It may seem odd to say this, but sliced bread and interactive video have a lot in common. Let me tell you a story.

Otto Rohwedder was an expert jeweler, and owned three jewelry stores in St. Joseph, Missouri. He used his expertise with watches and jewelry to develop all manner of machines. One of the machines he conceived of in 1912 was a bread slicing machine. He was so convinced that a bread slicing machine was going to be… well, the best thing since sliced bread, that he sold his jewelry stores to fund the development and manufacture of the machine. Unfortunately in 1917 a fire destroyed his factory, his bread slicer prototype and all of his blueprints.

Figure 1: Otto Rohwedder

By 1927 he had saved up enough money to continue work on his slicer, and by 1928 he had created the first machine that not only sliced the bread but also wrapped it. People thought he was crazy—why on earth would you want your bread sliced for you? It wasn’t until five years later in 1933 that Otto’s machine was accepted by the mainstream and the rest is, as they say, history.

Like sliced bread, interactive video has been around for many years now but I don’t see many people taking advantage of it for learning, particularly learning on mobile devices. It has many advantages, useful features, and possibilities—which I will begin to explore in this article. Specifically, I am going to review the impact of video in learning today, show you some examples of interactive video, then look at the features and benefits, and finally wrap up with some suggestions for getting started with interactive video for your own work.

My goal is to have you think, “Hey, I didn’t know you could do that! That’s very cool! How could I use this in my mobile learning development?”

Video and interactivity: their impact on learning today

So, what is the impact of video in learning right now? Do you know which search engine is the second most popular today? No, it’s not Bing or Yahoo... it’s YouTube. Why? Because people like to get their information in short video format. They want to watch moving images and listen to someone speak.

How much do people like video?

Video is a highly preferred media for learning. Here are some YouTube stats:

  • There are a quarter million visits to the site per second
  • People watch four billion hours of YouTube video a month
  • Every minute 72 hours of video is uploaded
  • YouTube had more than a trillion views of videos in 2012. That’s about 140 views for every person on the planet

People like watching video. People like to get their information in short video format. It’s familiar to them.

Let’s now look at mobile video in particular:

  • Mobile devices are responsible for 25 percent of YouTube views
  • People watch a billion videos every day on YouTube mobile
  • From 2010 to 2011 YouTube traffic from mobile devices tripled. It will probably quadruple from 2011 to 2012
  • Audio and video streaming will exceed 60 percent of North America’s mobile data by late 2014

Two things should be obvious: People want to learn by watching video, and they like to do it on their mobile devices. Using video for mobile learning makes sense. People like the format and are eager to watch. This may not be news to you.

In a ASTD research report on mobile learning in 2012, video was ranked third in a list of top formats for mobile learning. And we are not just talking short courses here—video can be used for performance support, quick references, product updates and much, much more.

Learning from videos may be preferred and appealing... but is it really effective? Research suggests it is. Brandon Hall polled over 300 training professionals in 2011 and found that people used video in training specifically because they reported high levels of engagement and found it to be a highly effective means of learning.


Videos are great for learning, but they are passive. You sit (or stand) and watch them. They may be interesting and engaging, but the viewer does not participate or interact. The experience reflects the lecture model of learning. But it doesn’t have to do that. Interactive video has been around for a while on the desktop and a few companies are now enabling the technology on mobile devices.

Interactive video has been shown to increase attention, engagement, recall, satisfaction and time spent watching a video. As you might imagine, most of the interactive video content has been developed for marketing purposes but some pioneers are beginning to use it for learning. Companies that are currently using interactive video include Microsoft, Lenovo, Intel, Isagenix, Philips, Cinemax, and Maybelline.


So what exactly is interactive video? Imagine a video where there are areas or elements upon which you can click or tap to gain access to more or different information, or even change the storyline of the video. Rather than leaving the video to navigate to other videos or information, you can do it all within the context of the video. Many of the interactions you might perform on a web page can be made possible within a video.

Here are some examples of interactive video so you can get a flavor (Figures 2 through 4). I encourage you to watch these before reading the rest of the article. Although these first examples are meant for viewing on a desktop system, as you watch them think of the possibilities of interactive video for learning on a mobile device.

Figure 2: Rapt Media interactive video

Figure 3: HuStream interactive video examples; the interactive elements (buttons) will appear after about 20 seconds

Figure 4: ClickVID’s Ben Sherman interactive video example; just watch 30 seconds or so of this and mouse over the models to see the interactive hotspots

One of my favorite examples of interactive video is a Rapt Media powered movie created by Ryan Hunter Phillips and Doug Landers called HUNCH that demonstrates the power and possibilities of interactive narrative (Figure 5).

It’s about a romance novel author, Kaitlyn Camrose, who mysteriously dies in what seems to be an empty hotel room. As the viewer, you direct Detective Kyle as he tries to solve the case. What I like about this—apart from the high production quality and good acting—is the emotional engagement it provides. When I presented the movie at a conference last month, I had a room of 100 people shouting out which option they wanted me to click. “Inspect the body! Inspect the body!” That tells you something.

