Back in the 70s when I was at school, there was a part of the timetable that everyone looked forward to – the television lesson. Our class would file into a small room with an enormous telly, which was linked to a VHS player (a top loader no less!), and we would sit transfixed, watching a tape-recorded programme from the BBC schools service. I can still visualise some of them and remember what they were about. Not bad for knocking on 40 years ago!
Such is the power of visual stimuli. Photographs and video trigger an emotional response, which instantly improves the chances of the learner recalling that information. If a picture tells a thousand words, imagine what a video can do. It can capture the attention quickly and keep it, providing a few simple guidelines are observed (more about this in a moment). Apparently, 65% of the population are visual learners (although tying down the source of this oft-quoted research has proved rather difficult) so video is clearly a key tool in producing engaging elearning.
When I started in elearning 15 years ago, video content was unheard of and still images were often of poor quality. Apart from the fact that consumer digital photography and video was still in its infancy, there often simply wasn’t the bandwidth to support video. Fast forward to 2017 and the situation is very different, as our customers often specify video as an essential requirement.
Filming an introduction to a module for Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital
When to use a video
Videos can be incorporated anywhere in an elearning module. A video can be used at the beginning as a friendly, personal welcome to a module, from a chief executive, or a subject matter expert could give a powerful introduction to the purpose of the training and the learning outcomes. Both of these are simple but effective ways to engage your audience ‘up front’.
In the middle of a module, video content could be used to demonstrate a procedure, or show someone being interviewed on an emotive subject. Or it could be something far more extensive, like a series of interactive scenarios where the learner chooses what course of action to take, and is then shown the consequences of those actions. This can then be combined with other techniques such as motion graphics and brief quizzes to create a wonderfully absorbing learning experience.
Finally, the module could finish with a video closure, grabbing your audience’s attention one last time to thank them for completing the course, summarise the key learning points, signpost them to further help or simply wish them all the best.
Filming a medical scenario...
...and here I am behind the scenes.
We often employ professional actors when recording scenarios, but sometimes I find that a subject matter expert is happy to appear on camera, with the advantage that they can perform a procedure with confidence and effectively create a ‘real life’ situation. Some folks can understandably be cautious about appearing on camera, but others are all too happy to help, and may even have some acting experience – its sometimes surprising how many amateur dramatics enthusiasts can come out of the woodwork!
I find that one happy side effect of filming on a customer’s premises is that it can sometimes cause quite a stir. Thanks to social media, this effect can reach far beyond the four walls where filming is taking place. Staff members involved in the shoot often spontaneously use social media like Twitter to spread the word about what they are doing. Folks are understandably curious if one of their colleagues is going to appear on screen. All this creates a positive ‘buzz’ of publicity that means that when the module comes out, colleagues are eager to see the finished result and are engaged even before they start working through the module.
Even video clips that go wrong for some reason can sometimes be used for practical purposes in a module. You can precede the clip with “see if you can spot what the person forgets to do”, or use the clip followed by a refilmed version, to illustrate an example of both good and bad practice. If the clip is a complete write off, you can even consider including a light-hearted ‘outtakes’ section at the end of the module.
Hints and tips
So what are those simple guidelines to ensure effective elearning videos? From experience, I have found the following to be the main rules to follow:
Videos work best as short, punchy, thought provoking ‘bite-size’ clips that can be easily remembered. As a rule of thumb, I try to keep clips down to a couple of minutes maximum. As well as retaining the learner’s attention, this helps to keep file sizes down – learners on low bandwidths can quickly get frustrated if they have to wait for a video to load. Thankfully, this is less of a concern than it used to be, as bandwidths increase and modern authoring tools like Articulate Storyline compress videos automatically.
Take a moment to check that the person you are filming is setting a good example. It sounds obvious, but are they wearing the right uniform? Should they be wearing PPE, or a name badge? Should they have their hair tied up? The devil is in the detail.
When building the video into the module, give the option of subtitles wherever you can. Not all learners will have speakers or headphones, or they may be working through the module in a work environment where it would be inappropriate to have sound playing.
Finally, where possible, think about how you can be creative with your video. Use movement; shoot from two or even three angles and edit them together to produce a very professional effect. Cutting between two or more camera angles can also work wonders in making the merger between different clips appear seamless.
So, there are just a few of my thoughts about how to use video so it can be a potent force in elearning. Having written this blog, my next job is to complete the editing of some video I filmed last week for Macmillan Cancer Improvement Partnership, of people talking about their experiences of living with cancer. This is, of course, already a very emotive subject for an e-learning module, but even more powerful when presented using video with people sharing their own personal experiences.