• Nicole Papaioannou, PhD

Are Your Instructional Videos Effective?: Four Common Pitfalls



Video is a staple of modern learning. TEDtalks, YouTube, Lynda, Udemy, Skillshare-- none of these companies would be as successful without it. One billion hours of video are watched on YouTube alone every day.


And no wonder! Video is a great scalable tool for asynchronous, self-paced learning.


Many organizations try to use the medium for their training needs, but they aren't all successful. Video that is not intentionally designed can be disengaging, reduce retention, and make learners feel like their organization doesn't really care about their success.


Avoiding these four common pitfalls when creating instructional video can help you develop more powerful, engaging content.


Too much on screen. Research in neuroscience shows that your short-term memory can only handle about 7 new sensory inputs in a 10 second span of time. When you have too many disparate activities or messages happening at once, the brain simply can't process the information. When scenes are too cluttered with graphics, different moving images, too many captions, etc., learning is lost.


This also applies to text on screen. Don't treat video like a moving document. The process of reading and hearing at the same time does not reinforce the learning. Instead, your brain is trying to do two things at once.


The fix is seemingly simple. Consider what is essential to the message you're trying to get across, and use text and audio that support one another to carry that message across.


Saying one thing, but showing something else. Here's an experiment for you. In the image below, try saying the color of the text rather than the name that's written.



Really messes with your brain, doesn't it? If you were able to do it at all, it probably took quite about of effort. They call this phenomena the "Stroop Effect." What we learn from the Stroop Effect is that conflicting messages slow down cognitive processing. Like the "too much on screen issue," showing an image that conflicts with the word-based message confuses the brain. On the other hand, showing an image that supports the words being used has been proven to be an effective strategy for improving cognitive processing and knowledge retention.


Too long. Research shows that, for optimal engagement, videos should be about 6 minutes or less. When videos are too long, students check out. Pick one or two learning objectives to cover and focus on them. Don't try to cover everything. A handful of short videos are more effective than a movie-length demo.


Poor resolution. Poor quality video can be distracting. Even worse, it can blur important information. Text is notoriously affected by poor quality resolution. Make sure your video is optimized for the screen, and make sure you're hosting that video on a platform that support high quality viewing experiences.

If you're falling into any of these traps while producing instructional video, now is a good time to rethink your approach. Design content that is carefully considered and truly focused on the learner's needs.


My best suggestions for improving your design-- other than hiring a professional?-- watch your favorite instructional videos and figure out what they'd doing right.


I also highly recommend reading Richard Mayer's work on multimedia learning.


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