Video Training Sucks: Part 2

This is a follow-up to an article I wrote about the poor state of video training and what we can do better.

In that post, I identified key points that I thought needed to be addressed for video training to be more effective. They were:

  • Limit your focus - get to the heart of what you're trying to teach us. Be ruthless.
  • Show what you're talking about - take the time to create an infographic or build a file that shows the result or concept.
  • Underlying concepts - give me the why behind the how of what you're doing.
  • Edit the video like a cooking show - skip over the repetitive parts or ideas that people already know.
  • Production value - Make sure the sound is clear, the video quality is readable, you've removed any glaring mistakes, and you injected some of your sparkling personality (that's a nice-to-have, not a requirement).

Since I wrote that article, I've had some time to analyse the efficacy of video training. And the crazy thing is that even when a video is informative, concise and well-produced, there's still a considerable drop off in engagement. Only 10% of the people that click play watch the video to the end.

Online video courses have a dropout rate of anywhere between 70% and 97%. That's great for the people charging for the course. They're making money off people that aren't even going to get any value from the course. But it's also not so great because those people are unlikely to tell others about the course, limiting the potential benefits and reach of the content.

I think the reason is that video training is only a partial solution to the problem we're trying to solve, which is, to transfer knowledge and assist someone in acquiring a new skill.

I want to explore this challenge from two perspectives.

  1. What can video instructors do to improve the learning experience?
  2. What can learners do to get the most out of the content?

What can instructors do?

The first thing I'd like to suggest is to make your videos shorter. Like, much shorter. I'm talking a couple of minutes at the most. That means you're going to have to cut out a lot of stuff, including you doing all the things that someone wants to learn. That's okay. The point here is to include just enough bread crumbs that someone can follow the trail without giving them google map directions. We've become accustomed to people just giving us the answers in videos. Except, there's no active participation in the process. The learner might have this information, but without the journey to acquire it, it might not stick, they might not internalise it. What I'm suggesting is creating the right amount of tension in the viewer that they watch the video, learn the ingredients of the recipe and have a basic breakdown of the workflow. Beyond that, it's up to them to do the work. Not just watch you do it, but to pause the video and use that tension and frustration to get better at something.

I've noticed a trend in how bigger topics are broken down. Generally, a two-hour course is divided up into 10 to 15-minute sections. The idea is that each chapter is shorter and more digestible. But I don't think this is making the information more accessible or useful. The video is recorded in such a way that there's a dependency from one section to the next. If I watch the second video in a series and then jump to the fifth video, there's a good chance I'm not going to be able to follow along because something was introduced in between that relies on watching each video in order. Ideally, each video should be an independent module. Something that can stand on its own when describing a concept.

Something else I've learned more recently is that videos are great as an initial package for delivering information, but they're terrible as a follow-up resource. Unless the footage has time codes with descriptions, it can be hard to find the relevant piece of info you're trying to clarify. A quick and easy way to improve this experience is to include a transcript with your video. That way, people can do a word search on the text to find the part they're seeking. Even better is to provide a companion document that lists the fundamental principles and a step-by-step of the technique. There's a reason people love cgwiki. It's like google search plus - short snippets of code and text that cover the essentials of a concept with gifs to show the result.

Also, skip your morning tea one day a month and support Matt on Patreon. cgwiki is one of the best resources for getting you unstuck on your Houdini project.

What can you do as a learner?

If the purpose of watching the video is to acquire a new skill, then we need to figure out a way to include the practice part in the equation. Watching a video is a passive undertaking. Maybe you're one of those people that can watch something once, remember all the essential pieces and then replicate the process all on your own. If that's you, awesome. But for the rest of us?

Let's go beyond the video. Because, as I said earlier, I think the video is just a supporting item in the learning process. Something that can help solidify the information presented is to go away and do the work, then get feedback on your results. Share your results with a group of people. Explain what you learned and how you used that knowledge. Then, let the other people ask you questions, poke holes in the technique and make suggestions to improve it even further. This is going to do several things. First of all, if you all learn the same thing and execute on it with the goal of sharing, it keeps you accountable. Accountability makes it more likely you'll follow through. Feedback, both yours and that of others, gives you the chance to fill in the gaps. Explaining your process solidifies the knowledge you've acquired and identifies the gaps you still have. Yes, it's more work. Yes, it requires more time and coordination. Would you prefer to continue your ways and be one of the 97% that dropout?

I believe that training can be more effective when we look at the entire system and how it can be improved and integrated. This is one of the ways to do that. I'd love to hear your thoughts.