Using Video in Training

Image courtety of

Image courtety of

Video is currently a buzzword in any industry that deals with the internet, including online training. With the rise in popularity of sites like YouTube and, learners are accustomed to watching online videos to learn a specific skill. If correctly executed, video can be more engaging than other more traditional methods of training. Modern elearning authoring tools make it easier and more tempting to embed video with the click of a mouse. Still, we should be careful and intentional about our use of video and not just throw clips into our training simply for the sake of saying we have a video.

Tell a Story

In early 2014, I had the pleasure of attending the Video and Learning Lab at the Masie Center. Even Elliott Masie, who has been a pioneer of the use of video in learning, said that video isn’t right for every situation. Instead, he argues that video is best used to insert storytelling into our learning. This is particularly useful when gathering expertise from subject matter experts or information from peers that we want to make seem more familiar. The video may stand alone, or it may be embedded as part of a blended learning solution.

Show Me

Learning Solutions Magazine offers another instance where video can come in handy: when it’s easier to show someone a process, especially a complicated one, than it is to explain in words. We’ve all experienced frustration at some point with how-to diagrams that can’t show us the whole picture, like when we try to assemble furniture. A video can show us all the different parts and how they fit together better than a 2D line drawing. I think that’s one reason DIY and home improvement TV shows have become so popular; viewers can actually see how the process works rather than just read about it. In my own personal life, I recently found it much easier to watch a YouTube video demonstrating how to install a car seat than try to decipher the instruction manual that came in the box.

Video is often a good fit for highly technical or mechanical training courses. In these types of applications, you may also want to consider using videos for performance support, a quick resource the learner can refer back to when on the job. While I might use to look up a quick video on how to perform a particular editing technique in Photo Shop and follow along, a machinist might watch a short clip on how a particular part fits into a machine before repairing it.

Change it Up

In the fall of 2014, I attended another very helpful training session on video, ATD’s (Association for Talent and Development) video bootcamp. The instructor, Jonathan Halls, did a great job of using examples of techniques we’ve all seen on TV for years and showing us how we could apply them in a training situation.

One thing we learned is that you can’t show the same shot for too long, or else learners will tune out. So in the example above of using video interviews for storytelling, we have to make sure we don’t show one continuous feed of the person talking the entire time. Interviews on TV move back and forth from showing interviewer to showing the subject of the interview and may even use multiple angles of the interview subject. We should do the same in training videos.

Keep it Short

Unless it’s the latest summer blockbuster, no one wants to sit and watch your video for hours on end. Video is meant to be a shorter form of learning than the traditional classroom session or even elearning course. Jonathan Halls recommends keeping each video to a single learning objective. Others recommend limiting training videos to no more than 5 minutes. No matter which guideline you follow, the video shouldn’t ramble on and on. Get your point across quickly and succinctly. If you have a lot of material to cover, you could produce a series of videos or use a short video clip as one piece of a larger course.

When NOT to Use Video

As I mentioned earlier, Elliott Masie advises that video isn’t a good fit for every learning situation. There are times when having a live person present to respond to learners’ concerns is best. For instance, controversial material is best addressed in person. If you anticipate the training material may be confusing or complex or that you might receive difficult questions from learners, you want to make sure an instructor will be available. Other times, it may be best to bring learners together in the same space so they can take part in a collaborative, social learning conversation.

Another consideration is that video production is more time consuming and costly than other methods of instructional design, especially when you’re first getting started with video. If you’re facing a tight deadline or budget, video may not be the best solution for that particular project.


Designing Training to Go Viral

In today’s world, if a person doesn’t know something, it’s likely their first instinct is to turn to Google. I do it myself when I’m trying to remember how to create a particular formula in Excel or if I’m trying to resolve an issue I’m having with a piece of software. If the learners’ first instinct isn’t to open the LMS (Learning Management System) and search for a training course, how do we as trainers compete with the vast amount of resources on search engines like Google? How can we create compelling training resources that our learners will not only turn to as their first line of defense but also want to share with their peers?

Revamp the LMS

The first problem we have to overcome is the structure of our LMS databases themselves. They simply aren’t as easy to search and use as Google. The search screen often isn’t the first thing that catches the learners’ eyes when they launch the LMS. Instead, their home screens are cluttered with announcements, mandatory training enrollments, or lists of training they’ve already enrolled in or completed.

