Instructional Design Basics


Educational Videos: Creating Them for Conceptual Objectives

* This post originally appeared in elearning industry.

Recently I read a fun Mashable article that disparages several recent trends in startup videos.  A colleague and I discussed this article and came to the conclusion that with a few tweaks, it could easily be an article on how to create a good startup video.

Rather than making those tweaks though I am going to use it to discuss ways to make an educational video for concepts.  As to why this will work, you must first consider the startup video. Here they are basically covering a concept with the following elements: There is a problem, We have a solution and Our solution easily meets your needs.

With that in mind, let’s get started:

1.  Hipsters

These startups identified young people as their main audience for their products.  Being smart marketers, they know that including people in their videos that fit into their marketing demographics is a good idea—thus we see hipsters in the videos.

Understanding and defining your audience is a key component to creating educational materials.  With videos you should use language, images and content that applies to your audience needs.  In this regard, your content should be relevant and fit into the real world of your audience.  Doing this will aid transfer and internalization of your content.

2.  Happy claps

These upbeat sound tracks set the mood and help energize these videos. For startups, this strategy is aimed at one thing—selling.  As part of their pitch, it adds to the idea of “we have a solution and that solution easily meets your needs.”

In educational videos, music can be a distraction from your message and may affect your learner’s cognitive load.  Stories are a powerful though and can help your learners internalize content. In this regard, music (harmony, dissonance, tempo,…) can add something to your story that simple dialog and images can’t.  Just make sure to use it wisely and watch out for the cognitive demands you are placing on your learners. With educational videos make sure your use of music, effects, dialog and shots are relevant and needed as extraneous information can interfere with your message design.

3.  Animation

Concepts are often difficult to represent; for example, Time Management contains several abstract ideas that are not easily translated with concrete examples. To help illustrate their concepts these startups create graphic metaphors and analogies for their videos. Related to this is production value—high quality is needed and doing this well with full motion can be an issue.  As such many startups look to animation as it gives you abilities that can’t easily be duplicated with full motion.

These concerns are true with educational videos. And in relation to this, visuals that are less complex and detailed can lessen your student’s cognitive load and allow you to focus greater attention on your message. Other common animation techniques you may try for conceptual content are stop animation and whiteboard animation.

 4.  Meet Bob, Romance and Save the World

Startups need to grab the attention of investors and consumers quickly.  They can do this with stories as they are a powerful way to cover content. Meet Bob, Romance and Save the World are formulaic themes that have been proven to work and are why they continue to appear in these videos.

Stories are great at setting context and when this is related to relevant and real world applications, their use in education videos will help with internalization and transfer.  In addition, stories activate prior memories as good ones represent something that we can all relate too.  This activation can increase motivation and internalization of the content.

In this regard, motivation and emotional engagement can be critical to getting users to change behavior. In training we recognize this need by covering WIIFM (what’s in it for me). Getting students to value and accept your content is critical in order for students to transfer knowledge into their working world.

5.  Flat Design

These startups are selling an idea that they are hip, innovative and know what’s coming—using a dated style/template would conflict with this message.  As such flat design elements should be expected in their startup videos.

As to educational videos, this practice may conflict with common instructional design principles.  Here cognitive load and basic UX (user experience) ideas emphasize the need to limit distractions.  In this regard, a novel or complex style/template requires more working memory than a common or simple style/template.  Since our working memory is limited and is involved in storing information into long term memory, requiring less working memory makes sense.

Giving the prevalence of mobile and other technologies, our students’ familiarity with flat designs is being addressed. So if you want to appear hip, innovative and in the know, you are probably fine using a flat design in your videos for now.

Designers Don’t Need to be Creative—They Need to Design Well

Being creative and original is fun, but shouldn’t keep you from designing well.  Sure your video might look like something else and there may soon be a post on Reason Why Training Videos for Concepts All Look the Same but that’s ok.  In this regard you are using valid strategies to guide your designs rather than the latest fads.