Video-Based Learning: An Evolution

The evolution of video capture from film to large video cameras to small camcorders to Smart Phones.
January 31, 2020
8 minutes
The evolution of video capture from film to large video cameras to small camcorders to Smart Phones.

Video-based Learning has become more popular than ever and that popularity continues to grow.

The eLearning industry has recognized video-based learning since well before the launch of YouTube and even before computers.  

Before video there was film, and we don’t have to search too hard to find early examples of educational films.

My favorite technical learning film production is this one from 1937:

This video centers around understanding a car’s differential and why it’s needed. This video was produced in 1937 and was uploaded to YouTube in 2009. And now, in 2020, it’s been viewed almost 10 million times.

As this video shows, complex processes were being translated to video, or in this case film, based formats for many of the same reasons we use videos today.  The ability to create a film and educate countless learners with a consistent message once was and will always be at the core of this medium.  Even in 1937 when the population of viewers would be highly limited by those having access to film, its creators recognized the power of the medium and used it judiciously.

There is much to be gleaned about instructional design for video based on these old instructional films.  And there are quite a few of them on YouTube.The one above is just my personal favorite because, at the time, I really wanted to learn more about differentials. The desire in me, the curious learner, is a big part of why video-based learning works so well as instructional media. The comments from the link above are filled with anecdotal support for the superior instructional design quality compared to similar video-based learning content produced today. As we walk through this mini-history lesson of where video-based learning has come from, I hope it helps you understand why things are the way they are today.  Many elements of video are so strongly engrained in our perceptions of it that we often overlook the amazing new capabilities newer video-based learning technologies afford us.

Depending on who you ask, Video-based learning can mean different things. Everything from live streaming classrooms to pre-recorded software screencasts or exported PowerPoint presentations with voice over narration. It’s not an easy media format to define because the term ‘video’ has become very broad in its digital form for both production and delivery/distribution. And more importantly, inexpensive hardware/software puts professional-quality video capture and production into the hands of consumers. And that’s when technology disruption gets interesting.

Video at the start of the eLearning era

Remember that while it was fairly easy to create video, we still had to know how to handle the resulting file after recording. We also weren’t recording on mobile devices. We had unique hardware called cam-corders that captured the video. Then that video needed to be downloaded from a storage device to a computer with an editing application. We needed to know what the file format was so that we could ensure compatibility with the software on that computer. And it was also important to know which of the formats the audience could actually view on their computers. Because back then many computer training rooms didn’t even have the ability to play video files.  And in case you were wondering, we had special training rooms with computers because not all employees even had access to a computer.

As video-based learning technologies improved, prices dropped. Over the last 2 decades professional quality hardware and software tools have become available at consumer prices. You might even think of them as FREE with the purchase of any modern mobile phone.  With cost and quality no longer an issue, the only thing that is still required is creativity and execution.  Mirroring the trajectory of the availability of tools to make video-based learning, the ability to access videos increased.  You could watch these in your home, or on your computer, now even your phone. As a learner you were no longer required to attend a formal training event or be granted access to many of these resources.  Video-based learning became and will continue to thrive as an accessible medium for any learner anytime, anywhere. When amateurs obtain access to professional quality tools experiments happen, old boundaries are broken, and new formats and styles emerge.  New video delivery channels become commonplace like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and other social media platforms.  

Today there are video cameras everywhere. We all carry them in our pockets while we protect our homes and businesses with security cameras. And those “FREE” video cameras we carry also double as viewing screens for the content being delivered from those security cameras.Video cameras are also built into our cars. Uber drivers, Police officers, and average citizens mount video cameras to their dashboards. Video has become less high-tech luxury and more part of the every-day human experience.

In 2020 mobile phone carrying 20 and 30-somethings are creating video every day. Here’s the most interesting part: They don’t know anything about the video file itself. They don’t need to. They simply open an app point the camera at themselves, or something else, and tap the record button. They can choose to post it as is or add some fun production value to it by adding text, graphics or animated overlays on top before tapping that big red button to publish their creation for the world to see.

This is the current cultural state of video and its evolution has only just begun. Many scoffed at YouTube as a platform for learning because in its early days the content was low quality, and still in an experimental phase. Today, however, tutorials and other educational content are the most popular. Everyone with internet access has learned a skill or gained some knowledge directly because of YouTube. In 2018 YouTube reported the top 10 most popular types of content with How-to Videos landing at #2 and “educational” videos at #9.

But a quick glance at the other eight categories tells a much broader story. It’s ALL about learning something new.

If all video content is capable of being“learning content” to someone, then how do we define “Video-based learning”? We can’t simply say all video is video-based learning and call it a day. The answer lies in the intent of both the creator and the consumer. Is the viewer specifically needing to learn something? Did the creator specifically intend to teach something? I would argue that learning requires more intent on the side of the viewer. And with the viewer in control video-based learning is a big part of the industry transitioning from PUSH to PULL. That is what we might call an active learning participant.  

