Like most instructional designers, I’m very excited about the possibilities of what will become the future of online education. One day, immersive online worlds and serious games might be the future of online adult education.

Today, however, these technologies are more buzzwords than practical options, mainly used in small demographics and in limited situations. Until the day comes that immersive learning is the norm, think video.

Why video? Your learners are used to watching TV and Internet videos. With the popularity of video sites such as YouTube, which now accounts for 25 percent of all Google searches, the consumption of video training is a reality in most organizations and colleges. These accessible online video forums have made it easier for organizations to distribute online training videos.

On top of that, video is the fastest means currently available to create engaging online learning experiences, especially for the masses. Using video is an easy way to make a connection between the instructor and the learners. In this article, I provide a step-by-step guide for creating great instructional video design, and producing such experiences. This is not a technical guide for shooting and editing video.

Six steps to great instructional video

While video technology is available to anyone, companies must take the time to ensure the high instructional quality of the training videos they produce.

Step 1: Planning the video

Here is an example of a simple video plan I use to get started on a project:

  • Course learning goals
  • Course outline
  • Suggested length of total video
  • Top three subject matter expert (SME) choices
  • Practice run date
  • Shoot date
  • Shoot location
  • Crew needed? Cameraman, editor, producer, grip
  • Budget

Step 2: Understanding video-based instruction design basics

Creating great online video instruction can be intimidating, but it really is quite simple.  In most cases you are still teaching based on the adult learning model, with a few additional guidelines for video. Start the video by introducing the subject matter expert, the “SME,” and then tell the learner what they are going to learn. Next, show the instruction. Finally, through a summary, tell the learner what they just learned.

One of the biggest mistakes people make with video is the length. Would you sit down and watch a 52-minute video segment? The optimal video segment should be two to seven minutes long.

The second mistake people frequently make with video is not engaging and connecting to the learner. If you are teaching a software program, most instructional designers only show the software screen and not the instructor. This creates disconnect between the instructor and the student. Believe it or not, most of the time when you’re teaching software, you are not moving your mouse around. Instead you show how to do something, and then you spend most of the remaining time talking about the theory behind what you just did. So, if you’re just showing the screen with voiceover, the video becomes boring. On the other hand, if the instructor looks right at the learner when he is talking, it creates a connected bond similar to being in a classroom with an instructor. (See Figure 1.)


Figure 1 Great instructional video is still based on the adult learning model.


Also, pick the right talent for your video. Make sure that your SME personally works well on video and for your demographic. If your SME is boring in person, this will be amplified on video! Make sure that your SME is a thought leader in the subject matter you’re teaching.

Step 3: Pre-production and practice

The easiest way to fail with online video training is to have your SME show up the day of the shoot and wing it. The SME may be an industry pro who speaks and teaches weekly, but even the smallest of problems or frustrations can throw off someone’s game. Once your SME is upset by something, it’s very difficult to reset the mood and get quality training. The best approach is to give your SME an outline and desired learning goals, and to have a practice run before the day of the shoot. As simple as that sounds, having both parties agree on a game plan is 90% of the battle. 

The day of the practice run, give your SME options. Some people need a teleprompter; some people are horrible with them. It is up to you to understand how the SME will best deliver training. I would suggest experimenting before the day of the shoot. Make the SME’s personality shine, and don't worry about perfection. The more comfortable the instructor, the more engaged the learner. Having a few mistakes gives the SME more humanity and personality. If the SME is prepared, it will show through in the video and your learners will benefit.

Step 4: The role of the Instructional designer/producer

Once the camera starts rolling, you have to be several different people at once. You must produce the course like a television show, and you must make sure that the instruction is solid and clear. Help your SME play the role of an EDUTAINOR (combination of an educator and an entertainer). (See Figure 2.) Again, having an outline and a list of desired learning goals makes this task simple.


Figure 2 On camera, the subject matter expert must be a combination educator and entertainer: an Edutainor.


The best advice I can give you is to make your SMEs happy and comfortable. You want them to be who they are. Try not to make your talent feel like they have to act; after all, this is not Hollywood. Explain to your talent that if they mess up, don't stop; let them keep on going.

I also suggest that you record each video in segments that are just two to seven minutes long. This allows the SME to take a breath and doesn’t put as much pressure on them. You can always go back to redo a few segments. Make sure beforehand that you’ve tested your video and audio equipment, and that you have all the bugs out before the talent arrives. Don’t over-think; creating training video should be simple and fun.

Step 5: Post-production

Make sure that during Step 3 you take good notes; this will be helpful when editing the video and when uploading the course to your LMS . I suggest debriefing after the shoot with your team. Write down anything that might be important. Having another set of eyes and ears on the shoot is very helpful. Finally, I suggest that the editor also be the cameraman, which is a great way to educate the editor on the course.  Don't forget to consider the disabled learner; create closed captions for all video training. Closed captions are also a good way to optimize your video for Google search results.

Step 6 : The online learner’s experience

Having quality video is great, but that does not matter if the learners’ experience is poor. Understanding how your learners learn is great information to ensure a positive experience. If you are creating video for the Web, you must compress the video based on how much bandwidth your typical student has. Video compression can be a very complicated matter. To keep things simple, I suggest making your videos FLV or H264 files playing through a Flash 9 or higher player (I recommend the open source JW Media Player). The best way to make sure everyone can watch your videos is to use a content delivery network (CDN) to host your video files.

Keep your videos simple to access and easy to watch. It would be great if the learners could pick up where they last watched. Two of the best examples of a good viewing experience are on and

Offering quizzes or tests after the video helps the learner complete the learning cycle and reinforces learned concepts. I also recommend that you give your learners hands-on projects to further reinforce the learning. Finally, if possible, use social media in your design so your learners can share experiences, questions, and course work.


Remember that people are used to watching TV. Keep your video simple and to the point. Make sure your videos are no longer than 10 minutes: if needed, segment them. If you have one hour of video based training, find seven to ten main points and break up the training into those points. Keep the training simple. Occasional close-ups with the instructor looking at the camera help to create and maintain a connection to the learners.

Make sure the subject matter expert is prepared on the day of the shoot, otherwise everyone will be wasting time. Capturing the SME’s passion for the subject will help to engage learners. Try not to script or control the shoot too much or the passion might be lost. Always think about what you would be willing to watch. If the presentation becomes boring, your audience might not engage in the content and they will not learn.
Don’t get caught up in technology. Whether you have a $200 camera or a $10,000 camera, make sure the video is worth watching. It's simple to do this: as long as the video looks good, that’s all you need. If the video shakes or has poor quality, poor lighting, or poor audio, don’t use it. If you are creating a training program for Fortune 100 companies, you might want a professional video crew. If you are shooting a training video for a small course or a non-profit, buy a camera, tripod, wireless mic, and lighting, and start experimenting. Today, a $600 camcorder is typically all most will need. Make sure that you check the camcorder reviews, and especially verify that it has a place for the wireless mic system to plug-in.
Finally, treat video instructional design like any other instructional design. Always use your standard formula of creating course material, whether you use ADDIE or other methods.