Figure 5: Rapt Media’s HUNCH interactive movie; to get to the interactions you can scroll to the end of this first clip

Video on mobile today: some issues

Let’s consider the current video experience on mobile. When there are a series of videos to watch you must click a link, watch the video, exit the video, and then return to the menu to choose the next video (Figure 6). It’s a lot of navigation and it’s a somewhat disjointed experience. The navigation and any interactivity is outside of the video. It’s not an immersive experience. It brings you in and out of emotional engagement … like enjoying Les Misérables on TV and then being confronted with a Doritos ad.

Figure 6: Current disjointed mobile video experience

What’s more, videos must be reasonably short to be effective teaching tools, because research shows that attention and engagement in most “learning” videos falls off after one or two minutes.

Interactive video on mobile offers a better experience

Moving on to the details of interactive video on mobile, take a look at this example (Figure 7) by running it on your mobile device. (Just open this article on your mobile device and scroll down to this link.) If you use an iPad or other tablet it will run on the same as on your desktop or laptop. When you use an iPhone for this HuStream video, you will be prompted to download a special interactive player*.

Figure 7: HuStream mLearning module playing on mobile device

(*Currently, with iOS devices it’s more difficult provide video interactivity on the iPhone that the iPad. For this reason some companies provide a small app that enables interactive video on the iPhone. Most of the interactive video companies with whom I have spoken tell me they are working on a solution for iPhone and other devices that don’t require a player app. So far Rapt Media is the only one I’ve seen who have been able to provide such—although the technology is still being perfected and the experience is sometimes a little choppy.)

As you can see in Figure 7, when run on your mobile device, all the interactions are within the video. The viewer can tap on buttons or hotspots right on the video. Such interaction allows you to move smoothly from video to video without exiting one video and then clicking a link for another. As in the desktop experience, this enables linking directly from the video to any other content such as websites, PDFs, quizzes, or anything else.

Unlike watching a series of regular videos, the experience with interactive videos is a continuous one (Figure 8). With multiple videos you can maintain a continuous viewing experience without a break in emotional engagement. Interactive video is also much quicker and easier to navigate because you never have to leave the video.

Figure 8: Continuous experience with interactive video

Information when you want it

One of the advantages of having this interactivity within the video itself is that you can combine the high-level, attention-getting information with more detailed background information. You can use the video to pique interest and cover the high-level ideas—and use links within the video to provide more information. The video can be the “hub” or learning portal for a module. It can get the viewer’s attention and keep the viewer engaged longer because of the interactivity. As the video progresses, it can provide opportunities to make decisions, link to other videos or link to supporting content.

Organizations typically add the occasional video to their eLearning modules to add interest and try to keep from boring their users to death. With interactive video—particularly valuable on mobile devices—you can contain your whole learning module with supporting information within one video-watching experience.

Figure 9 shows what’s possible with interactive video in learning. The user launches a video, on say, basic brick-working tips for building a wall. After a short introduction, the viewer is asked whether they want to learn about Types of Bricks or Basic Pointing and two buttons or images appear on the screen. The viewer is then routed to the appropriate video and covers what they want to know. When they return and continue through the main video, a button appears that allows them to view a PDF document with detailed instructions or reference information. Later in the video, there may be a link on the screen that leads to a relevant mobile website. The video might pause and ask the viewer to tap any of the objects visible on the screen to learn more about that object. The transparent links would take them to another video. And all of this within the context of one mobile video experience.

Figure 9: Links to other content from within the video


Let’s recap some of the features and benefits of interactive video on mobile and then consider some of the possibilities it could hold for learning on mobile devices.

Buttons and menus

Buttons and menus can be overlaid onto a video giving the user the option of navigating to other related video clips, a new video learning module or linking to external content or sites. These buttons can appear on top of the video while it is running—thereby offering the viewer options for a specific time slot - to link to related content only when it is relevant. For example, in the ClickVID Ben Sherman shopable video you watched earlier (Figure 4), you can learn more about (or purchase) a particular clothing item by clicking on the model for the duration that the model is displaying it on the runway.

Transparent hotspots

You can have transparent hotspots on any part of the video that can link to other video clips or content without leaving the video environment and branching to other videos. This is great for any interactive narrative projects such as the “HUNCH” video (Figure 5). With transparent hotspots you tap areas of the video image you are interested in—not buttons—and this lets you interact with objects on the screen. Buttons separate the user from the content because they draw the viewer outside of it. Hotspots more effectively connect the user to the video content.

Video navigation controls

Usability and ease-of-navigation are crucial elements for any mobile learning content to be adopted by users. With transparent hotspots on the video, it is possible to be able to create video navigation in which the viewer can scrub quickly forwards or backwards through a video module. Imagine holding a mobile device with both hands in landscape orientation and tapping your thumbs on either side of the screen (see Figure 10) to navigate forward and backward through the video. This would be much more convenient compared to the more common technique of trying to carefully position your thumb or finger on small navigation icons.

