segment base structure is the core format for short-form training videos between 30 and 60 seconds in length. When extending the length of a training video beyond the 60-second mark, repeat the structure.

Each content section should be an influential knowledge transfer segment focusing on maintaining viewer attention, reducing cognitive load, and placing knowledge in working memory. As you progress to the end of the first content section, there is a reflection, and then viewers move to a critical transition called the emotional pull/push. That transition is an essential fencepost in your long-form video—it is where you emotionally re-engage learners before moving onto the next content section. In addition, the viewers will need to unload information from working memory before moving on in the video.

Here are some examples for developing an emotional push/pull:

  • Bring the host or subject matter expert on the screen to reinforce the importance of transferring the knowledge.
  • Use an animation or title card with music as a bumper between the content sections.
  • Illustrate where on the knowledge journey viewers are (if there's more than one learning objective).
  • Ask viewers to stop the video and perform an action—such as practicing an exercise, taking notes, or writing in a journal—to reinforce what they just learned.
  • Present related content that leads to a "wow" reaction but is not necessary to retain information. For example, show an animated graphic that states: "1.5 billion tires are used in the world each year, and there are many uses for tire waste including asphalt for roads." That information is related to changing a tire but is not part of the required skills.
  • Ask questions. You can verbally ask questions covering prior information or prime viewers before moving to the following content.
  • Offer viewers complementary content based on the information covered that enables them to take a deep dive into a related topic. The information should be supplemental and not essential to the knowledge transfer. Content could include a job aid or related training videos.

Short isn't always sweet

As you plan your next training initiative, consider the advantages of a macrovideo as part of your content strategy. If executed properly, a long-form video will effectively impart skills and knowledge to your audience members, allow for multiple learning objectives, and reduce the overall number of videos to maintain for the learning journey.

When you deploy the macrovideos, be prepared to review the video analytics at predetermined time intervals such as daily, weekly, or monthly. The data you collect will provide insights regarding viewer engagement and the audience's preferred video lengths and will point to sections of the macrovideo you could use for boosts and performance support.

Finally, the measurement of audience's knowledge retention and positive changes to business key performance indicators will be your true North Star to determine whether your macrovideos are having an impact on your learning program goals.

Long-Form Training Video Ideas

Educational video topics come in three categories, each of which has different ways you can creatively present information. Keep in mind that these techniques are not exclusive; mix them to generate an engaging macrovideo.

Skills development (visually or auditorily assist learning)

  • Give an expert demonstration—for example, a step-by-step activity such as a safety procedure; a verbal performance such as a foreign language; or an interpersonal demonstration such as selling, teaching, coaching, or counseling.
  • Use symbols—doing so reduces cognitive load by removing extraneous information.
  • Present contrasting situations—visually show the correct and incorrect steps.
  • Illustrate concepts with real-world examples.
  • Simplify a process with visual overlays.
  • Vary picture layouts—for instance, picture in picture or side by side (split screen).

Vicarious experiences (inaccessible locations or time modifications)

  • Present staged experiments or reenactments.
  • Show dangerous or inaccessible locations.
  • Display chronological sequence and time duration—for example, show an image of a forest from 100 years ago and then contrast the foliage coverage of the forest with a recent picture.
  • Incorporate historical or rare events—this could be a speech by a historical figure or old footage of a pivotal moment in time that has an impact on the video's topic.
  • Present technical equipment or a technical process.
  • Leverage slow and fast motion.

Motivation and feelings (foster emotions for action or behavior change)

  • Build motivation by illustrating success—for example, closing a sale using a consultative selling technique.
  • Move to action—emotionally charge viewers to performing a physical action.
  • Change attitudes through appreciation and empathy.
  • Encourage viewers—build self-confidence.
  • Validate abstract concepts—show real-world examples solving problems.
About the Author

Josh Cavalier is a 27-year veteran of the talent development industry. He has consulted with leading learning and performance organizations on the creation of engaging training content. Cavalier is currently a learning architect at American Tire Distributors and oversees the performance of advanced analytics, business intelligence, and B2B/B2C initiatives. He is passionate about sharing his knowledge and is on a mission is to coach everyone on the secrets of creating enduring educational videos. Cavalier has been called a “Computer Ace” by People magazine, and you can find him online at JoshCavalier.com.

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