Start with “why” #
Choosing the right kind of video for your learning experience is an art and a science. It requires a combination of enough technical knowledge of video and animation to know what is possible within your project’s budget and the imagination to envision how it comes to life in an instructionally sound way.
Where most people get lost is in not defining the purpose of their video first before deciding the kind of video they want to make.
If you look online for information about making learning videos you will usually find lists of types of learning videos or information about making good tutorials. I think this is not really the most useful or practical way to choose how to approach the design of a learning experience.
So, rather than listing various types of videos first, I’m going to share the main purposes that guide my choice to use video in a learning experience since this is where I might start when working on a project.
Answer the question “what do you want to achieve with this video?”
For me, the primary purpose of a learning video usually falls into one or two of the following categories:
- Motivate or maintain engagement (get attention and interest)
- Streamline cognition (make it accessible and easier to understand)
- Visualize an abstract model or process (connect familiar concepts or show change over time)
- Demonstrate a procedure (accurately show them how it’s done)
- Rehearse and reinforce mental models (make it memorable)
If you can’t come up with a reason why you should be using a video, then you might not need a video. Otherwise, for me it usually falls under the above categories.
Starting with “why” then helps you think about what kind of video format will work for the specific project.
The taxonomy we use for learning videos #
Video can take many forms to achieve learning goals. One of the main reasons I’m writing this is to expand the horizons of learning experience designers and instructional designers on how we use video and when. I often see designers falling back on what they’re comfortable creating or the type of video most common in their industry rather than shifting their approach to meet learners where they’re at. For example: in higher ed lecture videos are often defaulted to; in tech, explainer videos; in customer education, software walk-throughs; in manufacturing and logistics we film demos of workers performing tasks.
There are many other ways to use video to create memorable and engaging learning experiences beyond the silos of what we already know and are comfortable with, and those possibilities are worth exploring. A well thought out learning communications plan will usually have multiple types of videos at different stages due to the strengths of different video types.
Video types have different strengths in the degree that they are inspirational (emotionally stimulating, entertaining, motivating, and engaging), informational (raise your awareness or knowledge of something), or instructional (show you how to do something practical).
Here’s our taxonomy for the main types of learning videos and where they fit in this triad:
- Interview videos: includes “talking head” and lecture videos, these are great for informing or elaborating on a topic. Does not include testimonials.
- Tutorial videos: Step-by-step “how-to” videos, includes software walk-throughs and live action task demos.
- Explainer videos: Between informational and inspirational, these short microlearning videos are often animated or combine footage, motion graphics and narration to draw interest and introduce or elaborate on a topic.
- Engager videos: Focus on motivating, gaining attention, or building empathy. Usually have a call to action. Includes testimonial videos (eg leader explains “why” this matters, sharing lived experiences etc.), and narrated promotional pieces including animation or a combination of footage and motion graphics.
- Interactive videos: Includes simulations, branching scenarios, VR, knowledge check prompts and other interactivities which are video/animation based or built on top of videos.