The Case Against Video-Based Instruction

Before I start receiving hate mail from my colleagues, I want to go on the record to say I’m not an anti-video evangelist. In fact I frequently use screen recordings and other video content in my own training design and development.

These days, videos are cheaper and easier to make than ever before. But my stance is this: just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

On a recent client project, I was presented with a plan for a beginner-level course that consisted of nothing but 40 talking head videos.

Of course, the issue was two-fold. Obviously the client was trying to cram way too much learning into this course. But that was a touchy subject so my practical mind went to numbers. 40 VIDEOS! Even if they went with snippet-length content like I had recommended, we were looking at 2 to 3 hours of videos.

Luckily, the project manager was a friend – and also mother to a 3-year old – so I appealed to her logic. I asked, “You want Sophie to learn her ABCs, right? Are you just plopping her in front of Sesame Street for a few hours a day? Or are you also including other things, like books, songs and activities?” Thank goodness, that comparison paid off.

I contend that effective adult learning isn’t all that different from effective childhood learning. We have the same short attention spans. We need varied and rich content to keep us engaged. We need activities to help process and emphasize what we’re learning.

Few of us want to learn by reading a 1,000-page textbook. But we also have the propensity for multitasking when we’re online. I know I’m guilty of saying, “I’ll just peek at my email while I watch this video on my other monitor.” 10 minutes later, I’ve pretty much missed what happened in the video.

What I’m saying is that most training should have multiple components to be really effective. We must pair engaging video (if your Powerpoint put me to sleep in person, it isn’t any better as a screen recording!), on-screen interactivity (clicking ‘Next’ doesn’t count), short reading assignments, and off-line activities to really get people learning.

Engaging Clients in Instructional Design Process

Being an Industrial Trainer working for a community college, I am frequently asked to provide instructional design and training to address specific problems for my clients. Not being “educators” these clients know what the problems are, but not the necessary instructional pieces required to address the learning and skills needed to meet those challenges. I usually spend sufficient time with clients discovering specific information so that I can write a proposal or scope of the learning project. The Project Proposal / Scope will become the document that defines what the finished product will be.

In my initial proposal for client consideration, I keep the learning outcomes specific to the declared problems but leave vague the instructional methods to be used. My proposals always include a statement concerning the necessary client input in every step of the development / training process. Wishing to keep my options open, I also suggest possible delivery methods to the client (Face-to-Face, Computer-Based, Live & Interactive Distance Learning, etc.).

I find that by engaging clients in all aspects of the instructional design process (asking for input, clarifications, and critiques), clients are not surprised at the finished product nor are being asked to pay for something they didn’t want. Clients who may have been vague about what the learning content will look like, should recognize it when they see it.