Videos are a popular medium for training, but not videos are equal. Here’s our quick overview of what we consider important when thinking of using videos in your training offering.
People often say that training videos should be three minutes or less. However, much of the information on video length and engagement is based on marketing videos, or videos are that used to explain a product.
The research is on how long viewers engage with videos, but it doesn’t take into account the viewer, the content, or purpose. So whereas using this data might be a good starting point, it would be wrong to make a direct comparison between training and marketing videos.
There’s a good article here from Wistia which shows that there is a lot of ‘engagement’ up to about 2 minutes then a significant drop off between 2-3 minutes. Importantly there’s another ‘sweet spot’ between 6-12 minutes.
When looking at training videos, the important thing, rather than the length itself, is whether the video is offering anything to the viewer – is it helpful/useful?
The majority of our videos are around 5 minutes in length. However, we do have longer ones. We have to make a decision on how much content goes into the video – the question we ask is ‘what does the user need to know?’, so we look at the content and make a judgement call.
When we started looking at a video(s) about meetings we knew we had a lot to cover. It turned out to be over 11 minutes long, so we created the video in sections and then produced the sections individually, and as one long video ‘stitched’ together – like chapters in a book.
Probably the hardest part of creating a training video is getting the content right.
One criticism of off-the-shelf videos is that the content isn’t directed at a specific group of people. That’s true, but it’s also true of most videos. Elearning and videos are usually created for large groups of people. If you were looking to train/inform a small group of people about a very specific topic, you probably wouldn’t commission a video – unless you have a large budget.
We try and get to the essence of a topic and focus on the areas that everyone needs to know. We also think about the objectives of a video in terms of knowledge, skills, attitude and awareness. For example, a lot of information security videos focus on knowledge – letting people know about the risks etc. There’s a good chance that many people already know about this, but what is happening more and more is that we are becoming complacent about information security – it won’t happen to us, why would it? This is an attitudinal issue, and how you work with attitudes is very different from knowledge or skills. It’s also much harder.
In contrast, when we wrote our Strong Memorable Passwords video, this is much more about Knowledge and Skill i.e. showing a simple way to create strong passwords that are easy to remember. (The attitude part is getting users to use secure passwords once they know how to create ones they can remember.)
I’ve seen some beautifully animated, extremely creative videos which are a joy to watch, but as a learner, have little to offer.
We spend a long time making sure a script covers the material we feel is important to everyone, that it flows from one topic to another – and that we can do this visually.
We suggest that our customers supplement videos with ‘localised’ information. For example, particular procedures, case studies from the organisation, who to contact and so on, can easily be covered in a simple document.
There’s one school of thought that says that making materials which are relevant to the work environment will make them more engaging. I’m sure it’s true, but as with all elearning we tend to be targeting large groups of people in diverse situations and it’s almost impossible, if not impossible, to make anything which is equally relevant to everyone in different parts of an organisation.
However, many of the topics covered in our videos are also relevant to people in their private lives. For example, for most people passwords are just important in their private lives as they are at work. In some cases it might be more important.
Learning something at work which you can then share with family and friends, which you know them will help them become safer online, is something we think is worth highlighting as it makes content more relevant to the viewer.
Good information security practices are the same at work and at home.
This applies to animated videos and not to filmed videos with actors.
Images are clearly important and all ours are hand drawn or created. We reuse some, but generally we use as many unique images as are needed.
There are two things that we try and avoid in our imagery.
- The typical, smart, attractive, smiling person used in a lot of elearning courses. There’s nothing wrong with it except it tends to be fairly meaningless and it’s been overused. This type of imagery is often said to have a serious, professional, or corporate look.
- The obvious metaphor. It’s sometimes very tempting to go for an image which suggests itself and is very obvious e.g. the light bulb has become a cliché for an idea or a moment of understanding, but is it actually adding anything to the story? We don’t think so and avoid it.
Look for videos where images really help illustrate what’s happening and are not just there make the video look nice – nothing wrong with it looking nice, but images can do so much more.
A favourite image of ours is the ‘letting the genie out of the bottle’ – used for data protection/information security – the idea being that once the genie is out of the bottle, you can’t put it back.
Strange though it may seem, the voiceover is probably more important in a video than the actual visuals. A poorly recorded audio track can be hard to listen to, if it sounds like a person is reading a text they don’t really understand, listeners won’t believe what they’re being told and a poor voiceover can ruin an otherwise great video.
