This guide contains guidelines and techniques you can apply to your videos to ensure that your students can get the most out of your content. You'll likely find that some are more applicable to the type of content that you are creating - this is OK! The goal is not to implement every 'rule' all the time, but to thoughtfully and purposefully think about how you are creating content and how to best support your students as they view, and learn from, that content.
Our top tips:
- Use different video formats
- Use repetition for consistent design
- Use synchronized audio and action/animation
- Use synchronized audio and emphasis
- Keep related items in close proximity
- Reduce or remove unnecessary visual complexity
- Introduce new concepts by describing their use in context
- Explicitly state outcomes of the upcoming task or lesson
- Keep visuals and instructions clear
- Match the difficult of the concept to the viewer’s capabilities
1. Use different video formats
You don't have to pick one type of video content over another - you can use more than one! (See an overview of different video formats) In particular, it's effective to start with yourself on camera, talking directly to the camera (so to the students). This is also effective during periods where you do not have a lot of change on your slide. Take that time to connect with your audience, interrupt the pattern of the video up to that point, and let them see and meet you.
Image credit: Prof. Fabian Parsch, as part of his talk, Engage!
2. Repetition for Consistent Design
Repetition of video elements and parts develops organization and unity throughout each individual video but also in the "set" of videos. When there is similarity amongst the elements, it makes the separate videos more unified and learners know what to expect (which reduces cognitive load). Many learners have a strong innate memory for where things are visually located on the screen (this reminds me of how I could always tell you where my favourite toy was in the Sears Wishbook at Christmas time). Having consistent elements across different videos lets students know the chunks of your content and your style, allowing them to engage with your content more easily.
Examples of Repetition:
2.1. Video title is consistently located.
2.3. Concepts are thematically indicated with icons/colour (or ideally a combination of both)
Icons and colour should be used for decorative elements and should not be used to communicate primary or key content as they have reduced accessibility. They should not be used to communicate interactivity (e.g. do not indicate a link solely by colour; also use underline or other text emphasis). However, icons and colour can add some visual design flair to your designs (just work to keep it to flair and not to core content). If you have questions about accessibility, we recommend that you contact the Accessibility For Ontarians With Disabilities Act Office (early in your design).
2.3.1. Example of elements linked by colour
When using colour, keep it decorative and ensure that it is not to denote essential or primary content and that the meaning is not conveyed solely through colour (especially through low contrast colour pallettes or green/red combinations. Remember that colour is not processed by each of us the same. In other words, if the only way your learners would understand the connection is by visually looking at the content, then we would suggest adding a bit more - describe it verbally, add a text box around the linked content, etc. If something is important, it likely should be repeated more than once in more than one way.
2.3.2. Example of elements highlighted by icon
When using icons, consider if the icon is universally understood. An icon, by definition, should convey meaning without text. If you are concerned, include an icon glossary with your materials (a good starting point and a useful reference).
2.4. Major concepts are recapped (verbally or text)
If possible, end each chunk of content with a review or summary, teasing out key content. What do you hope the learner has learned in this video? They say it is not possible to over communicate and this is one of those times.
3. Synchronize audio and action/animation
Any time that audio and video are shown together, they should occur simultaneously instead of sequentially to reduce cognitive load (the ol'see and say). The narration should correspond directly with the visual demonstration so that the viewer is not relying on their memory to recall any audio or visual that they may have previously seen or heard.
A good tip is to pretend that someone watching the video is visually impaired; use the script to describe the contents of the video to allow all viewers to follow along. It is extremely easy to lose your place the screen - to miss where the instructor is directing you to - without descriptive audio contextualizing the screen. If you'd like the learner to direct their attention to the top right, indicate that verbally (and even better, with visual emphasis as well).
Examples of Synchronized Audio and Action:
- Descriptions of diagrams.
- Descriptions of charts and other visual data representations.
- Lists of items.
- Chronological descriptions.
- Any time you move the viewer through the contents on the screen.
