Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lights, Camera, Action...Learn

by Jonathan Shoaf

A good quality video can be a very helpful resource for workplace learning. Videos can be as simple as getting out an iPhone and clicking record or as complicated as hiring actors, setting up lights, and using a boom mic. If you've never done it before, it can be a very intimidating task. Here I'll layout some steps for getting through your next video project.

Start with Learning Goals

You don't just pick up a camera and go at it. Well, actually, I'm open minded, you could do that if the situation warrants it. But in most cases you need to plan ahead. This starts with the learning goals for the video.

Learning goals should be used to guide the making of a script. The script can be rigid or more ad-lib depending on your preference. However, the script should be reviewed to make sure it covers all the learning goals for the video project.  If you're doing more of an ad-lib video, then the learning goals need to be checked off as they are addressed by the actor.  Save those learning goals…we'll need to review them again when the video goes to the editing room.

Consider Location and Actors

Now, once you've got the learning goals and scripts well defined, it's time to schedule the filming.  First, identify the actors you'll use. Tell them about the project, get their full cooperation, and schedule a time to shoot the video. Next, find a good (quiet) place to shoot. Scope it out and visualize all the angles and shots you'll want to take on shooting day.

Put on your Directors Hat

On video shooting day schedule time to come in early and set-up. You'll want to set up the cameras and microphones and place them in the positions they'll be used during the filming. Depending on your needs, you may want to have extra lighting setup. If you're new to this, look at 8 Ways to Shoot Video Like a Pro from the LifeHacker web site. Yes…you'll feel like a complete newbie the first time you do this…everyone does.

When you shoot the video, remember you are also a learning professional. The actor may not be. Find your inner director and take command instructing the actor to repeat scenes as necessary and verify the actor sticks to the script and learning objectives.

Pass it to the Video Editing Software

Now you have the film on those precious little memory cards. Don't lose them! It's time to import them into a video editing program. I'm working with Adobe products so I use Premiere Pro. When you're done importing, it's time to switch from director and find your inner editor. Don't you just love all the fun role playing that goes along with being a learning professional?

Hack, Hack, Hack

Learners' attention spans are not very long. It is important when editing a video to consider this and hack away all the fluff. Let me repeat that, ALL THE FLUFF. For example if you're giving instructions for how to print a report, don't leave in the time it takes to wait on it to be printed. Hack it out. Simply have it say "press the printer icon to print", throw in a video transition, and voila there's the printed document.

And who says the video has to match the voice? At times you'll want to take video from another shot and mix it in with another audio track. For example if you have video that shows a key piece of material in detail, you may want to slice it out of that video and show it at a certain moment in the dialogue of another video.

Ok, so now you realize the sound is awful. There are apps for that! If you can barely hear the narrator, you can use audio editing software like Adobe Audition or Soundbooth to fix it. You can find effects that will remove background noise, balance out the volume and much more. Ideally you will want to do a better job recording and use a better microphone. But until you've master that, use sound editing software to get the most from what you have. 

Deploy It

Now that you've edited the video for length and quality, it's time to distribute it to the learners. In the e-learning world there are three methods I see most frequently: create a DVD, post it on a web page or video hosting site, and package it up for placement in an LMS.

Don't knock the DVD method. It may be more costly and less trackable; but, after you've spent all that time in the editing room you'll want to show off your video in as high a quality as possible. DVD is the way to do this. And, it's actually very simple to do using software like Adobe Encore. Using Encore you can quickly create a nice looking DVD menu and add graphics from your computer. If you built the project in Adobe Premiere Pro, you can easily import your video sequence, connect it to a button, and you're done. The software handles the rest. Build a master and duplicate to your heart's desire.

Although you hate to see the quality suffer, you know that distributing over the web can be cheaper, faster, and trackable. You'll need to consider the computers and devices used in your organization before you export your video to a web-based format. For example, if you've got a lot of Windows XP machines running IE7 with locked down permissions…you may want to go with a windows media file (WMV). Other formats I like are FLVs and for the iPad you may want to go with an MP4 with H.264 encoding. I'll often use Adobe Dreamweaver to create the web page to deliver the video or simply upload it to a video sharing site or corporate intranet site like Microsoft SharePoint.

To place the video in an LMS, you'll want to wrap it up in something like SCORM. The easiest way to do this is to use a rapid development tool like Adobe Captivate. Export to a format that Captivate supports, like FLV, and then import it into the program. This can even happen on a single slide. Set the appropriate scoring and tracking settings, export, and upload to the LMS.


The reality is that creating a learning video can be just as easy or just as hard as you choose. It can take a lot of time or just a little amount of time. You will have to judge what level of quality is worthwhile. My suggestions: Keep it simple until the project requires otherwise and learn a new skill each time you do a video project.

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