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6 Strategies for Making Instruction Videos More Engaging

Although we may have dabbled in the video space, most of us certainly are not experts. So how can we, as learning professionals, ensure the videos we create are effective, engaging, and accomplishing their objectives? 

Unfortunately, there’s no single answer. But engagement is a great place to start. Once you’ve grabbed and held a viewer’s attention, you’ve gone a long way toward being effective—and effective, engaging videos are far more likely to accomplish their objectives. But what does it mean to have an engaging instructional video? 

Types of Engagement 

For the sake of simplicity, there are two broad types of engagement for instructional videos. First, there is passive engagement. This defines how the video and its contents lead the learner to watch—and keep watching. Strong passive engagement means that there aren't intrinsic barriers to distract the learner and detract from the content. For example, poor audio quality in video can be a huge turnoff. Good audio quality may not be the sole reason someone watches, but when it's good the learner is more likely to keep listening and stay focused. 

The other type is active engagement, which can be defined as action that the learner takes or is encouraged to take. Active engagement comes in many forms, and may crop up in a variety of points in the video (or even outside the video). Adding a pre-knowledge prompt or survey to help learners understand what they do and don't know going into the video is an example of active engagement.  

Strategies for Engagement

For video, engagement can mean several things, including the length of time that learners viewed the video or if they interacted with or took some action in or around the video, such as completing a quiz, commenting, liking, or sharing. 

Keep in mind, though, that engagement is more than just viewers watching your video. If the content is uninteresting or presented in a way that isn’t stimulating, retention and recall will be low. Depending on the complexity of your topic, you may need to adjust your engagement strategies (without going overboard) to ensure positive outcomes. 


As you start creating video, be mindful to strategically build engagement. You don’t need a bunch of tricks, but here are six strategies to consider. 

  1. Storytelling. A lot of instruction is highly procedural in nature. It has steps and aims to achieve a focused outcome. Step-by-step instruction can be delivered effectively using video and sometimes requires nothing more than presenting the information in a concise, easy-to-follow format. If the steps alone aren't enough, using a story or scenarios is a powerful way to relate the content to the learner. Stories and scenarios are great for helping to illuminate what folks in the industry sometimes refer to as WIIFM (what's in it for me). Stories don't have to be complex or elaborate, but setting a scenario can provide context around the when and why. Humans are wired for stories, and stories can be a powerful way to evoke emotion and interest.

  2. Quality audio. There are two major parts to video: the image and the sound. If you have to invest in one over the other, I recommend you choose audio quality. Since the rise of YouTube, many of us have watched a lot of videos with lower-quality camera footage. In my experience, most people tolerate the lower-quality video just fine. However, the same is not true with audio. Low audio quality diminishes the experience and, frankly, makes learning difficult. This doesn't mean you should outsource all audio creation, but you should make sure the audio is clear, can be heard well (not drowned out in noise or background music), and matches well with the video.

  3. Quality images/video. Quality of images is important, too. Ask yourself: Regardless of how the footage looks, is it relevant to the story or instruction? Is it clear and is the emphasis on the right information? Will it help the learners better understand what they are learning? With the quality of video that most major smartphones provide, cameras aren't the issue—it's about making sure your subject looks good, that you've used appropriate lighting, and that you cut together video that supports the story well during editing.

  4. Movement. Video is a visual medium, and being able to show something (a person, a machine, or a screen) is why you choose it for learning. As you work through your storyboards and scripts, and then shoot the footage, know that humans are drawn to movement. Your video should keep things moving and changing on a fairly quick basis. Some experts recommend movement every two to four seconds. Conversely, if you change things too much without purpose, it can be distracting.

  5. Pause. The pause button is an overlooked option in your video toolbox. It's a common and easily understood tool for interacting with your video. As you build out your video, consider what activities you might have learners do outside of the confines of the video; for instance, asking the learner to pause the video to review a document or gather information. There is a risk that learners won't continue watching, but even without pausing this is true.

  6. Interaction. Interactive videos can take multiple forms and have levels of complexity, including everything from a simple click-through of a process in a software application, to a highly complex 3D flight simulator. For the sake of simplicity, you can add interaction by using buttons or places to click on the video that determines what content is shown or forces the user to take a specific action before continuing. Not every video needs to be interactive, but adding some interaction can help strengthen and focus attention. 

Want to learn more? Join me at ATD TechKnowledge 2018. I will be facilitating two sessions in the Platforms and Tools track focused on developing quality learning videos: Making Instructional Video That Works Without a Big Budget and Editing Video: An Introduction.


About the Author
Matthew Pierce is an experienced instructional designer, training manager, speaker, and multimedia creator. He currently managers training and development at TechSmith Corporation (creators of Snagit and Camtasia), including overseeing instructional design, documentation, training, and tech support. He also has experience leading and managing the social media, video, and public relations groups at TechSmith.  For several years Matt ran TechSmith's visual communication web show, The Forge, interviewing guests from around the world discussing the use of visuals, video, and technology in education, training, marketing, and more. Matt is a regular contributor to several online publications, and has published articles in various training publications in the United States and the United Kingdom. He has spoken multiple times at national and international conferences, including ATD TechKnowledge, the Society for Technical Communication Summit, Technical Communication UK, and Online Educa Berlin. He is a graduate of the Indiana University School of Education’s Department of Instructional Systems Technology.
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