The avant-garde in eLearning video? What is it? Are the words avant-garde and eLearning even allowed in the same sentence?

An official definition (from Wikipedia): Avant-garde (from French, “advance guard” or “vanguard”) refers to “people or works (of art) that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics.”

In the early-to-mid-20th century, avant-garde was a movement and a phrase that referred to artists who were breaking new ground. Artists were consciously part of the avant-garde. Picasso, Magritte, Dali, Braque, and Duchamp among others were considered avant-garde. Is avant-garde just a phrase about the titans of art, or can it really be relevant to eLearning?

What does avant-garde have to do with eLearning?

eLearning design and development is undoubtedly part of our culture, so it seems to me the idea can fit. Let’s see how—and why.

If “avant-garde” means “innovative” or “ahead of the crowd,” then in that sense its use in eLearning can be appropriate. Avant-garde in eLearning video might include presentations intended to shake things up—to break anchors that learners have to ideas and procedures, or to stimulate thought about a topic (and to stimulate discussion in the case of synchronous or social learning.) Furthermore, we need to understand how the break from didactic-mode video, e.g. a talking-head lecture or lecturette, or the move to video using different creative modes can work to support learning. Here are some examples:

  • Photeo animation, or “The Ken Burns Effect” can evoke emotion, engage learners, or spark an “ah-ha!” moment.
  • Interactive video can incorporate learning interactions as objects, such as buttons or links, within a video, or provide opportunities to make decisions and see the outcomes (coming soon to a touch screen near you).
  • Stop-motion and time-lapse videos can explain concepts.
  • Stop-motion and time lapse video can demonstrate assembly of a device or construction (here’s how they did that).
  • Vine or Instagram can demonstrate something in only a few seconds in a way that allows the learner to repeat, slow down or stop the demonstration, or support learner-created video.

All of these grow out of and extend the value of video: to convey synchronized visual and aural information to learners, to show processes or sequences, or to show how to do something or how something works when a series of still photos doesn’t adequately support development of skill or understanding.

Why is the concept of avant-garde important to eLearning and how we might use this concept to our advantage? The only way to truly judge the quality of the eLearning we create is how well our learning audience remembers, and not just on their evaluations. What’s even more important is how well learners retain what we’ve created after six months. How do we make our eLearning videos relevant in an increasingly complex world of media?

All sorts and qualities of visual media surround us every day. The video we see (even on networks like CNN) ranges from video shot the wrong way with a phone (vertically) or is very shaky, all the way to highly refined. And the subject matter is usually cats (just kidding).

One way to make our video relevant is to make sure you’re working at creating something different. That doesn’t mean standing on your head or making a video that draws attention to itself. It does mean that you’re willing to attempt to think and work outside the box. You won’t always be successful. Nobody ever is. Avant-garde should shake up viewpoints or expectations, be surprising, and most importantly, be memorable. And that fits the definition of avant-garde.

Here is an example of what we think avant-garde can look like in a training video. It’s a corporate/public training video that many of you have seen: Virgin America’s passenger safety presentation. Delta may have led the way when they first created their attention getting video about five years ago, but Virgin did them more than one better. When Delta created their safety video, it was avant-garde because nobody had done a passenger safety video this way before. Virgin ups the ante in an exciting way and throws down the gauntlet for other airlines. And what is an airline safety video, if it’s not training? Mandatory passenger training.

(Used with permission of Virgin America)

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If you want to watch how Virgin America thought about making this training piece, watch this. It’s the “behind the scenes” making-of the Virgin America video. One thing to note is at about 5:20 into the video, the producer talks the talk about eLearning and what they were trying to achieve. They were successful, at least in my opinion. There are plenty of readers out there who are capable of making something this good … maybe not as many dancers and set-ups and other video things, but there’s a lot of talent in our community.

eLearning pushes boundaries every day, whether we know it or not. All of us are coming up with new ideas every day to use this new delivery method. Some are good and some are not, but we’re all pushing the boundaries of what we can do. So let’s push it some more.

Another thought: Why does eLearning video have to teach something about a subject? More and more, I’ve seen and have been working on video that relates to the topic that’s going to be taught, but not the training itself.

Here’s an example of a video that doesn’t teach a topic per se; it’s an animation and its intent is to inspire the learners to pay attention in class. Every learning audience is different. In this case, the audience was primarily 25- to 35-year-old men who were learning to install insulation in homes and manufactured housing. They all had high school diplomas or GEDs, but were not great students. How do we inspire these men and get them to pay attention in class and study their online and live training? Here’s what we did:

The objective was met. The learners were quoting the end of all these videos in the series in their classes. Is it avant-garde? It certainly was a new idea or at least a fresh execution of an already existing idea. And it worked. And that is the gist of this idea of avant-garde—eLearning should never bore. Boring is not allowed.

Test pilots talk about pushing the envelope. When they do, they’re referring to the performance of their aircraft. When I think about pushing the boundaries of the eLearning envelope I’m thinking about how we can continue to motivate people who want to or need to learn. The people who design and develop this media are people who don’t want to leave things at the status quo… the way things already are. And that’s what good teaching is about. Not sticking with the status quo. And that’s what the avant-garde-in-eLearning video is about as well: pushing the boundaries of how we’re using the medium to engage our learners and make what we do memorable. Make no mistake: Commercial TV is our competition.