Video for learning: how to make it work

By Carole Bower February 25, 2015

CB_on_screenOnline video has exploded in recent years. At the last count, YouTube had a billion users, with four billion videos being watched daily. The highest earning YouTuber made a massive $4.9 in 2014 (for unboxing Disney toys, can you believe!)

But as well as watching kittens fall into fish tanks, real people are learning real things on YouTube, making it perhaps the biggest learning platform on the planet. Not surprisingly, our learners in the corporate world want a piece of this. Increasingly, they have come to expect access to similar, regular, fast moving video content.

And L&D is responding to this expectation. The latest Benchmark Survey from Towards Maturity predicts that in 2016 83% of L&D departments will be using video to support learning content.

But this is a different beast to the training videos on VHS tapes and DVDs that have been part of the landscape for so long. Online video is sharper, snappier and shorter. It has to be.

The Bersin report, Meet the Modern Learner (requires subscription), describes learners as ‘overwhelmed, distracted and impatient’ and suggests that we are receptive to just 5-10 seconds of information before our attention switches to something else. Learners have shorter attention spans, and now want a more ‘on-demand’ approach to their learning.

It’s about getting things across really quickly. As L&D professionals, we are competing with a lot of ‘noise’ generated by always-on, mobile-delivered, 24/7 social media: we need to get our point across in a way that is going to have an impact. We want it to enact a change that will have a lasting effect and help people to do their jobs better.

Learning needs to be short, sharp, to the point and it needs to be perceived as incredibly high value by the learner. So how can you achieve this?

Why Video?

Before we list some ways of using video for learning that we know work, it’s worth looking at the advantages the medium offers you over other learning outputs.

Time: In short, you can save it. Video is an excellent way to express a complex message quickly. Online video can also be distributed to thousands of users globally in an instant.

Impact: Video has impact as it simultaneously communicates to two of our senses – sight and hearing – resulting in high levels of engagement. The addition of text can make for an even more enriched multi-sensory experience.

Emotional: When properly produced, video has the capability of inspiring more emotion from a learner than animations or stills. It can convey various emotions such as humour, sincerity, honesty etc, which can aid in getting a point across.

Multi-Platform: With an increase in learners accessing training and support via mobile devices, video can be consumed easily across a number of platforms.

Agile: With the availability of low cost HD recorders and mobile devices producing good quality video, the speed of production has come down hugely in recent years. This allows for video production to easily keep abreast of the speed of change within an organisation.

Overcoming the objections

However, a number of common objections come up when it is proposed to use video for learning. Here are the main ones. (But don’t worry, we’ll show you how to deal with these later on!)

Cost. While modern technology and a plethora of online tools and platforms has brought the cost of video production and distribution down, producing high-end video that requires the hire of locations, professional recording equipment, actors, and so on, can still be high.

Translation. For global organisations who need videos produced in multiple languages, translation can be time consuming and costly.

File Size. Trying to fight your corner for a slice of the corporate bandwidth to distribute video is thankfully a problem that has gone away in the UK. However, this isn’t true for all countries, and many locations across the globe do not have the capability to distribute video as yet.

Tracking. Video alone doesn’t offer any tracking, nor can it include any assessment – so it doesn’t work so well stand-alone when compliance data is required.

Maintenance. Videos by their nature are hard to update and maintain so generally an update would require the video to be made again.

Design Solutions

There is a wide range of ways in which you can tackle the production of video – and some of these can help to overcome the limitations detailed above.

Swappable files. Within an e-learning course you might chose to include a video scenario which is a swappable file, to allow for easy translation or other regional or divisional requirements.

Subtitles. Introducing subtitles over the video is another way to cater for regional differences.

Peer-to-Peer video sharing. The use of user-generated videos is a great way for organisations to share information and skills across the business. People respond well to colleagues that they know and most are well equipped using their own mobile devices to record a video. Sharing can be achieved via YouTube or other proprietary video sharing platforms.


video for learning technique: vox pops

Vox Pop. Vox Pops have been around a while now and similarly to peer-to-peer video sharing are an easy way to share knowledge and information across a business – and they don’t necessarily have to be full video: the example above was just audio and a still photograph of the speaker.

Audio Narration. This is a great way to get around some of the objections we listed above, such as translation, bandwidth issues and maintenance. Audio can be mixed with text on screen to give a video-like feel or can be mixed with video that shoots everything but the face. A different translated audio can then be layered over the top.

Other video approaches that work

Here at Lumesse we create a lot of explainers, and video-based techniques are a good way to achieve these. Here are some ideas of ways to approach video in learning.

Green Screen/White. Shooting your subject against a green screen allows you to layer them on to a separately filmed or still background. A white screen is a cheat’s way of doing this if you don’t have a professional green screen available.


video for learning technique: woman drawing on glass

Drawing on glass. This can be achieved with professional screens or, with a lower budget, by drawing straight onto normal glass. Used within an e-learning course it can create a good opportunity for interaction.

Some other ways of creating a video style approach in your learning could include:

Showreel. Sequence of screens or animations pieced together with music or narration to create a showreel.


video for learning  technique: voice and pen

Voice and Pen. An illustration that appears to be sketched in front of you, often sped up and a narration added. The illustration explains what is being said.

Papermation. A technique similar to voice and pen where cut out illustrations are joined together to create an animation, coupled together with narration or music.

Kinetic typography. Text and simple graphics are placed on screen in sequence to create a simple animation. This technique can also be used with a combination of video and typography.

Whilst some of these techniques can be used to create high end video production, I am a big fan of the homemade approach. I think the modern learner’s familiarity with the lo-fi video approach of social media platforms means they would rather consume something quick and relevant that can be updated regularly, than something more high-end that in its nature is going to be expensive to update.

Don’t lose sight of the planning!

As Head of Learning Solutions here at Lumesse, and having been in the industry for nearly thirty years, I have seen the use of video come full circle. Before e-learning, video was a popular option for corporate learning and while it stepped aside for a while, it is now most certainly back – albeit in a changed form.

In contrast to the often negative feelings expressed towards e-learning, learners wholeheartedly love video. And with video production becoming simpler, cheaper and more available it’s easier than ever to satisfy their seemingly insatiable appetite for the stuff! With this new ease of production, however, come potential perils.

I urge anyone creating learning interventions for their organisation to ensure that good learner design underpins everything you do. Don’t overlook the business need and the associated learner needs that fall out of that. Design to maximise learner relevance and retention: this will help you achieve your ROI. The outcome must ensure that the learner acts or behaves differently in order to have a positive impact on how they do their job.

Lumesse is at the forefront of design and our design techniques have moved with the times. We understand the ’beyond the course’ concept and when working with video our learning designer’s story writing skills have evolved to include writing for drama and impact. They are enjoying taking on the new roles of writer, director, location scout, casting director and producer – all rolled into one.

So to sum up: online video can be an enormously powerful and flexible tool for engaging learners, but don’t forget the learning design.

… And that’s a wrap!

Director's chair

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