Additionally, traditional LMS programs don’t have the same social features learners are used to seeing on most commercial websites, like the ability to like and comment on posts, buttons to easily enable the sharing of content, and the ability to write reviews. Sure, such features would open the instructional designer up to increased scrutiny, but if we’re doing our job and creating compelling training, these features would allow learners help us get the word out about our training. Learners are most likely to trust recommendations from other learners who have completed the training. If learners could see that others had benefited from the content, they would be more likely to take our class or view our material.

At my job, we’re in the process of converting to the Saba Cloud LMS platform, which has many social learning features. It will be interesting to see how this upgrade affects the spread of our training materials.

Design to Spread

In the book Spreadable Media, authors Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green outline tactics that make online content more likely to be shared among users. As instructional designers, we can apply some of these same principles to our training to make learners more likely to share it.


Jenkins et al advise that content must be posted when and where the audience wants it. Often, that isn’t inside a separate LMS. We should embrace the idea of embedded performance support championed by industry leaders Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson. This principle encourages us to place our training and reference materials inside the situations and software programs where learners will use it, or at the learners’ moment of need.

Quotability and Grabbability

Audiences need to be able to quote and grab content in order to share it among their peers. Enabling the social features outlined above in our LMS systems is the first step toward making this happen. Imagine if our training videos had buttons underneath to share with others like YouTube videos have already had for years. How many more people would we be able to reach with our content?

Another way to make our content more grabbable and portable is to chunk it into smaller pieces. Instead of posting an entire 3 hour or day-long course, why not break it up into smaller pieces that are easier for the learner to digest? By limiting our training to one point at a time, we can help the learner fit in training when he or she has time, help ensure learners only have to consume learning that’s relevant to them at the moment, help learners remember and digest one point thoroughly before moving on to the next topic, and help make our smaller chunks of learning easier to share.


According to Jenkins et al, the more relevant content is to more than one audience, the more likely it is to be spread. I posted several weeks ago about designing learning for different generations. Making sure our content is relevant and appealing to all members of our target audience is key. We have to think about how various audience members will use and respond to our training and design accordingly, for both digital natives and immigrants, for both fast-paced and slower-paced learners, and so forth.

We can also help audiences see the relevancy of our content through the successful use of storytelling and scenarios. Stories and scenarios place the learner in situations where they will need to apply the material they are learning. As long as we don’t cross the border into cheesy territory, these strategies can help learners understand why they need to learn and apply the content.


Jenkins et al tell us learners are more likely to engage with a steady stream of content, some of which may resonate with them more than the rest. We should explore ways of supplementing our content that make it more interesting to learners. Things like regular blogs with email updates or tags that make it easy to link one piece of our content to another can help learners not only find our content more easily but also see how a particular piece of learning fits into the bigger picture of the subject matter.


Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable media: Creating value and meaning in a networked culture. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Creating Training for Digital Immigrants and Natives

I’ve taken on a volunteer position at my job for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. This year, I’m the co-chair of the Generations Promoting Success (GPS) employee resource network. GPS focuses on bringing together employees from different generations and tenures in their careers to discuss our similarities and differences and find out what we can all learn from one another. (We believe in the idea of reverse mentoring; not only can Millennials learn from Baby Boomers, but vice versa.)

When I first joined the group in 2013, my goal was mainly networking and getting to know more people in different departments. My work with the group, however, has opened my eyes to how generational differences—and the digital revolution in particular—affect the way we approach all aspects of our work, including training.

Immigrants and Natives

Marc Prensky calls those who have grown up in the era of the internet digital natives. He compares them to native speakers of a language. In contrast, he calls those of us who’ve had to learn the technology of the Web at some point digital immigrants; we may become proficient in the language, but we’ll always speak with an accent that will be noticeable to the natives.

Different Preferences – The Natives Grow Restless

Digital immigrants grew up learning via traditional methods. We read text books heavy in words. Our teachers presented things in a logical order, one step at a time. Teachers, for the most part, controlled the pace of our learning with the lectures and the assignments they gave us. Our job was to sit quietly in class and absorb knowledge.

