What are some things you should—and shouldn’t—do when producing eLearning videos? And how can they help bolster your course’s effectiveness and promote student learning?
Back in my day (ahem), videos were either nonexistent or only supplemental to the learning process. A fun diversion that teachers could say was still educational. Nowadays, a course can be entirely video-based. And almost every course can benefit from videos that are well made and strategically paired with the content.
Perhaps you’re already on the eLearning video bandwagon and want to make sure your videos are high quality. Or perhaps your organization is new to eLearning videos and you’re unsure where to start. Either way, this article is for you.
The biggest difference between “regular” videos, such as those found on YouTube, and eLearning videos is how their “success” is measured. For regular videos, success means a large number of views and rave reviews from those viewers. For eLearning videos, success means that the students understood, engaged with, absorbed, and retained the information being presented.
Aim for student success by following these four eLearning video best practices.
Don’t: Let trends dictate your video style.
Beware the “trends trap”!
I once worked with an instructor who wanted all videos to not exceed a certain length, citing students’ decreased attention spans. Though I understood where she was coming from, I’m wary of arbitrary rules. As we talked about last week, the content should drive the video length. If you’re working with a hefty topic that splits naturally into manageable chunks, by all means, split the topic into multiple videos. But if a topic doesn’t split well, there’s nothing wrong with making one longer video. There’s no rule that says longer videos are guaranteed to turn off students, just as there isn’t one that says shorter videos are the only way to go.
Your video style should come from the content, not what’s considered trendy. Determine your video style by analyzing the content and how best to represent it. Certain styles that might work well for entertainment or marketing won’t work as well for learning. Ask, “Will this help my students learn the material?” If yes, keep it. If no, it’s gotta go.
Do: Adopt a clean design that works well with the content.
A clean design helps highlight and bolster your content, while a cruddy one will only distract from it.
Have you ever tried to make a purchase from a poorly designed website? You know the type. One of those sites where the information is laid out badly, you can’t find the navigation buttons, and you swear you entered everything correctly into the purchase form but keep getting an error. The lousy design causes you to focus on the design itself instead of the item you're purchasing. Talk about annoying!
An effective design for eLearning videos directs the students’ focus to the content they’re trying to learn. This requires that the design be well-chosen to pair with the content. Think about your students and what style they would benefit from. A design that works well for one audience or type of content will not necessarily work well for another. (And if you’re unfamiliar with the needs of your students, brush up on the basics of audience analysis before reflecting on this further.)
Remember: a successful video design must also work well on mobile devices. Expect that many students will access the videos on their phones. The layout should not be too small or too cluttered when viewed on a smaller screen.
Don’t: Rely only on visuals to communicate core content.
Powerful visuals make a video more compelling. Effective visuals make a topic easier to learn. And yes, I just said that the video layout matters. It’s important, though, that visuals aren’t the only method of communicating the material.
Narration is an equally important feature of successful eLearning videos.
Students may listen to videos while working out, driving, or doing chores around the house. Other students may be auditory learners and will retain the information better when it’s presented through audio. And still other students may have a visual impairment and rely heavily on the audio.
Your videos should include audio that communicates all the learning objectives fully and can stand on its own with or without any visuals. Ideally, the primary audio track will sufficiently explain all the information. When this is not possible, a second audio track called “audio description” can be added. (For more information on this and how to make media accessible, check out the media guidelines in the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).)
Do: Seek help to level up your videos.
In his famous essay “I, Pencil”, Leonard E. Read explores how the seemingly simple pencil would not exist without the contributions of multiple skilled parties. Similarly, don’t be fooled into thinking that producing a video is a straightforward task.
A single video might require someone to record footage, someone to record narration, someone to appear on screen, someone to build animations, and someone to edit and put all the pieces together. Oh, and the person who came up with and communicated the vision of the video to begin with. Yes, it’s possible for all these to be the same person. More likely, though, it’ll be multiple people.
Assembling a team of people who specialize in each of the video production steps will lead to finished videos that are higher quality, more engaging, and ultimately, more effective.
Think about the style of video you want to use in your course and the skills required to produce that style. Perhaps professional filming would make the video more polished. Perhaps professional animation would help illustrate a complex topic. Or perhaps your time is limited and you’re eager to hand over the whole thing. Identify the steps you have the ability (and time!) to undertake and then determine what personnel should be added to your course development team.
That’s a Wrap
Keep these Do’s and Don’ts handy when thinking about producing videos for online learning. Videos are powerful tools for learning, but remember—the key is to think about the content first and then decide where and how to incorporate videos in your course plan.