 Experienced Instructional Designers will remember getting started with asynchronous video. Synchronous, LIVE, video was still too expensive and typically only available to professional high budget productions. The production of asynchronous video content also fit into the classic instructional design process. In that classic model (still referred to today as the ADDIE model) we would learn about the audience and gather the content in the analysis phase.Then design, develop, implement and evaluate the creation of a course.  And that course might include more than just the video file. Only in special cases did we include video files as an appropriate medium for delivering the instruction as part of the course.

The Inherent Learning Benefits of Video-based Learning

Many conversations around video-based learning start because of a desire to add video to a standard elearning course that also has other digital elements and user interactions. However, before discussing video in that context we should understand its value even as a stand-alone video file.

Think about the reasons why YouTube became so popular and you will begin to see the obvious elements of video that make it such a great multimedia format. It’s easy to mix moving images, still images, text, graphics, and animations of all sorts, into this one digital format of video.

 

The Value of showing

“Can you show me how you did that?” That phrase alone sums up a big part of why video is such a powerful medium for learning. We can tell others about our knowledge and experiences, but we all inevitably just wish we could SEE what they’re describing. Video gives everyone the ability to not only show their knowledge or experiences to others but to also share it with the world.

“Let me record my screen and you’ll be able to see how I did that.” We’ve all been on the phone with an “expert” attempting to talk us through a process. It’s either a call to the cable company trying to figure out the point of failure between your computer and the cable connection outside your house, or the software technician telling you which buttons to click.  Video allows everyone the ability to share what they’re doing instead of just talking about what they’re doing.

Authenticity

Video-based learning eliminates the cognitive load associated with interpreting words, feelings, or meanings, based solely on how someone writes or talks. The real nature of video shows the authentic message. And that message is more powerful based on all of the unspoken visuals and cues that can be shared along with the voice. Our brains are wired to see faces and engage with other humans. We also learn at a very young age to “read” the unspoken body language of others.

Our eyes bring in the real world as it is.Not how it is interpreted by others. Video studios and digital graphics can certainly fake authenticity, but all media content can be faked. It’s not the media’s fault. I’m not saying that all video is perfectly authentic. That would be laughable. But for the purposes of deciding on a medium for the delivery of instruction, the authentic realism associated with it is powerful.

User Control

But it’s the simple stuff that is more fascinating to me. It’s there, and you use it, but it’s so common that you don’t even think about it as a valuable reason why asynchronous video is a valuable learning tool. I’m talking about the interface control elements.You’ve come to know them so well that the interface all but disappears because it has become so common place that it adds very little if any cognitive load.

Consider the lowly rewind button – in my opinion the most undervalued learning feature ever created. Perhaps we don’t glorify its presence because it’s taking us backward, and human beings inherently strive to move forward? We just love that fast forward button though, right?The rewind is the lonely, unloved, stepchild of the video interface family. Our desire for instant answers as fast as possible is thwarted by adding more time to our learning journey when we rewind. And yet, it holds the golden key to learning.

The rewind button gives us the power of time travel. Sure, the fast forward button also alters time, but not in the same way. Don’t get me wrong fast forward is equally valuable, however more likely to be misused. A quick way to simply finish “watching” a video.  But rewind holds the magic of repetition.Speeding forward hastens the forgetting, while the rewind strengthens the learning.

Repetition is the key to learning.

Spaced repetition is one of the few proven theories of instruction that has stood the test of time.  And while it might be embarrassing to interrupt an instructor within the classroom asking them to repeat a key point, it’s easy in a video.  Users can rewind as often as they want without fear of retribution or humiliation.

The rewind button is a powerful feature. It’s part of the larger concept of giving more control back to the learner. But giving them more control means giving up some instructional design control. Or does it?

Properly designed instruction applies to the creation of video exactly the same ways it applies in the classroom or any other environment. A well written script or a well thought out visual representation within the video shouldn’t require your user to engage the rewind button. You still have control over the content you put into the video.Don’t rely on the controls of the interface as a crutch for poorly thought out instruction. That part is on you, the creator. But just in case the creator misses the mark the learner still has options.

 "Cut!"

Video-based learning isn’t new, but it’s more available than ever. Changes in technology have not only given us more ways to access video content, but now everyone can create video content.

As you’re beginning to learn more about how to create your own video-based learning content you’ll begin to hear terms and phrases that may sound peculiar. Just remember there's almost a century of video professionalism associated with the production of video and old habits die hard. Master the basics, but avoid putting too much pressure on yourself to be “perfect”.

Press the record button and just go for it!

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