Stuart Spence Blog

Computer scientist and educator. Creator of ChessCraft. Scientific programmer at Environment Canada.

Sat 05 March 2022

Training Video Philosophy

Posted by Stuart Spence in Blog   

Most training videos are really bad. This is troublesome to me because I must constantly re-explain my philosophies and processes to colleagues or volunteers. This page aims to help.

Over the years I've made over a hundred training videos for public servants, high school and university students, workshops, and the general public. I also studied education technology for my master's degree.

Some good examples of my training videos include Making a Fantasy Map with GIMP or the Intermediate Programming with Unity3D playlist.

Good to note: I'm writing about adult training videos here. Exciting educational videos are a whole other topic.

Approach

Respect the time of the audience

  • Short videos. Rarely longer than several minutes.
  • Jump right in. For example: "In this video we will do X" and then immediately start doing X.
  • Immediately let people know if this video is what they need. Explain what it is and who it is for.
  • Viewing a video is never "mandatory" training.
  • No login, registration, or course. Just drop in from any web browser.
  • Edited to remove pauses or speaker fumbles. When a video pauses or fumbles for 30 seconds, it feels like the author does not value your time.

Audio quality

The most important part of a training video is the audio quality. Audio quality is more important than your video editing, teaching style, or even content. Never use an old built-in laptop microphone. Even a new one may be a problem if you hear any keyboard noises. If that's the best microphone you have, consider not making a video. Audacity noise cancellation can only do so much.

In the first few seconds of a video, if the audio quality is bad, most listeners will abandon your carefully crafted video.

Ideally, obtain a USB microphone that costs a couple hundred dollars, or at least a headset with a visible microphone (not a microphone hidden in a dangling wire).

Hands-on screencasts

A screencast is a video recording of all the activity on a computer screen.

  • Screencasts of real-life use of a tool or process.
  • Avoid toy examples that feel fake.
  • Never just slides or a lecture.

Simple

Avoid music, multiple speakers, special effects, and animations. More often than not, these are added to training videos for no good instructional reason. The content developer just thought it was fun or is trying to justify their salary.

Iteration

  • Constantly ask for feedback and video requests.
  • Avoid creating hours of content and then sharing a finished result. Instead, immediately share short videos now and ask for feedback to steer future videos.

Bad Paradigm

What's so bad about most training videos, especially corporate or government training?

  • Wrong medium. Sometimes a ten minute video should just be one paragraph of text or FAQ on a web page. However the training department or contract requires a video.
  • Disconnect. Often the content developer, subject matter expert, graphic designer, and speaker are all different people. Many will never communicate with eachother. This means obvious (and not so obvious) disconnects, like overemphasis on a diagram that is pretty but useless.
  • Padding. We may see sentences like: "if you click the 'edit user profile' button you can edit the user profile". This fluff exists because a training department or contract requires some length, or someone is trying to justify their salary.
  • Evaluation. Content developers have an incentive not to evaluate whether the training works.

Consider the following quality control method. Suppose we have a multiple choice test to evaluate how much was learned. Group 1 takes the test before the training. Group 2 takes the test just after the training. If the scores for 1 and 2 are similar then the training is pointless. The training should be removed. Unfortunately, this would be a very unpopular decision. Generally it doesn't matter if the training works, it only matters that the training exists.

Not all training outcomes can be tested in this way, but a lot could be.

Software

As of 2022, here's the free and open source (FOSS) video editing tools that I use.

Audacity

Audio editing software. After finishing a video, you can import the audio into Audacity and perform "noise cancellation". This is where you give Audacity a sample of about ten seconds of "nothing" which might include the hum of electronics or building ventilation. Audacity can then intelligently subtract that sound from the whole video - including sections where you are speaking. What you're left with sounds like you recorded in a professional quality quiet room.

  • Platforms: All.

ffmpeg

Commandline tool to manipulate video and audio files. After performing noise cancellation with Audacity, you can use ffmpeg to replace the audio in a video file with different audio.

  • Platforms: Linux, Mac.

Kdenlive

Video editing. Very easy to cut snippets of video together. While recording a video, often I will pause for ten seconds to think about the next thing I'm going to say. Later with Kdenlive, I will cut out these empty sections. There are visual marks for audio volume that make this easy.

  • Platforms: Linux, Mac.

Kazam

Screen recording. Turn on mouse cursor visibility.

  • Platforms: Linux.

VLC

Video playback. Very reliable, mature project that reliably plays any video without any setup.

  • Platforms: All.

GIMP

Image editing. Every YouTube video should have a basic thumbnail. Maybe you'd also like image cuts between video snippets. If you don't know the differences between GIMP and Photoshop, you should be using GIMP because it will do everything you need. Learning GIMP is a stable and long term skill, whereas Photoshop may change with licensing and your workplace.

  • Platforms: All.

Firefox

It's important to use the same web browser in your videos that your audience uses. A good choice is probably Firefox. Consider also turning off the bookmarks toolbar. Finally, beware of revealing your search history in your training videos while you type new searches.

  • Platforms: All.