4. Use synchronized audio and emphasis
Narration is best served with demonstrations of action or emphasis that are in sync. Steps should be read clearly, followed by the demonstration of action/emphasis. This will allow the viewer to associate the imagery to the narration. If there is narration, then there should be a visual to accompany it so that there is no longer than 5-10 seconds of visual silence on the screen.
Examples of Synchronized Audio and Animation:
- Highlighting elements as they are described.
- Adding a box, shadow, colour change, etc. to elements.
- Cursor highlighting.
- Spyglass emphasis (focusing and magnifying) one element.
5. Keep Related Items in close Proximity
When arranging items on a screen, corresponding graphics and printed words should be placed near each other. This strengthens the communication between the two related items, allowing the learner to connect the items in their memory. It also reduces load if the viewer is not forced to visually scan the screen to associate the two elements.
Examples of proximity:
- Chart labels appear with chart element.
5.1. Chart labels appear with chart element.
Exceptions: You might use a legend if there are limited categories or if a high density chart would require so many labels that it is illegible (like a scatter plot, for example).
6. Reduce or remove unnecessary visual complexity.
Each element on the screen should be as simple and minimal as possible, while communicating the information that you need to share. Elements like outlines, grid lines, and backgrounds can be unnecessary visual noise that distracts the learner from the key concepts.
Examples of reducing complexity:
- Remove borders and background colours from charts and diagrams.
- Reduce line width on visual elements.
- Space lines as much as possible to increase colour to whitespace (or background colour) balance.
6.1. Remove borders and background colours from charts and diagrams.
7. Introduce new concepts by describing their use in context
Learners have previous knowledge that can be built upon, thus presenting ideas that relate to the learner’s external environment will assist with knowledge acquisition. This context-based learning helps learners make connections between concepts, and relate them to their own experiences, and the real world. It can be tempting to reduce lessons down to the their basic parts, but without a synthesis of these components it is difficult to apply what is learned to other contexts.
Examples of concepts in context:
- Depict an experiment (or overview of) in entirety before breaking into steps.
- State overall goals.
- Anecdote or case study as to how the principle, law, theory, etc. is used in professional practice.
8. Explicitly state outcomes of the upcoming task or lesson
Provide viewers with a preview of what tasks or lessons (learning objectives) they will be seeing in the video. If a viewer has knowledge of content in advance, this enhances their ability to understand the upcoming content and removes any elements of surprise, which can be distracting. Video is a dense content medium, which makes it difficult to search. Many viewers only watch the first few seconds as they try to determine if the video is relevant to them and to the question they are trying to answer. Clear outcomes helps learners, especially during review, use their time wisely, effectively, and in a focused manner.
9. Keep instructions simple and clear.
Keep the language and narration as simple, clear, concise as possible. Be certain that the vocabulary and language are suitable for the audience, if not, provide explanations. When giving instructions, pacing is critical. Using an appropriate speed to explain the task or lesson will allow them to fully understand the explained process. When a complicated procedure has been explained, add an additional few seconds before moving onto the next topic to allow the viewer to absorb the content.
Depending on the type of video, you might want your learners to be coding, solving a problem, or doing another activity, in real time, following along with you. If so, leave some time to allow for this, repeat directions, and, if particularly complicated, try to explain what to do in more than one way (before moving onto the next step).
Examples of clear instructions:
- Definitions of new, advanced, or jargon terms are included.
- Steps are articulated clearly and in the correct order.
- Visuals match the verbal steps.
10. Match the difficulty of concept to the learner's capabilities.
A viewer must be able to participate and connect with any new presented information, thus it is important to pace the narration accordingly for the audience. The tone of the narration can be more conversational and can include first or second person pronouns, such as “I”, “we”, “you”. This will increase viewer engagement because they are included in on the conversation, instead of just a passive listener.
If you are presenting foundational concepts, you might consider classifying your videos according to beginner, intermediate, and advanced (or, using your own scale). This will give learner's a sense of the difficulty level. Remember that students are watching this content on their own, so they don't have any feedback from their peers as to whether or not others are understanding the content. It can be stressful on the learner if they are struggling with a concept, thinking it's a beginner video, but you would actually consider it to be advanced. You might even include dialogue in the video about this and encourage learner's to pause and reflect at certain points.