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Back in graduate school (when thunder lizards roamed the earth and training videos were delivered on U-matic tape cassettes) we were taught that an instructional designer employs video in training only when the task being trained involves observing a modeled human behavior or some complex procedure.  That’s still true—sort of.  And while I’m not one to use the medium as a training panacea by any stretch, I do feel that there is a certain “lift” that a video can lend to a module or a class discussion to help the learner connect and be more attentive.

We develop a lot of training at MetaMedia, and a good portion of it does not involve video.  But a number of our clients are convinced of its value.  I’ll also be the first to concede that video is not the least expensive approach for conveying a skill from the expert to the novice.  But you don’t have to produce many minutes of video before you can begin to see its impact.  I’ve seen the payback in terms of learner interest and positive feedback from peers and management that I think often more than justifies that initial investment.

So, when have I developed training with videos that have been particularly well-received?

For an educational book publisher, we developed a set of four safety videos aimed at high school learners and young adults who are just entering careers in the construction industry.  These are two-minute vignettes that feature young people as workers on large construction sites—job venues that are replete with safety hazards.  The point of the videos is to inform new workers about the OSHA four most common hazards and to convey that it is entirely possible the trainee could fall victim to one of them if he or she doesn’t follow best practices for construction safety.  In each there is a safety-related near miss, after which an older, wiser supervisor enters the scene, has a word with the young workers, and then speaks to the camera about the hazard just avoided.  According to reports from the client, these videos were a big hit, especially in the hard-to-impress high school shop class. If the storyline sounds a touch formulaic, what was it that made the videos so successful, aside from our high production standards?

First, they were realistic.  The construction hazards depicted were common mistakes, portrayed in such a way that the learner sees as entirely plausible.  The actors were not bumbling clowns, but workers looking like workers doing what workers do.  Secondly, the actors were peers of the intended audience, all in their early twenties.  They interacted like young adults, spoke like young adults, and made plans for getting to the pre-game party after work.  Thirdly the older supervisor figure was stern and matter of fact, but never “preachy” or condescending.  And finally, just a sprinkling of humor was thrown in—but nothing corny—to lighten things up; enough to relieve the tension, but not so much that you forgot things got serious for a moment.  The result was that the videos—which are intended as an adjunct to classroom instruction—sparked lively class discussions, engaging the learners in a trainable moment.

I’m convinced that these qualities—depictions of real world job situations, the use on-screen talent who are peers of the target audience, and respect for the learner’s intelligence—are what connect the learner to the training video and optimize its training impact.