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.