It’s the instructional design mistake for online learning that just won’t go away.

Since the beginning of online education, many courses have been plagued by a misconception about how to successfully deliver an online course that has kept them from achieving the success they’re looking for—namely, that video is the only thing needed to run an effective course.

I suspect this practice has its roots in the kind of remote courses that predated the internet—ones where learners would purchase a textbook and a series of video lectures. Anyone who has tried to learn a subject this way can probably tell you how dull recorded lectures can be. Certainly, some lecturers are more captivating than others, and the production quality of a video also plays a big role. But the reality is that while it’s easy enough for a learner to turn on a video, staying focused enough to remember its contents afterward is more difficult.

Video certainly has its place in online education, and the popularity of various YouTube channels is proof that many learners gain plenty of value from them. But a professional course can be so much more than video—and taking the time to develop content beyond video can lead to better outcomes for educators and learners alike.

Want to know how to take your course to the next level? Here’s a few tips on expanding your course beyond video, and how to use the video content you do have to the greatest effect.

What can your online course offer beyond video?

Online content is about more than information. A quality course should help learners process that information into knowledge that they can remember and use. A network of peers can also give them the support they need to achieve their goals beyond the course itself.

1. Quizzes.

For being such an essential part of any learning experience, quizzes are still underused by most educators. Perhaps this is because many of us still remember quizzes as the stressful tests from school. But adult learners often enjoy quizzes, both as markers of their learning progress, and because correctly answer a question can be fun—like a game show or a trivia game.

  • Use gamification to encourage learners to compete for a high score on the leaderboard.
  • Create practice quizzes before a test.
  • Include mini-quizzes at the end of each lesson to check learning comprehension.

2. Interactive learning.

As learners grow in confidence, educators should find ways to help them test their skills. Interactive elements can make a concept feel more real to a learner, which will help them apply it correctly in real life. Interactive learning can also help a learner stay focused, especially during a long lesson.

  • Create branching scenarios to make training more realistic.
  • Offer points and badges to learners who complete certain actions.
  • Develop advanced, project-based assignments and ask learners to present their work.

3. Community.

Isolation is the biggest struggle for online learners. It’s hard to stay motivated to complete a course if no one else is there to keep you accountable, or to discuss what you’re learning. Nurturing a community connected to your online course can help learners feel less lonely and will give them the encouragement they need to keep moving forward.

  • Create a discussion room for your class to talk about lesson content.
  • Build a forum for active members to connect.
  • Organize learners into small groups for projects or tandem learning exercises.

How can you create more effective video content?

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t include video in your courses. In fact, video can be a great learning tool, and certainly is a great way to grab attention. But in order to hold your learners’ attention, you’ll need to do more than just film yourself in front of a whiteboard. Here are some tips to help your video content educate your learners successfully.

1. Have your video content support active learning.

Video is naturally a passive learning method. If all a learner is doing is watching a filmed lecture, it’s easy for them to zone out and miss what you were saying for several minutes. Adding interactive moments (such as a quiz in the middle of a video, or a stop point where learners are asked to click on video content and move it around) can hold a learner’s attention for longer.

How to turn passive into active learning:

  • Include quizzes after each video to check learner comprehension.
  • Use a video service that includes interactive elements.
  • Have learners leave a comment on the video or participate in a forum discussion.

2. Make it easy for learners to review videos.

Content that’s only in video form can make it more difficult for learners to look up key information if they didn’t happen to write it down when taking notes. Think about ways to help your learners review video content so that they don’t have to rewatch your content several times to catch all the important points. (Note: some video services, such a Vimeo and Wistia) will include heat maps so that you can see what points your learners re-watch most. This might be the information to include in separate study guides.

How to help learners review video content:

  • Include a table of contents with time stamps and hyperlinks for key sections.
  • Create infographics that summarize the main concepts from the video.
  • Allow learners to adjust the playback speed of video content.

3. Keep video content accessible and mobile-friendly.

Not all learners can easily watch video. A learner with hearing impairments won’t be able to hear your lecture, while a learner with impaired vision may hear what you’re saying, but can’t see any notes you have on your screen. Learners may even struggle with video content if they’re trying to finish a lesson while in a public space but have forgotten their headphones. Because of this, it’s a good idea to provide alternative ways for your learners to complete a lesson, if video isn’t an option.

How to make video content more accessible:

  • Include transcripts for hearing-impaired learners as well as descriptions of all graphic content.
  • Keep videos short (under seven minutes).
  • Create alternative content for learners who can’t access video.

4. Invest in your video production quality to keep content engaging.

Finally, while you don’t need perfectly polished content at all times, you also want your content to be more engaging than you reading a powerpoint out loud. The more time you take to improve the quality of your videos, the your learners will appreciate them.

How to keep your video content interesting:

  • Incorporate graphics and other visuals.
  • Keep the pacing tight and punchy.
  • Use it to provide “how-to” tutorials or demonstrations.

Your course should include video—but it shouldn’t be just video.

Creating exceptional video content will add to the value of your course by making it more professional and helping your learners connect to your brand. But if you rely on video alone, you may be selling your content short.

The good news is that much of your non-video content can enhance the learning experience without taking as much time to develop—so long as you have a platform with the right tools. So, if you’re looking for an LMS on which to build your course, be sure the one you choose will let you accomplish everything you’re hoping to achieve.

On LearnDash, we not only offer a platform designed for e-learning with built-in tools for advanced quizzes, we also have add-ons for gamification and to help our learners build their membership communities. And, if you’re ever short of options, the entire library of WordPress plugins is at your fingertips to expand your site beyond what we offer. It’s truly the best way to deliver your learners the experience they need—not just to watch your content, but to remember it long-term.

Laura Lynch photo

About Laura Lynch

Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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