I saw a very impressive video recently which obviously took a lot of time and large budget to produce. About a minute in the audio said something like ‘if you work with desperate systems’, when if should have said ‘if you work with disparate systems’. It’s hard to then believe what you’re being told – even if you want to.
Many people like the RSA videos such as this one and I do too. Personally though, it’s the voice that makes the video, not the animation. Try just listening to it – you’ll probably find that the illustrations look nice, but don’t really help the listener understand more or better. Don’t get me wrong. They’re a nice to have, but when you think how much they add to the cost of the video, you also need to think about how much they add. Could the same video have the same amount of impact using fewer illustrations. I’d suggest it probably could.
When you get a really good speakers such as Dan Pink or Sir Ken Robinson, they are masters at delivering interesting talks and that’s what, in our view, really makes the difference.
Something which we’re seeing more and more of, in our opinion, is the overuse of animation. Images flying in and out very quickly, and often for no apparent reason.
If the animation adds nothing, then it will often detract from the content. If you need an animation to add interest to the content, then we’d suggest looking at the content and thinking about why it needs to be ‘brought to life’ with animation.
The power of images comes when they are reinforcing what is being said.
Pace is a really tough one, but it’s not just about the speed of delivery, it’s also about the speed at which information is presented. You can put a lot of information into a very short video, but the viewer can soon become overloaded.
Some people think that a fast voiceover adds excitement and interest. It’s unlikely to. Some of the best presenters speak very slowly. President Obama is a good example of how you can speak slowly, and in very small chunks, but still keep people interested. Here’s an example of him telling a joke. https://youtu.be/IMR0SB–CPg?t=2m0s
People who commission or create videos are often very familiar with the content. Someone who’s being presented with the information for the first time might appreciate a slower, more measured pace.
There’s good research that shows that sound effects distract viewers and make learning harder, yet people still use them. There’s a difference between background, ambient sounds and sound effects (like pops and boings), so again, do the effects add anything? They’re often like visual metaphors – they’re so obvious that they add nothing and are therefore neutral, or more likely a detractor.
This is one area where promo and training videos vary. Promo videos generally want to create a mood, training videos can benefit from this, but here are some considerations.
One piece of music might inspire one person and put another off. In terms of: like, neutral and dislike, there will be more people who are neutral or dislike the music than like it. So there’s a good chance you’ll alienate more people than you help.
People often use ‘stock music’ in videos. These are pieces of music which you can buy cheaply and use with your video. Here’s an example
Unless music is written especially for a piece, it’s likely to be very repetitive. This might work for a short one minute video, but repetition can become annoying very quickly.
Here’s an example Uplifting and Inspiring Corporate It’s a lovely piece of music which is fairly uplifting and inspiring. It’s essentially a very short piece music which is repeated with different arrangements. For short videos of a minute to a minute and a half, something like this can work well. I’d suggest though that most people would be put off by its repetitiveness if the video were longer.
Another thing I’ve seen quite a bit is music like this being used but not sync’ing the video or voice over to it. The voice doesn’t need to be completely matched, but the pace needs to be similar to that of the music otherwise it jars as the two rhythms (voice and music) are competing with each other.
Don’t let the music dominate the speech. I know it sounds obvious, but it happens. It’s always a good idea to listen to the audio through different speakers and headphones so that you can hear what others will hear.
Captions are really important. They make it possible for people with hearing loss to access the training, and make it easier for people whose first language isn’t the same as that used in the video.
YouTube will add captions based on voice-to-text software. These are useful as they do most of the work, but they need to be corrected before the video is shared.
Otherwise you run the risk of
1) showing that you don’t care enough to do the job properly
2) appearing as though you’re saying something insulting or ridiculous.
Videos are great for training, but as with all things elearning it’s the content that makes it good, not the format. Videos can be expensive, but they needn’t be.
Make sure you’re paying for the good things, and not spending a limited budget on things which are unlikely to make any difference.
A lot of what’s good and what’s bad will come down to personal opinion and choice. But often people are making choices for others e.g. when making a purchasing choice for an organisation.
There are quite a few myths floating around about videos, we hope this blog is useful and if you’re thinking about using videos as part of your training programme and would like to discuss any of the issues, please get in touch and we’ll have a chat.