Video content not only helps people learn; it saves resources
and puts learning just a click away for global organizations.
As video cameras become more affordable and easier to use, more
trainers are looking to add video production skills to their
professional toolkits. They are focusing on producing what I call
didactic video - that is, video content designed to help people
learn. Many trainers are using the Internet to store and distribute
their video, because it's cheap and virtually ubiquitous.
What is it?
Didactic video offers all sorts of opportunities for organizational
learning: It can bring real-life footage of a job skill into the
training room; save organizations time, money, and the
inconvenience of travel; and make learning more accessible and
on-demand for global organizations.
Expensive cameras and editing software don't promise effective
learning, just as fancy word processors don't ensure good writing.
If you want to produce video that is engaging, easy to understand,
and enables learning, focus on the following: video psychology,
learning theory, and production discipline. Mastery of each of
these areas is essential, whether you are producing a high-end
educational documentary or a cheap and cheerful video for your
Why it works
There's an old adage in TV news that says, "If it bleeds, it
leads." This explains why stories with dramatic pictures end up as
the top features on the evening news. Whether it's on TV, the web,
your iPhone, or at the cinema, video is about communicating using
pictures before anything else, such as dialogue or commentary.
If you don't have interesting pictures, your viewers will disengage
quickly. This is why broadcasters avoid talking-head shots: If they
don't have any pictures to illustrate what someone is talking
about, they change the angle or shot size regularly to keep viewers
Because video is about pictures first, it is not always the ideal
method for learning. Complex facts and abstract ideas are difficult
to display visually and may be more effectively learned using other
Bearing this in mind, ask yourself, Does my learning objective
involve action that can be watched?
Learning appropriate body language in a staff feedback session, or
a practical skill such as installing an air conditioner, is perfect
for video. But using video to learn HR policy or a computer
programming language is not so effective.
Learning theory and media. Much of the planning
for and design of your training sessions is helpful when it comes
to creating engaging video content. You should always begin with a
clear purpose - the learning objective. The difference is that for
video, you will primarily use pictures to do the explaining.
Think carefully about the structure of your video. Plan your shots
by drawing a storyboard and then when you are clear on your
pictures, write your script. Don't repeat in your script what is
obvious in the picture.
For example, if the objective is to show someone how to change a
tire safely by the side of the road, you might first capture a
long-shot of the car pulling to the side of the road, and then cut
to a close-up of the flat tire flapping as the car comes to a stop.
Just as you think through the sequence of how you may explain a
concept in a training session, consider what you would show someone
to visually learn your objective.
Learn the basics of visual grammar so that your storyboard can
describe shot sizes (close-up or long-shot) and camera angles. Each
shot size and camera angle will affect how your viewer understands
your story. So the better you understand it, the more control you
have as a videographer.
To make the information easy to remember, think of some of the
tricks that worked in school and consider using them in video. How
did you learn your times tables? Repetition. So repeat key learning
points throughout the narrative at key times using graphics,
titles, or slow-motion replays. Be creative so that you're not
using the same method throughout the entire video.
Production. The key to getting the best pictures
comes down to how you plan your shots (your storyboard), how you
use the camera, and how you edit the shots together. We're not
going to look at editing in this article because it is a complex
process in itself.
It's important to get good quality shots that are well-lit and in
focus. The better your shots, the less time you will have to spend
cleaning them up when you edit.The first rule to getting great
shots is to, whenever possible, use the camera's manual functions
so that you're in control of the pictures. You don't want the
camera's auto-focus guessing whom to focus on or constantly
adjusting the lighting.
Second, avoid moving your camera too much. It's what you are
shooting that should move, not your camera. Too much camera
movement will make your video look like Uncle Abe's home movies.
Avoid zooming in and out. Hold your shot steady, and always use a
Make sure that you capture good sound. Don't use the camera's
built-in microphone because it will pick up noise from your hands
as you hold the camera. (If your camera is recording on-tape, the
onboard microphone will pick up the motor moving the tape.) Invest
in an external microphone.
Many people are experimenting with video, and it offers huge
potential if you shoot your content well and follow the principles
mentioned above. It doesn't matter whether you are shooting on an
inexpensive or high-end professional camera: These guidelines still
Adding video skills to your professional toolkit is a great
investment, but it takes time and effort to be great. Don't be
discouraged if it seems to take forever before you see results -
good video is more than just aiming your camera and hitting
Jonathan Halls is based in Alexandria, Virginia,
and is principal of Jonathan Halls & Associates. He teaches new
media at George Washington University and previously ran the BBC's
television training department in London; firstname.lastname@example.org.