September 5, 2011

Increasing I find myself using YouTube as a reference for even the most straight-forward, mundane tasks like:

YouTube has simultaneously raised and lowered the bar for those looking to create quick and easy learning videos. On YouTube the vast majority of the content is produced by amateurs - not video production houses, but subject-matter-experts and web enthusiasts armed with little more than a camera, computer, and a few good ideas.

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Is this you?

  • You are struggling to create enough elearning content to satisfy the needs of your learners.
  • Your company is pushing for more elearning to reduce costs like travel and lost work time.
  • You need to create new course content at a breakneck pace.
  • Your budget to create that content is modest at best.
  • Your modest budget means relying on lower-cost production options and doing more courses in-house.
  • In order to create courses in-house, you need quicker ramp-up time for new tools and technologies.

The same way that digital photography surpassed traditional film photography and put enormous creative power into the hands of consumers, digital video is equally ubiquitous. The cost of shooting digital video is at an all time low. HD video cameras can be had for less than 600 bucks. My iPhone captures video as do most smartphones. The GoPro camera series have made high-def, first-person action movies accessible to 12-year olds on snowboards, skateboards, bikes, and kite boards. The editing software is getting cheaper and in many cases, you can use free software for most tasks. Hard drives are cheaper, larger, and faster.

As the generation of audience gets younger, the tolerance for long, dry tutorials is getting lower. There are too many other demands for their attention and anything that can be said in 30 seconds, should be said as such. The popularity of reality TV shows, b-rolls, bloopers, as well as amateur video has created an audience that is surprisingly forgiving of shaky cameras and pixelated shots.

Rather than agonizing over perfect, professional-quality videos, learning professionals should embrace the current video revolution and make video that's fresh - short, interesting, personal, and unique.

Here are my 10 tips on making interesting videos to fulfill your elearning content needs:

1) Use real people. Real people are interesting. Real people also put a personal face on your brand, company, product – that paid actors cannot imitate. While there's definitely a place for professional voice-overs and talented presenters, the best people to watch are real people in their natural environment. Studios and other professional recording environments make most of us nervous and cagey on camera. Do your best to focus your people on doing what they do best and have them speak in their own words.

2) Plan. Assuming you don't have a script already, create a list of points you are trying to make. Then create a simple storyboard using index cards or sticky notes. Stick figure drawings are fine. Try to imagine what the video will look like when you are done.

3) Shoot a lot. Again, eschew perfection. Plan on doing retakes. The shorter the better. There won't be a perfect shot, but you will have more to choose from and can probably find creative ways to weave together different takes.

4) Show not tell. Think about how you would tell the story if this was one of those old soundless movies. The best movies excel at visual storytelling.  Re-watch that Robert Zemekis movie, Castaway, where Tom Hanks is stuck by himself on an island. Watch it with the sound off, and you will appreciate the visual storytelling. Use this movie as inspiration on how you will spend the least amount of time talking at your audience.

5) Audio is king. While you want the video to emphasize telling a visual story, the person watching your video likely will have a very low tolerance for mumbling, poor sound quality, background noise, or gratuitous and unnecessary music. Try to provide the best audio you are able to. As much as possible, use an external microphone for recording, as most video cameras have pretty mediocre audio recording.

6) Use the simplest tools you can get away with. While Final Cut Pro has a well-deserved reputation among video editing experts, the learning curve can ensure that you will spend more time twiddling with the inner workings of the software. If you aren't ready to expend the hours to learn a pro editing platform, start out with the introductory, lower-cost, reduced-feature packages like iMovie.

7) Keep it short. We've heard this message enough in relation to elearning, and it's just as true in video which is not an interactive medium. The shorter the video, the more likely it is that your watcher will reach the end of it. Planning for shorter video can also translate into less work as you will spend less time shooting, editing, and agonizing.

8) Shoot and edit in the highest quality you can reasonable afford. The higher the quality, the more disk space and computing time is required, but you can never add back resolution or sharpness that you never had in the first place. Once the video is complete, down-grading the entire video to smaller-size, lower-bandwidth copies is easy.

9) Find inspiration. YouTube, Vimeo, and other sites are full of ideas you can use. Even copying the sequence, format, or style of an existing video will teach you how it was put together. This is a time-honored tradition in film and ever other creative medium: learn by imitating.

10) Experiment. Don't be afraid to just try some stuff and see if it sticks. Most videos average a 10:1 shooting ratio, meaning that you shoot 10 minutes of video for every 1 minute that ends up on the final cut. Be bold!

 

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Increasing I find myself using YouTube as a reference for even the most straight-forward, mundane tasks like: How can I wax my car to get that mirror-reflection shiny look?

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