An educator’s perspective on making a video.
There’s an urban legend that our brains are less active when watching TV than when we are sleeping. Whether or not this is based on proper research, It’s certainly believable, and some of the “educational” videos out there do very little to educate, either because they are too much like live training or teaching, or because they are mainly for entertainment.
In this post we look at some factors that make a video educationally sound. These factors are relevant for teaching children or adults, and across a wide range of industries and topics.
When you’re looking at making a video as an educator, you’re looking at
1. It has to be paced right for the intended use. Keep it short and punchy – a boring, irrelevant or outdated video will detract from the learning experience. 10 minutes doesn’t sound like a long time, but for a video that’s perceptually very long for the audience.
2. Don’t over-contextualize it – Examples are often selected because we think they will be relevant to our learners, employees or other audience. But if that example has something wrong with it, irrelevant to the learning content though it may be, the example itself can become a distraction and a barrier to learning.
3. Needs to be relevant or applicable. The person watching has to be able to visualize or apply what they have learned. This is not at all a contradiction of the previous point – it’s not about examples, as much as about the opportunity the person will have in a reasonable time period to apply what they have learned practically. This is a great attraction of eLearning as a learner can learn something new in a training session and apply it immediately to their job or project.
4. Getting feedback to see what has been learned – often video doesn’t do justice to interactivity. Even apps for touchscreens and tablets often fall short of meaningful interactivity, and certainly a master facilitator with a good Socratic questioning technique will never be replaced.
The point is that learning does not happen in the same way as data is handled -we don’t just upload and download knowledge (how inconvenient). The only way that knowledge can be passed on is for it to be deconstructed into sounds, images, words, media, gestures or expressions of some sort – communication in short. This then needs to be interpreted by the recipient and reconstructed in their mind. And our minds are are full of our own thoughts, worldviews, previous knowledge (Schema as theorists call it) and are affected by our blood sugar, hormones and health. It’s easily possible then, that somebody in your training session or lesson could mis-construct that information, and walk out afterwards with incorrect knowledge, and be blissfully unaware of the fact.
That’s why feedback is so critical – not just in the form of a test, but as part of the learning itself – it’s a chance for both trainer and trainee to reassure themselves that learning is happening. This assurance is really helpful to the trainee in overcoming the fear of failing – the single biggest barrier to learning anybody has ever encountered.
So how does one then make a video interactive enough?
Here are 3 quick, effective ways:
- a) The video is broken up into modules which form questions and answers, where the user selects the next clip based on their answer to the question posed in the previous one.
- b) The video simulates interaction – the characters in the story take on roles that pose likely questions or likely wrong answers.
- c) Integration with a relevant social media community can draw out responses at the same time as promoting a brand or idea.
5. Reinforcement and reflection after a break. TV shows are great at this.
We’re not computers but there are some similarities between the way we process learning and how computers work – like RAM. RAM is what computers can juggle mentally without saving. The amount of RAM a computer has determines how much it can process before crashing. People have enormous capacity for processing, but also need breaks to let learning process in the background. The best kind of break is sleep, but exercise, food and drink are also good. Just functioning nonstop without taking breaks to go for a stroll or run an errand will bog down a learner’s learning capacity.
6. Cognitive Dissonance We don’t download knowledge, and we don’t just generate or grow it on our own – we need what’s called “cognitive Dissonance” for learning to take place, This is the balance between knowing enough about something for it to make sense, but also having some new or conflicting information to warrant real attention.
For example, imagine a learner sitting listening to a trainer – agreeing with everything he says blindly. This is what happens when we are presented totally new information or something that’s way too difficult for us. This learner will not learn anything that will be retained or applied. It’s just data then, stored in RAM if you like, then lost when the computer shuts down.
And on the other hand if the learner disagrees with everything the trainer says – everything is just rejected out of hand and the Schema or knowledge already in place is left unchallenged and potentially incorrect.
Learning only takes place at the point where we encounter new or conflicting knowledge that fits into what we already know. Training videos must not just be best practice or absolute mortal sins – they have to engage scenarios likely to be encountered and leave the person watching thinking about what the right response would be for a while before any solution is offered.
7. Level of difficulty – videos must be chosen for their context or graded by level of language and difficulty– Reading theorist Steven Kraschen puts it nicely– “Comprehensible plus 1.”
8. Review – One of the ways that learning is reinforced is by repetition, best done in a different format. Recap or review sections of a video could be done using an animated or motion graphics sequence, an interview where the material is repeated or by showing an example of something previously introduced in a diagram or model form.
9. Overview – Adults in particular, but also children, learn best when they have some control of their own learning, and know what they are learning and why. A good video needs a ‘what you are going to learn’ section, learning it and a ‘what you just learned’ recap at the end.
10. Music – Music is the single most powerful educational tool.
Normal audial (listening to speaking) learning involves mainly temporal lobes, Visual learning (poster style or diagram) – involves mainly the frontal and occipital lobes and Kinetic learning (doing) involves much more – frontal lobe, cerebellum, and corpus colossum.
But music is the most effective and universal because it involves the entire brain in the learning process. This means that learning content put to music is absolutely the most powerful kind of learning tool, particularly if coupled with a dance. There are many examples of how learning difficulties have been overcome when music is used as part of the learning. This is not just background music, but music where the lyrics of the song or even musical elements like instruments and beats carry the content or message.