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Guide to Great Learning Videos - 5/8/2012 -

Associations often produce content for educating members. Here are expert tips on making a great learning video.

By Jonathan Halls

Shooting video is easy, right? Find a subject matter expert, turn the camera on, and press record. If only it was. Like any form of effective communication, good video that is both easy to understand and remember takes time and skill to craft. If video is new to you, here are important principles to follow when creating a learning video, as well as practices that will ensure your video looks professional.

Why Video Works

Video is fashionable at the moment because it seems so easy to produce and cameras are cheaper than ever before. Itís easy to think of video as the perfect solution for many learning needs, but often it is not. 

First determine when video will aid learning and when it will not. This comes down to knowing its strengths and weaknesses as a communication method. In general, video is less effective at conveying complex content with a great deal of detail than other methods such as simple text or graphical illustrations.

Video is a visual method of communication that loses its power when there arenít many interesting pictures or shot changes to keep the viewer glued to the screen. Thatís why people easily get bored with videos of lectures and seminars. Thereís usually only one shot of someone talking and no action to keep their attention. But video is excellent for teaching a simple procedural task such as how to change a printer cartridge or operate a forklift safely. Itís perfect when the learning involves something the viewer can watch in action.

Video also is good when there is a strong narrative that is easy to see. In addition, video can be great for leadership training showing body language, interpersonal relationships, rapport-building skills, and so forth.

Planning the Production

When youíve determined that video is ideal for your learning needs, itís time to start planning the production. Donít be surprised if you spend more time planning your video than shooting it. (Thatís how it works in professional television production.) To get the best result, here are three tips to help you plan and engaging video that will work well in the learning context.

1. Aim for only one learning objective. The more focused your content is, the stronger it will be. It can be tempting to cram loads of content into your video; however, youíll cause cognitive overload, so stick to only one learning objective per video.

2. Plan many visuals. Start your video planning as you would start planning a training session. Complete a task analysis for the learning objective and then plan what pictures will show that task being performed.

3. Think carefully about how each shot will convey your message. Your camera is your viewerís eye, so ask yourself where your viewer would want to stand if she was learning that task live in the classroom. Would she like to stand in close to see details (close-up) or further away (wide shot) to get an overview of the process? Would she like to be looking down at it (birds eye angle)? Perhaps sheíd like a combination of both.

After you create a storyboard, write your script. As you write, let your picture carry most of the message and only use the spoken word to reinforce what your viewer can see. Keep your video as short as possible. Viewers get bored and distracted very easily. You donít want to overload them with information that they can do without.

The reason television shows and video content shot by professionals look so good is because the camera operators and editors have been practicing and perfecting their craft for decades. If youíre worried you havenít had enough flying time to produce top video content, donít worry. There are three ways you can avoid common mistakes, which will instantly boost the quality of your video.

1. Shoot with a tripod. Amateurs often shoot without a tripod and end up producing wobbly-cam, which looks horrible and is distracting. This easily can be prevented by mounting your camera on a tripod. Youíll be amazed at how dramatically it improves your pictures.

2. Use manual camera functions. Less-expensive cameras offer a range of auto-functions such as auto focus, auto exposure, and automatic level control (audio). Itís easy to rely on these functions, but youíll get better pictures by setting focus, exposure, and audio manually.

3. Use an external microphone. Every camera comes with a built-in microphone, but very few of them offer good sound quality. Instead, capture external audio with an external microphone. If your camera does not allow you to plug in an external microphone, make sure to position your camera as close to the sound as possible. It wonít be perfect, but the closer you are, the better your chance of getting acceptable audio.

What to Look for in a New Camera

It can be tough to select a camera when there are so many models on the market. Here are three features you need in your next camera:

  • Manual controlsóManual focus is essential; donít rely on your camera to guess who or what needs to be in focus. Manual exposure, white balance, and audio also give you greater control.
  • External microphoneóA good external microphone ensures top-quality sound. Poor quality audio screams amateur hour, so donít buy a camera without an external microphone socket.
  • Nontape operationóTape is now old technology. Find a camera that records onto SD cards or a hard drive because it will make post-production faster and more convenient for you.

Adding video production skills to your professional toolkit is a wise investment in your development.

Jonathan Halls is principal of Jonathan Halls & Associates and is the author of Rapid Video for Trainers. This article is adapted with permission from an article that appeared in the March 2012 issue of T+D magazine, a monthly publication of the American Society for Training & Development.


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