Friday, 15 June 2012

Video Killed the Flash Developer

Sorry but I'm one of those people who once a song gets in his head it has a hard time finding its way out.  Since yesterday when a client asked me lots of questions about bringing video into their elearning modules I haven't been able to shift Video Killed the Radio Star out of my frontal lobes (don't even get me started on the irony of the song being the first video on MTV).  The follow on was that I made sure the client was aware of the time and place for video and its usage in elearning.  I wanted to make sure they understood there was a time and a place for video usage (not to mention a format and length, quality etc etc) and that it wasn't a mutually exclusive decision whereby video killed other media production; hence my dramatic title.

What's right and what's wrong about video in learning is essentially the same thing.  In the simplest of terms it's media rich (lots going on), very easy to produce something with minimal effort and it fills a lot of space.  The good things around that are that you can produce some really effective learning pieces quickly; particularly when you pair them with rapid elearning tools like Articulate, Storyline or RolePlay (and these will often provide the tools you need to convert them to the right sorts of format for web viewing).  Producing good video is a lot like painting (the house type, not the artsy one); it's mostly in the preparation.  There are a gazillion things to think about (lighting, size, audio etc etc) but none more important than the actual aim (no, not the direction of the camera) of what you're trying to achieve.  If you're after a head shot with a whole bunch of waffle that lasts beyond a minute or two then you may be contributing to the death of good elearning!

Now hopefully I've not offended too many homicidal developers out there; there's hope for you yet!  When I talk around having an aim, you should be looking at the video really adding something to your learning.  If there's something really technically difficult to do then yeah, this is the media for you.  Something that may take a 3-D developer weeks of development but you can get across effectively in a 15 second clip; bingo!  After all just because your video is media rich doesn't mean you have to make it exclusive of other media.  When done well you'll often see short video snippets embedded and used with text, imagery and interaction.

Remember that just showing a long video in your elearning package is no different to a teacher just running that old video whilst they put their feet up or try and mark the 300 books they need to mark before tomorrow (personally I found it a pretty good hangover cure too!).  The other thing to remember about video is that when you use it on its own without adding any interaction around it then you have a one-way transmission rather than something that's truly interactive.
Just because the transmission is sent, doesn't guarantee it's received

So what are the alternatives?  Firstly, the best option is to use video sparingly rather than for every time you need to get a point across or teach something.  I mentioned earlier that it can fill a lot of space; this is true in several regards and not least of which in your consideration should be the hard disk space where your LMS probably sits too.  The other is the time your video clip runs for; as a general rule if you have a big piece of video (by big I mean minutes not hours; if yours is hours go back to the story board or give me a buzz) then look at breaking it in to snippets of generally seconds rather than minutes.  The more you can break it down the more use it will be to your learners and the better chance they have to digest replay and get the point you're trying to get across rather than just sit back and watch and think of something else (I recently reviewed someone's course with so much video I was grateful for tabbed browsing and just checked back in every so often to see if it had finished!).

One great alternative to video is to use still shots and voice or text.  This is a great replacement for the massive video introduction by your CEO.  A simple head shot and text says welcome without having to do the video.  You can voice-over if you like (as always consider your audience and their technological requirements) and even have key points flashing up (with learn more type options if you want the learner to pull information).  Don't think you're limited to one picture either, you can change expressions and poses at key points too - look at how the Kineo Essentials demo here .

Video doesn't also kill Flash when done right, there will always be a place in the elearning world for great Flash developers (yes Java you can go here too - especially if you know what SCORM means), as always it's about finding the right balance.  Too much video can be like death by any other form of media (remember slides?  or PowerPoint or Flash animations or woosh sounds or..) everything in moderation and the key is always from the perspective of the learner NOT the developer.

So the conclusion is that we can spare lives in the world of learning technologies, not by excluding video, but by embracing it and using it the right way to enhance the learning experience rather than punishing someone for daring to click here!  Overall I hope the irony of including YouTube links in to my blog is not lost on some of you.. ah well, it is easy to do after all..

As always the views here are completely my own and correct only by absolute coincidence.  Feel free to vehemently disagree with any of them and let me know by either responding on this blog or emailing me at or @nigelkineo on twitter or even by finding me on LinkedIn (Nigel Young).  No animals were actually killed during the process of this blog.