Video – what’s it good for? How to use it in learning

“I do think that e-learning is often treated as the default option, certainly for any self-study learning experience.  When in fact, using video perhaps in combination with other things, you can actually achieve very much the same results, sometimes more cheaply and sometimes more effectively.”

Clive Shepherd, learning technologist


When I was asked exactly what video is good for in learning I couldn’t come up with an instant answer, so here’s a considered one.

Undoubtedly video’s greatest strength is in quickly communicating high level understanding of a subject, while giving the content meaning and thereby engaging emotions.

The Battle Speech

A short film to kick off a piece of learning is what I describe as a Battle Speech Video.  It’s like the speech before the battle in Henry V – it gives an overview of the battle (the learning ahead) and tells you why it’s important, which in turn engages you emotionally.

As a consumer, you might watch a documentary about Egyptology, giving you an overview of the subject and potentially getting you excited about it.  If you were inspired enough to take a degree in the subject you’d naturally expect to do some further reading.


To be productive colleagues we must control our emotions.  But emotions don’t just conveniently do what they are supposed to do.  This is when management gets tricky and where video can help.  Short drama clips depicting grey area dilemmas are one of the most powerful ways of interesting audiences in such issues.  The abstract becomes concrete and our emotions are engaged with these emotional subjects.


“What about role plays?” I hear you say.  A film of colleagues enacting something they do every day isn’t quite the same as a drama.  It’s generally cheaper to produce, but the results are less concise and rarely dramatically (and thus emotionally) convincing.  Role plays are strongest when we regard them as what their name implies – not pretending to be real, as drama might be, but films of people sharing a “how to” with their colleagues.  As such they bring an extra value of involving and empowering a team.

Talking Heads

A talking head video gives a message extra clout by virtue of who says it.  For an onboarding video, shared experiences of the workplace from your future colleagues can put your mind at rest and help you to hit the ground running.  A message that might be met with skepticism can be given greater credibility if it comes from the mouth of a person the listener respects.  When you watch the CEO deliver a message you know it’s of paramount importance to the whole organisation.

How-to videos

When you want to know how to replace the door seal on a washing machine or how to fix your phone after you dropped it in water many of us go straight to YouTube.  Plenty of organisations have used video for a similar function internally.  General Electric created a programme of user-generated video to share knowledge about their engineering practices.  By filming such content professionally, you can ensure the detail and the communication is 100 per cent clear.  A third way is to have video consultants equip and work with your staff to make better videos.

Interactive Video

Interactivity in video is generally considered to increase the engagement of the learner.  A notable 2006 study showed that interactive video was more effective than either linear video or standard eLearning.  The main two types of interactivity are hot spots – click on a spot in the video to reveal more information – and branching narratives whereby you choose a path through a story in response to multiple choice questions. And all of this can be linked to scoring.  Essentially, all the interactivity we’re familiar with from gaming and eLearning can be brought into a video.  The video can become the spine of the learning and can lead you off to articles, quizzes, and web resources.  While there can be game elements within an interactive video, it can’t be as interactive or immersive in a gamified way as a video game.  This is simply because a video game has so many more interactions per minute.


In summary, video is great for high level information, delivered with a punch.  It’s great for visual explanations and for discussing emotional subjects.  Once you make it interactive, these qualities are combined with the established eLearning methodologies to create more complex and immersive learning.

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