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Friday, January 29, 2016

Design Implications for Online Training Videos - Lessons from the field

Some time ago I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post entitled How to Monetize Your Job Interviews. It told the story of an interview I had a few years ago that took on a life of its own. This interview, which was with an instructional-design firm, required me over the course of a weekend to complete and submit instructional design plans on how to insert a drill-bit into a cordless drill. The interviewer sent me the design specifications via email. I diligently completed the required components of the design. Then (geek that I am) I added on a short video which I uploaded to YouTube (I guess as an example of leveraging existing technology and resources to reach the intended audience at any time on any platform). The video itself was very quick and dirty and also extremely short (1:06 minutes in length). I did not have a cordless drill nor did I know how to operate one; so I got my husband Ben to show me on his corded drill. The video had no sound, instead focusing on my hands and their actions Charlie-Chaplin style. I submitted my documents and the YouTube URL to my interviewers via email and waited for a reply. The position, alas, did not materialize so I continued my job search, completely forgetting about the video I'd left on YouTube - until a year or so later, that is, when I received an email notification that a viewer had commented on my video. I went to the YouTube site to read the comment and to my astonishment saw that my little video had around 16,000 hits!

To make a long story short, today the video stands at 153,745 views with 57 comments (mostly thank-you's), 183 likes, and 44 dislikes. While people seem to have definite opinions about this video, I'm still amazed that anybody has even taken the time to watch it, let alone to leave a comment or press a "like" or "dislike" button. In 2014 I monetized the video, Since then it has earned me around $260.00 in income - and counting (which won't put me in the millionaire class anytime soon, but hey, every little bit helps - especially on a retiree's income). ;)

Since I am now happily (and lazily) retired, the rigors of serious scholarship elude me; however, after reviewing these latest statistics from YouTube, I thought it would be fun to reflect on the question "Just what IS it about this video?"

I do believe there are some design implications in this little story: not only for those who provide just-in-time training for employees but also for those who compete for the attention of "on-demand" learners (e.g. for Photoshop tutorials). What in the world has made 154,000 people (and counting) choose to watch a crude video (with no sound) on how to insert a drill bit into a cordless drill?

Well, I have a few thoughts on that:
  • the video is brief- in fact you don't even have to watch all of it, you can probably get the gist in twenty-four seconds and be on your way. Not only does this brevity respect people's time, it is also great for slow-bandwidth connections. Also this video is short enough to retain most of it in memory (and even if someone needs to refresh their memory, a one-minute video is relatively painless to "rewind" and watch again).
  • the video is silent - there's no language to process and, for international audiences, no language barrier to overcome.
  • the video focuses exclusively on the hands and what they are doing - you never see a complete shot of a person or a shot of a talking head. Reflecting back on my own experience, I often find the presence of these in a video to be an annoying distraction, an unneeded "layer" that inserts itself between the learner and the business at hand.

Lately, I've been seeing a lot of what I would call little "speed videos" on Facebook. They quickly show how to do relatively simple tasks such as fold socks or prepare a recipe or create a craft or even braid hair in exotic ways. These very short videos are often well orchestrated and thought out - they look professional and they get tens of thousands of hits on Facebook. Additionally, they share the following characteristics: the camera focuses exclusively on a close-up on the hands and what they are doing; not only are the videos mostly under a minute in length, they take advantage of video technology's ability to time-lapse and to speed up; no one speaks in these videos although many  of them provide background music; printed language processing is held to a minimum with an occasional caption or arrow super-imposed in a strategic position; and animation is used to varying degrees. You could say they sometimes use media within media. These little videos are reminiscent of the silent movie techniques used in the 1920's. Like other viewers, I find myself willingly watching and re-watching these videos to try out "what-ever-it-is." They are fun to watch and intrinsically motivating. Following are some examples of how these videos are done:

How to Make Apple-Pie Cookies (by Tip-Hero)

length: 1:04 minutes

Some of the design choices in Tip-Hero's video below can be effective in "talking" videos that teach more complex tasks. Following the recommendations from a graphics-design class that I took at our community college a few years ago, I find myself often searching for tutorials on how to do stuff in Photoshop. While I prefer good illustrated, text-based tutorials to slow-streaming and often meandering videos, I will watch video-based instruction that is short (around seven minutes in length), easy to follow, and well thought out. An excellent example is Marty at Blue Lightening TV. His videos focus exclusively on the computer screen. They are extremely succinct; every single action on the screen is purposeful and intentional. To aid the viewer in following along with his voice, he strategically super-imposes captions and animation such as circling or underlining. Often his videos are time-lapsed and speeded up in certain sections; even though his videos are short, he thoughtfully includes more helpful information than many longer ones I've watched! I just love his work! Here's a example of one of his short tutorials:

The Best Way to Colorize a Black and White Photo

length: 7 minutes

Recently I have even seen some of these concepts extended to (short) online newscasts! Check out this video on the current presidential campaign from Aljazeera America's online channel AJ+. Interesting multimedia reporting techniques - a mix of media within media!

Does the DNC Hate Bernie?

length: 3:05 minutes

As far as training and informational videos there are techniques and then there are techniques. We could learn a lot from the little "speed videos" above. Although they are deceptively short and to the point, a lot of work and thoughtfulness has been put into their preparation. They are respectful of people's time; they are fun to watch; and they are extremely easy to understand and follow. Speaking from my own anecdotal experience only, I judge them to be extremely effective. And if I'm "late to the party" with this post, then I'd just like to contribute this testimonial to the growing body of evidence. ;)


A few more examples of speed videos from Facebook:

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