Online training offers many advantages to both instructor and learner. The instructor can create courses at any time of day from home or any other location, and the student has similar learning flexibilities.
The greatest challenge to video training courses is student engagement. Today’s internet viewers have very high expectations of their web content. When they get bored with it, they tend to move on rather quickly. Yet educational content can easily dull students even live in the classroom, let alone in a one-way communication channel on their computer screens. You don’t have to be an entertainer to retain student interest (though inserting humor into your lectures will increase students’ enjoyment of your course). Just like in a live environment, first you have to get their attention, then you have to keep it. There are technical tips you can follow to achieve and maintain student interest in the creation of high-quality educational and training videos.
The first thing you need to do is connect with the audience. The best and most direct way to do this is by using “talking head” videos, or videos of yourself lecturing live. When learners can see you delivering the content personally, it’s easier for them to form a connection with you as an instructor. Not all video needs to be talking head. Do try to start out with some talking head videos though to establish a greater connection with your learners at the beginning of the course.
You also want to show that you understand and fit with your learners by using language appropriate for your target population. One challenge for seasoned university instructors moving into developing e-courses for the general population is adjusting their speech for older learners rather than 20-year-olds. Know who your audience is, and be sure to use language appropriate for that group.
On video, your appearance matters. You also want to present yourself with clothing choices and general appearance that match the expectations the learners would have of a person in your position. Appearing in formal office attire may or may not be appropriate for your learner population. Here, you’re building credibility, or ethos.
Another way to connect with learners is to insert supplemental materials periodically throughout the course. Quizzes, exercises, and thought questions for journaling can all help students gain what they perceive as a more authentic educational experience. Every section, and quite possibly every lecture, should be accompanied by a quiz and set of exercises. If you like, assigning thought questions for student journaling can help learners engage more deeply and personally with the content.
Video training requires a different kind of prep than live lecture prep. First, you have to consider whether you’ll speak from a script or freely. If you script it, make it sound like speech, not like writing. Be sure to read it aloud as you’re developing it. With either choice, you’ll need to practice beforehand to get the words right and sounding natural. This helps you come across more confidently, helping build your ethos. You also want your speech clean, so you want to avoid false starts and all of those “um”s and “uh”s. Practice helps with this.
How you speak matters a great deal. You’ll need to practice and prepare your voice for audio recording. Pay attention to the way your words are coming out. Watch your tone. You want it confident and upbeat, not aggressive, tired, impatient, or dull. Try to deepen and soften it a bit, and lower the volume a bit. Hold the mic about 1-2” from your mouth at the side, not directly in front. Run a few tests to get your voice right. Tip: Don’t record at the end of the day. Your energy will be lower than at other times, and this will come across in your voice. If you’re tired, you will tire and bore your learners.
Audio quality matters a great deal—many experts say it matters almost even more than video quality. First, use a good mic. There are several decent ones on the market for not a lot of money. Make sure it has directional settings, as you’ll want to set it to the single channel. From there, choose your recording location carefully. Echoes and a lot of background noise are not cool, and you can’t edit them out. Then, use good audio editing software. Audacity is free, and works about as well as you would expect from free software—but it’s great if your audio starts out pretty clean. Ensure your video editing software has decent audio editing capabilities or invest in dedicated audio editing software that sound engineers turn to. You need to be able to reduce noise in the audio without turning the sound into something resembling a (bad) musical instrument. After noise reduction capabilities, it’s great if you can equalize the audio. This makes everything clearly audible, even the lower tones, without distorting the louder tones. If you use good audio software, record using that software. This will help make your audio cleaner from the start, making it much easier to edit on the other end.
Suitable video equipment is much easier to come by than audio. You can use just about any camera, even an iPhone 4S or compact camera with video. The lighting is the most important thing to keep in mind for recording video. Adjust your camera’s exposure settings if necessary, and pay attention if recording outdoors as the recording can easily be overexposed or underexposed.
You don’t have to record the audio and video simultaneously. Sometimes audio is recorded in a studio that wouldn’t be appropriate for professional video, and video is recorded in a location with a lot of echo and background noise. Then the tracks are combined. If this is your strategy, the mouth movement needs to be properly synced to the audio.
3. Less is More
Videos should be relatively short: 2-9 minutes, and not more than 20. Also, plan your words carefully so you can be succinct. Speak SLOWLY and articulate CAREFULLY. We all have an accent, and clear speech is always appreciated. Account for technological challenges in the learner’s equipment with slow and clear speech.
4. Address Short Attention Span
Your delivery matters. Remember that you’re on a video, just like a video on YouTube. It’s great to crack a joke every once in a while or keep things light. Students respond to this and it helps retain their interest.
