Learning and development professionals are increasingly using interactive online video to supplement or even replace their eLearning courseware. However, we often have a too narrow view of what “video” means. It’s either a recorded lecture equivalent (long and boring) or a full production with storyboards, scripts, actors, titles, and post-production (long and expensive). These misconceptions keep us from using what we know is a powerful medium.

It’s time to re-imagine video—as a series of short (or very short) pieces, to combine, use, and especially reuse to promote good learning outcomes. Here are seven ways to recycle eLearning video content, to increase flexibility and reduce costs:

  1. Pre-cycle: Instead of recording video as a single “blob” of content, create smaller clips, each containing a single idea or concept. As your collection grows, you can combine and re-use these pieces like Lego blocks to build your video/audio course. (Side benefit: If something in your course becomes outdated—like a software feature—it’s a LOT easier to remake that piece and replace the old one than to remake an entire video.)
  2. Search for treasure: If you already have long-form video or audio content, there are almost always learning gems to be found in each piece. Use a simple spreadsheet to record the video file name, the timecodes for the beginning and end of the “gem” (very important), and a one-line summary of each concept. (Important note: You do not need to cut out these snippets and combine them yourself in a program like After Effects or Premiere. Look for a hosting environment that lets you create a single viewing experience from multiple files—not just small Lego-like blocks of content, but also specified segments of longer videos.)
  3. Video templates: Not all eLearning video has to be created with a high-end camera or even a webcam. Using a template-based app like Storyvine lets you use your smartphone or tablet to create high-quality video snippets or longer pieces that you can use and re-use in multiple learning situations.
  4. Custom combos: Once you have a library of short segments (and/or a good idea where the gems are in longer videos), you can combine them in an eLearning video system like Viddler. The potential for recycling eLearning video content is endless:
    1. Start with a general concept overview and add five separate examples—to create five custom videos.
    2. Create an animated introduction (or section break, or conclusion sequence) to use with your training videos.
    3. Add overview or summary slides (audio files with a custom thumbnail image) and insert them anywhere in a video sequence.
    4. Let your imagination run wild. Think of new ways to combine smaller video and audio segments into a single, powerful eLearning experience.
  5. Flip the classroom: Have students or employees record their responses to questions or situations via webcam or mobile device, add your own insights, and combine the footage to make a lively review experience. (Remember, you’re not editing the video, just combining multiple videos into one experience.)
  6. Video flash cards: A proven method of transferring information from short-term to long-term memory is the practice of spaced repetition, reviewing information gradually at increasing time intervals. Do this by recycling small groups of video and audio content (varying the sequence, so students experience the ideas, not the pattern) and assign these combined video reviews at intervals following the main lesson.
  7. Add user interaction: To each segment of recycled video or audio content, add elements that require interaction by the student or trainee. These can include timeline-specific overlays (with expert comments or links to supporting material) or in-video questions at strategic points in the combined video experience.

Some caveats

There are certainly some potential limitations to this approach, mainly related to continuity. Changes in shooting style, actors, voiceover talent, and even titles could potentially make a “combo” video less smooth than a full production. Differing video resolution and audio segment quality may also be a factor. However, if the recycled pieces are in the same general quality range then cost savings will be a major determining factor. For small- to medium-sized businesses with limited training resources, costs can make or break a sustainable video eLearning effort.

Moving forward

Using interactive video for eLearning and mLearning is an exciting, thought-provoking trend. Moving beyond our preconceived notions about video, namely that it’s too boring and/or costly, is a potential game changer. Creating, recycling, and combining smaller “chunks” of content could potentially solve some important problems for developers. It’s also something we can do now—without waiting for big, corporate LMS companies to figure it out.