Thanks to the internet, digital natives have learned to process information very differently than the immigrants who came before them. They have access to a wealth of information at the click of a button or swipe of a screen. They process quickly, prefer graphics, don’t mind distractions and multi-tasking, and like to explore content on their own. Traditional learning methods tend to stifle digital natives; they long for something more interactive.

As instructional designers, more and more of our learning is moving online. As we create elearning, how can we satisfy the needs of all generations in the workplace today, including both the digital natives and the immigrants? How can we create one course that will be engaging and useful for everyone in our audience?

Marc Prensky on the differences between digital natives and immigrants

Lunch Box School. (2013, August 10). Marc Prensky – digital natives [Video file]. Retrieved from

Generations in the Workplace

In today’s workforce, there are at least 3, maybe 4, generations working side-by-side. My organization tends to have a longer tenure than most employers. We still have a few Traditionalists, born before 1946, in the mix. Baby Boomers, born from 1946-1964, are beginning to retire but are still widely present in workplaces. Generation X, born from 1965-1980, have been part of the workforce for a while now. Millennials, born after 1980, represent the newest and most quickly growing segment of employees.

Each generation brings its own preferences and styles to work. The eLearning Brothers detail how each of these generational styles can influence learners’ preferences.

Baby Boomers didn’t grow up with computers and technology. Most of them have learned how to use these tools, but they still retain the noticeable accent of a digital immigrant. At work, they may prefer face-to-face conversations over emails. In their spare time, they may use social media to keep up with family, although not to the same extent as later generations. When learning online, Baby Boomers need courses to be intuitive to navigate. They may move through information at a slower pace and need larger words on the screen.

Millennials, on the other hand, tend to be digital natives. They are influencing changes in the workplace with their knowledge of and familiarity with technology. They may be more likely to send an instant message than to stop by your desk to ask a question. They like to explore training content on their own and move at a quick pace. They want to learn and envision their careers progressing quickly. Millennials may prefer to have content presented in shorter chunks so they can reference it when needed. These digital natives are discerning and experienced consumers of media; they expect a high-quality experience.

In my experience—as a member myself—Generation X tends to be somewhere in the middle. We didn’t grow up with the technology as kids, but we were young enough when it was introduced to learn it fairly easily. We might be equally comfortable with instant messages and emails. We tend to be independent thinkers, and most of us are comfortable using technology on some level.

Give Them Options That Make Sense

As an instructional designer, how can we satisfy these varied preferences? I would argue that online learning makes it easier to offer material to the learner at their own pace. Anyone who’s taught in the classroom knows what a challenge it is to keep those who prefer to move quickly engaged without leaving the slower learners behind. With online learning, everyone can move at the pace they desire.

We have to be careful when creating online learning not to bore the digital natives with content overload. We need to structure the course so the natives can explore the content, not have it spoon fed to them in one boring slide after another. (We can all relate to struggling through this kind of course at some point.)

This means we may need to include branching, which allows learners to click from one slide or layer to another and back again to access different information. We may want to consider having a section of additional resources with hyperlinks or job aids which learners can access outside the course.

We should think about embedding videos, simulations, or other media into our courses when applicable. We don’t want to overdo media just for the sake of media, but if we use media well and in the appropriate places, we will naturally make our content more engaging.

All our interactivity needs to be intuitive, though. Otherwise, we will lose the Baby Boomers along the way. Before we sit down and develop, we need to think through our content and make sure the order makes sense. Are we placing the right media at the right point in the course? Baby Boomers still need to understand things in a logical order and see that we’re covering topics one at a time.

As you can see, this type of course takes more time to design. We need to plan for that in our processes, because in the end, we’ll see better results from all age groups.

Flip Things Around

I wrote previously about flipping the classroom in this post. Rony Zarom from Learning Solutions Magazine suggests the flipped classroom as a solution for satisfying the learning preferences of multiple generations. Zarom suggests that the flipped content be offered online to encourage learners to explore at their own pace and appeal to the digital natives, and I agree. Scheduling a follow-up session with an instructor after the learners have digested the content will appeal to the Baby Boomers. It also gives the instructor a chance to check on those who might need more help processing the information.

Zaron takes the flipped idea a little further, encouraging us to set up peer-to-peer communities, perhaps using the company’s internal social media. I’ve enjoyed being able to bounce ideas off my classmates in my graduate school discussion boards, so this idea makes sense to me in a corporate setting as well.