Be sure to vary the inflection in your voice. Monotone will be the death of you in an online video. Vary your inflection almost even a little more than normal. Focus on this while recording.
Use ample body movements and gestures. Remember you’re in a video, and you’re giving them something to watch. Use strategic gestures and body movements to help illustrate and reinforce your points. Focus on this while recording.
Also, remember this isn’t a traditional classroom and your learners are not traditional students. They are busy adults with busy lives. Design your course in distinct modules rather than a long list of cumulative lessons.
5. Vary the Presentation
Whatever you’re doing, mix it up. Vary the types of video you include both within each video and in your course as a whole. Some options are talking heads, slides, screencasts, animations, or video clips. You can also use still images for variety.
It’s important to keep things moving. In talking head videos, one of the reasons for the emphasis on varied vocal inflection and active body movement is to keep things moving and keep mixing them up (without appearing all over the place). You want to do the same with your video selection within a particular video lesson. Vary the image on the screen. As great as you may appear on video, it makes for a better video if you bring in something else every once in a while. This might be a still image that fills the screen or a change in video type.
Slides still serve a very useful purpose in video training courses. They are the virtual whiteboard or chalkboard. While making points, feel free to insert a slide to illustrate something you would have written on the board in a live context. Use a single slide, or shift to a slideshow—whatever works best for your pedagogical purposes and your recording logistics.
Screencasts are another option. This is a recording of your screen, done with certain screencasting software. It’s extremely useful when what you want to illustrate what happens on a computer screen or when you want to show the process of something. Courses like coding, math and statistics, software usage, and website usage all benefit from screencast videos. The tendency with using these is to make the entire course a giant screencast because this kind of video is very easy to make compared with the other video types. But realistically, if you want to address and increase student engagement, you really do need to show your face every once in a while. Even in courses that require heavy screencasting, such as coding or software usage, there are down times where the instructor can insert even a short talking head of her explaining the concept “live”.
Animation software can be a fun way to present material. The learning curve isn’t usually too terrible, and they can certainly amp up the entertainment value of your video with the full variety of distortions and explosions available in the animated world. Animating characters is not a quick process, but sometimes greater effect can be achieved with less effort in the animation creation process. Other types of animations exist as well, such as animated chalk board writing.
Video clips can help mix it up pretty easily when you’re looking to add a little variety. These can be from videos you’ve recorded yourself, or videos you have permission to include (be very careful not to violate copyright laws by using others’ work without their permission). Consider inserting a few seconds of relevant or interesting video clips at a few points within the video to mix it up and make the video more interesting to watch. You can keep using your regular voice in the audio track, then insert the video clip in the video track. Depending on your brand and your theme, these can serve several purposes including entertainment, reinforcing a concept through visual illustration, or providing an example. If you have not been blessed with the gift of making others laugh, using amusing or unexpected video clips can help achieve this and bring entertainment value to your videos. Also, sometimes you find the perfect video to show what you mean, and you can play it while you’re explaining the relevant concept. Additionally, you can use a video clip to simply illustrate a concept, while keeping your own mouth shut and letting the video clip do the teaching at that moment. These are some ways that inserting some video clips can enhance your video training course.
Each lecture can be a different main video type, or they can all be the same main video type. You can use as few as two total video types in your entire course, or you can use them all, a couple at a time.
Continuing on the variation theme, also vary the zoom level. If you have a camera person helping you record, they can do this for you in the filming phase. If you’re filming on your own, you can usually achieve this in the editing phase, depending on your video editing software. Good places to make these changes are paragraph breaks, or at changes in ideas.
Also use video transitions. Fade is a good one.
6. But Be Consistent
As much as you want variety in your videos, and you do, you also need consistency. Too much variety becomes too hard to follow and feels chaotic. Not enough and your learners fall asleep. Be consistent in the following ways:
- Use 2 or maximum 3 video types (with a still image counting as one type) in each video.
- Use 1 or maximum 2 transition types within each video. Use only simple transition types.
- Use only 1 main color and 1 or maximum 2 fonts per video—1 main one, and 1 for accenting concepts. Feel free to use different color and font selections for different videos, but be consistent within each video. Create a consistent theme in this way. Choose colors that are easy on the eyes (blue is the favorite color of many) and fonts that are easily legible.
Creating high-quality videos for training requires a lot more work than preparing to teach a live class. Start simple, adding to your bag of tricks as you develop your software skills. The creative potential for creating high-quality training videos is endless. You can do them quickly and simply or painstakingly and involved. Investing more time in the development phase doesn’t necessary make the videos better from a pedagogical perspective, but it will probably make them cooler.