How to Decide if Video is the Right Training Medium for You

jonathan hallsby Jonathan Halls, Founder, Jonathan Halls & Associates

Video is sexy and exciting, whether on TV, in the cinema, or online. So much so that society has been captivated since boardwalks started showing nickelodeon films and Hollywood started exporting glamorous stars. And for the learning function, it is especially appealing when compared with putting a man in a suit at the front of a classroom.

Until recently, very few people could produce their own video. The process was complicated and expensive. But technology has changed all that. The glamor of video has been exported into the learning world.

The exciting modality of video offers many opportunities for learning. But it won’t necessarily work well for every learning context or topic.

Learning professionals need to be cognizant of when video will ensure learning transfer and when other modalities might be cheaper and more effective.

Here is a quick checklist to help decide whether video will work for your learning topic:

  • What are you trying to communicate?

If you need to show something to a learner – to help them learn – then video is ideal. If you need to explain something – that is relying on your words – video is not so good.

Video is excellent for demonstrations, such as how to use a piece of software or change a light bulb. That’s because the viewer watches something happening and there are plenty of changes on the screen. These are the things that keep eyeballs. Sure there are exceptions but they are exceptions not the rule. Here is a humorous example of work life hacks by Tripp and Tyler.



But video is awful for explaining theory. Theoretical explanations are generally communicated with words rather than pictures. If there are no interesting pictures to watch, viewers zone out. Even if the words are compelling.

Here is a quick test I use to decide if a specific piece of content needs to be video: when you close your eyes and listen to the audio, can you understand the message?

If yes, then you should make a podcast instead of a video.

  • What is your purpose?

Training professionals always start with a clear learning objective. Video learning needs to as well. Learning objectives give you the focus to know what shots should be included and what shots should be cut. They help you make important planning decisions which save time and give you greater clarity throughout the production process.

The tighter your objective, the easier it will be to plan and shoot your video. I suggest you follow Mager’s rules of learning objectives. Describe a task as an action, define the condition it will be performed in and be clear about the standard to which it needs to be performed.

It’s easy to be laissez-faire about having a learning objective. But having this clarity makes editorial decisions so much quicker. And the objective serves as a yardstick to check your video’s content.

  • What kind of story can you tell?

Good communication is about storytelling. People remember characters and plot much better than they remember theory and ideas.

Your video needs to have a visual story to tell. John Cleese has a whole library of examples of how he took dry material and gave it a visual story. (Watch out for cameos by Hugh Laurie.)

Again, if you do not have a good idea of what your story will look like, you would be better off creating a podcast or written aid.

  • What kind of resources do you have?

Video takes a lot of work. You need to have the right equipment, preparation time to plan out each shot, and knowledge to follow video standards. My rule of thumb is that for every minute of quality video, you should allow 4-5 hours for planning and production. Don’t get mixed up with video if you don’t have the time and resources to do it properly.

Despite the glamor of video, training videos have been the butt of many jokes over the years. I am a big advocate for video, but it is important to do it correctly or yours will be added to the queue of “Bad Training Videos” on YouTube. And there’s no glamor in that.

Hear more from Jonathan Halls on May 4 for “How to Create Fast and Affordable Training Videos

Jonathan Halls is a trainer, coach, and consultant on digital media, leadership, communication, and learning. Formerly a learning executive at the BBC, Jonathan has worked as a journalist, talk show host and trainer. He has delivered seminars & speeches in more than 25 countries. He delivers seminars and keynotes around the world and teaches at George Washington University in the USA. He is also an author and writer.


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