Figure 10: Forward and reverse overlay controls on a video for mobile use

In-video forms and text entry

Interactive video allows text entry fields to be overlaid on the video screen (Figure 11). At any point you can ask the user to input text. The advantage of having this on the screen is that any call to action can be immediate—no exiting the video and clicking a link to get to a page with an entry form. The information input could be used to customize the experience or alter the sequence of videos or other content delivered to the viewer.

Figure 11: Text entry overlay on the video

With some interactive video tools such as HapYak, you can add multiple choice questions and make branching decisions based on the responses (Figure 12).

Figure 12: Multiple choice question overlay


Okay, so interactive video has some very cool features, but is it valuable for learning? Here’s what I see as some of the learning benefits of interactive video in the context of mobile.


Interactivity makes videos more engaging and immersive; hence interactive videos make it possible to maintain attention for longer periods than typical videos.


One of the very best ways to learn is by discovery. Interacting with videos that provide branching and options can help facilitate this. This promotes learning and increases information retention.


Because you can move smoothly and seamlessly from one video to another there are no interruptions or breaks in the narrative. This provides a much higher degree of emotional engagement and immersion for the viewer.


Decision points in the video timeline give you the opportunity to adapt the training to individual viewers. Learners have the opportunity to decide what they want to branch to or what they want to learn. Logic could be added to analyze decisions and adapt the delivery of content accordingly.


You have the ability to track user interactions within the video. What the viewer tapped, when they tapped it, what they completed, when they left the video and so forth. These stats can be extremely useful in determining the learner’s preferences, abilities, attention span or personality profile. Standard mobile video tracking is rudimentary and can’t often provide this level of learner profile detail.


We’ve looked at the features and benefits of using interactive video—now let’s consider a few of the possibilities interactive video could provide for mobile learning.

Interactive narrative

Interactive narrative has been around for years, providing the ability to have a story or a scenario change direction by user choice. The idea of being in control and determining the direction of the learning is very appealing. The “HUNCH” movie is a wonderful example of this. It’s the ultimate “what if” experience. Imagine short sales training videos on a mobile device that would allow you to quickly explore a set of initial call scenarios and different potential responses for objection handling.

A wonderful example of this was an interactive video created by substanz, which was designed for new managers. At certain points in the narrative, the viewer could click on other characters in the management meeting scene and get their own unique perspective on what was being said. It explored the way that different personality types perceive the same words and events differently. The possibilities of using such interactive narratives are fascinating, and have not been fully explored by the instructional community.

Self-contained video learning module

As I mentioned previously, interactive video on mobile allows you have your whole learning content accessible via the video interface—not just the video itself. Instead of moving in and out of different videos and linking to other types of content outside the video, you can stay within its context to access anything. The technology provides the possibility to view websites, PDFs, and other content within the video container or app so they don’t pull you out of the video experience.

This way you can engage, pique interest, highlight main ideas, and then provide links within the video to dig deeper and deeper into the subject matter. You can take a detour to learn more about specifics that interest you and then come right back to where you left off in the video.

Repurposed videos

You may already have recent or old training videos within your company that you consider to be little too long, too boring, or too basic. You can easily upload your existing videos and add links and interactions to them. At particular places within the videos, you can have a link appear for a short time that allows the viewer to access related information. You can add menus to your videos so that the user can jump to different sections, rather than having to watch the whole thing or fast forward to find a topic. You can add text entry boxes to get in-video feedback. What was perhaps a rather dull, talking-head video can be quickly repurposed into a much more interactive, engaging, and useful learning experience.

Getting started

Here’s short list of some of the companies that develop or provide tools to help you develop interactive video. Get your feet wet by signing up for a free basic account on HuStream, Rapt Media, and HapYak. Both HuStream and Rapt Media have a web tool that allows you to upload your videos and add interactive elements. HapYak takes a different approach where you don’t upload your videos but simply add the existing video url from your video provider (YouTube, Vimeo, Brightcove, etc.) and HapYak facilitates the creation of the interactive elements on top of it. This way you can add all sorts of interactivity to existing videos without effectively touching them.

Playing around with these should be enough to get you started brainstorming ideas for some interesting and original mLearning or eLearning projects.


For 20 years we have had an interactive web with links to all manner of content, including videos; this model is duplicated from the desktop to mobile devices. With the evolving possibilities of interactive video, we may soon see this turned on its head. The new canvas won’t be the web page, but may be a video, and all the interactivity and links to content will be within the video itself. What was the contained object will become the container itself.

Just like Otto’s slicing machine, this technology is in the process of slowly going mainstream and may take a few years to be fully appreciated and exploited on mobile. I hope you become one of the pioneers. I believe interactive video has the potential to be to mobile learning what the bread slicer was to bread. And that’s food for thought.