What Makes a Good Training Video?

Not all training videos are created equal. So, what makes a good training video?

A few months ago, I walked past a booth in the expo of a popular training conference. The booth had a sign that read, “We sell training videos that don’t suck.” I was having an introvert moment so didn’t stop by to ask what they thought made training videos suck.

But I’ve heard a lot of people describe lousy instructional videos. One person told me she doesn’t like those role-plays filmed in the 1990s. The fashion and use of green ties turned her off.

Another person said he didn’t like the wooden acting. Others have said they’re often out of date. But are they the things that we should be avoiding when making good training videos?

I mean, what makes a good training video? My feeling is that the answer lies in the two words “training” and “video.” In a way they’re the yin and the yang of good training videos.

The yin of training videos—content that leads to learning

The purpose of training videos is to help people learn to know or do something. We’re not in the entertainment or self-expression business like Hollywood is. We’re in the teaching business.

Therefore:

  • Anchor training videos to a learning objective. (I like to follow Mager’s time-tested format of action, condition, and standard.) I urge my clients to stick to just one objective.
  • Create content for the learner. Preferably around a persona. Stories, language, shot choices, music, and other elements need to make immediate sense to the learner.
  • Make training videos quick and easy to understand. If viewers are left scratching their heads wondering what the video was about, it has failed. The key is structure—always start with an overview and follow a logical sequence.
  • Create relevant content. Be sure the content is what the learner needs to perform a task.
  • Make content memorable. This can be done through creative repetition—repeating key points in different ways. For example, a text graphic, a role-play, and an interview.

If we fail to get these things right, it’s simply a video—not a training video. To consistently get these things right, we need to invest in thorough planning and analysis. You’ll notice many of the initial planning tasks for training videos are analogous to instructional design.

The yang of training videos—well produced content

You need to package learning in a way that the learner can immediately focus on what is to be learned without distraction. Poor production generally distracts learners from the content. Let’s consider what makes good training videos from both an editorial and production perspective.

Editorial aspects of good video

Video is a “show” rather than “tell” modality. People remember more of what they see than what they hear. Therefore, video from an editorial perspective is visually engaging.

  • Change shots often. Regular shot changes trick viewers into thinking they are missing something. It’s an old TV trick you’ve probably seen many times. It keeps viewers engaged.
  • Frame each shot deliberately. Just as we choose words carefully, videographers choose shot sizes and camera angles deliberately, to ensure they’re anchored in the objective.
  • Use additional message elements. Engaging video is more than just footage. It includes text graphics and, when appropriate, other elements like music, graphics, and special effects.
  • Shots should have motion. If you need to show a door handle, show someone turning it. Don’t merely show the front of a building—show people walking in. Action keeps eyeballs attentive.
  • Use effects carefully. When appropriate, special effects will carry the message or reinforce learning. A black and white effect might depict a flashback. But note: avoid video bling.

Technical aspects of good video

There’s little point showing people something if the picture isn’t clear. Good training videos will be shot and edited in such a way as to bring life to the learning. Here are some of the practical ways this is achieved.

  1. Shots are steady. Shaky cam, also known as queasy-cam, is distracting and makes your video look less professional. Cameras should be mounted on a tripod, monopod, or other stable surface.
  2. Set the white balance correctly. This is one of the easiest things to forget, but when you get it right it goes a long way to making your shots look professional.
  3. Shots are well-lit. The person or object in each shot is bright enough to see. And the light is not coming from behind them in way that they appear as a silhouette.
  4. Shots are in focus. Blurry shots never look good—what more can I say?
  5. Audio is bright and crisp. There’s little background noise or echo, anyone talking is clear and easy to understand. This requires using the right mic in the right position.

Helping people learn

Most of these things are easy to achieve. The learning aspects include tasks most learning professionals will be familiar with when designing traditional classroom learning. The production and technical aspects are easy to learn but will take time to practice.

What makes a good training video? Or how does it achieve the yin and the yang? The content is anchored in the learning objective, it is well-structured, and it’s well produced.

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