February 19th, 2019 E-Learning

How to use video content effectively in your online course.

Video content holds a dubious distinction in online education as one of the earliest and least effective means of digital pedagogy. In fact, it’s been used so poorly for so long that if you’ve spent more than a few minutes reading about instructional design, you know that 50-minute recorded lectures are a terrible and ineffective way to teach an online class.

However, it’s also clear that videos are an essential part of online learning. Used well, they can engage learners, deliver concepts quickly, and provide helpful visualizations for complex tasks. It’s clear many instructors want to use more video content in their course, and equally clear they don’t always know how to do so well.

Fortunately, creating better instructional videos is an attainable goal for almost any educator. There’s a lot of easy gains to be made by avoiding common errors and following a few simple rules. Here’s where to start.

1. Practice your delivery in front of a camera.

One of the biggest benefits of video content is that learners feel more connected and engaged when they see their instructor rather than a series of narrated slides. However, many instructors feel anxious or awkward about giving their lessons in front of a camera. Perhaps it feels too much like public speaking, or maybe they dislike seeing themselves in video. Either way, given the added value for learners, it’s important to try to be on screen for at least part of your videos, if possible.

The good news is that you can film in multiple takes. If you’re worried about your delivery, you can always re-shoot the footage until you feel more comfortable. You can even try the old public speaking trick of practicing in front of a mirror before you film, so that you can work on a natural delivery.

2. Choose the right length for your video.

As we hinted at earlier, hitting on the right video length is critical for a successful learner experience. Fifty minutes is far too long for almost any kind of instructional content, but videos that are too short can lead to a choppy learner experience, and may not provide enough time to achieve the depth learners are looking for.

There’s no one perfect length for all videos, but there are some general guidelines you can follow based on the content you’re producing:

  • 1–3 minutes for social media
  • 2–5 minutes for introductions, trailers, and recaps
  • 6–10 minutes for guides and tutorials
  • Up to 20 minutes for deep content

You can give-or-take on all those estimates, of course. But it will be harder to go longer than a few minutes on social, and if you try to crop your training videos you are likely to miss a key step (and if you go longer, learners may struggle to follow along).

3. Use video to introduce and recap.

One of my favorite uses for video content is either to warm up or quickly review more in-depth material. It may be my personal learning preference, but the more complex a subject becomes, the more I want to practice with it myself in order to feel like I’ve mastered the contents.

For this reason, you might have more success using video content as intros and outros to a lesson. Write this content as a lead-in to your main lesson, and end the introduction video with clear next steps for your learner to work on as they dig into the material. Then create a recap video afterwards to help the material you just covered sink in.

4. Plan your demonstrations and tutorials thoroughly.

Of course tutorial videos can also be highly successful, if they’re planned carefully. When you shoot them, remember that learners are probably going to be starting and stopping it along the way to go try out your advice. You may even want to pause at different moments so that they know when to try the next step.

It’s also important to map your instructions step-by-step. You may be tempted to gloss over something you’ve done hundreds of times, not realizing how important it is for your learners. Outlining your process can ensure you don’t accidentally miss anything. You can even get more mileage from them by turning those outlines into infographics and sharing them with your learners.

5. Avoid treating your video lessons like PowerPoint slides.

This has already been said a thousand times, but it bears repeating: videos that are nothing more than a PowerPoint presentation with voiceover narration are dull and difficult for learners to digest.

You’re using video, so take advantage of the medium! Introduce some animations demonstrate a technique, or even bring in a friend or colleague to enact a scenario if your subject calls for it. Using a screen capture tool is also highly effective, especially if you’re giving a tutorial about how to use software (like many of our LearnDash tutorials). As it turns out, the writing advice to “show, don’t tell” is equally valuable for online learners.

Don’t over-rely on videos when other interactions can help.

At the end of the day, videos are a passive means of consuming content. No matter how well you’ve produced your videos, your learners will always need something to respond to if they’re going to absorb that learning for themselves.

So while well-produced videos will help you gain the attention of your learners, don’t neglect to diligently prepare interesting exercises for them to work on. Doing so will move them from passive viewers to active participants. And at the end of the day, we all learn by doing.

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