Video as a tool for learning, marketing, information, and entertainment is in a huge growth phase. Research shows that half of all mobile traffic is video, and that’s only set to grow. This makes sense given that many people, including learning professionals, carry a video camera around in their pocket or purse; that is, a smartphone or tablet with a camera embedded in it. And they can edit their content on the fly, turning it around in no time.
However, not all video is created equal. Instructional video really only has value if someone watches it, understands it, and then applies the information. The key to attracting viewers is to create content that is engaging, which means taking advantage of everything this modality has to offer. Making it easy to understand is about being clear about your objective and making it as simple as possible.
Learning professionals can create many forms of video, but most will use one of four forms:
- sequence videos
- talking head videos
- screen capture videos
- animated videos.
Sequence videos are the kind of immersive videos you watch on television, such as news stories, dramas, and documentaries. Multiple shots are edited together to convey a message in a seamless package. They draw on video techniques that have evolved since the days of the silent picture. Sequence videos, which represent the gold standard of video, rely on the pictures to carry the bulk of the story. They make the most of what video as a modality has to offer.
Talking head videos feature a person talking to the camera as if talking directly to the viewer. Rather than rely on a sequence of pictures to convey the message, talking head videos rely on the speaker’s words. Some people call them lecture videos. Talking head videos are common because they are quick, easy, and cheap to produce. However, they are not always effective for learning because viewers lose interest quickly and their minds start wandering for reasons we’ll discuss shortly.
Talking head videos tend to be one static shot that doesn’t change, sometimes for 10 to 60 minutes. This is a recipe for boredom and flies in the face of the video best practice to change the shot every 10 to 15 seconds.
In addition, the message is carried in the words of the speaker, rather than in the pictures. However, people don’t listen to video, they watch it. Much of what is being presented will be lost if the video is just one person talking into the camera.
So what can we do? To counteract the lack of shot changes, use your editing program to cut in and out of the shot. For example, if you shoot the video as wide shot—that is, we see the whole person in the shot—then use the cropping tool in your editing software to cut in to a mid shot every 10 to 15 seconds. A mid shot would show the speaker from the waist up. Then cut back to the wide shot 15 seconds or so later.
To overcome the challenge of spoken words being lost, use text graphics to summarize key words. You can either use the speaker’s PowerPoint slides or create your own. The slides need to contain very short pieces of information, not more than 10 to 15 words. And hold the slide long enough for the viewer to read it twice. Use your editing program to drop these slides in over the speaker as he talks. Using text graphics offers the added benefit of another shot change.
Screen capture videos are recordings of what happens on a computer screen. They are usually used to teach computer tasks and are common in IT training. Generally, they are produced with screen capture software like Camtasia, although in theory you could produce them by simply aiming a camera at the screen, albeit with poor quality. Instructional screen capture videos generally feature a voice-over to explain what’s happening on the screen.
Screen capture videos can be dry and uninteresting. What makes them less appealing is that your learner does not see the person speaking. All she sees is a piece of inanimate software that the video producer is moving a mouse around. Another challenge is that the audio is often boring and recorded on a headset mic.
So, to make your screen capture video more engaging, make it personal. When you record the screen capture, set up a camera and speak to it as you record instructions. Then cut between your head and the screen capture. This gives you shot changes and makes it more personal.
Keep in mind that there are significant limitations of headset mics, as well as the pros and cons of different microphones. If you’re using a headset mic, ditch it and buy an unobtrusive lavalier mic, which you can clip onto your shirt. Plug this into your camera and use the camera audio for your voice and computer audio for mouse clicks. Finally, add music every once in a while to boost the energy.
Animated videos create the illusion of motion using drawings, puppets, or models. Early animated videos, which have a precious space in American entertainment culture, were called cartoons and drawn by hand, such as Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. Each frame was painstakingly crafted by an artist. Another type of animated video includes stop-motion animation, in which objects are slowly manipulated and photographed one frame at a time.
In the learning ecosystem, most animated video is produced using software such as Adobe After Effects and Flash. Although these programs require a high degree of skill, software designed for novices include GoAnimate, PowToon, Toon Boom, and iClone. Animated videos are outside the scope of this book; however, many of the visual principles we discuss are still applicable.
Many learning professionals create talking head and screen capture videos because they are quick and affordable to produce. To make these forms of video more dynamic, it’s important to understand the storytelling dynamics of sequence videos because they exploit all the many storytelling opportunities that video has to offer as a modality.
Want to learn more? Join me at ATD TechKnowledge 2018 for the session Moving From Amateur to Professional Digital Media Content for Learning, which is part of the Platforms & Tools track. You can also check out my ATD Press book Rapid Media Development for Trainers: Creating Videos, Podcasts, and Presentations on a Budget for a deeper dive into developing video for learning.