Many instructors, whether in educational, government, or corporate settings, are under the misconception that in order to create professional-quality videos, they need a large budget or movie-style production. This is not always the case. In fact, it’s easy to create engaging, quality videos with minimal time and monetary investment. By cutting out effects and fancy transitions, educators and managers can rely on a few key tricks to produce informational and compelling videos.

Video can be an important learning tool in the classroom or in the online environment. Through “flipped” classrooms, for example, teachers take ownership of limited and precious time to give students hands-on help with difficult concepts or problems by assigning video clips of lessons. In 2014, 48 percent of teachers surveyed said they used video to “flip” a lesson, up from 44 percent in 2012, according to Sophia Flipped Learning Network. When students bring lessons home, they are able to watch the videos and learn at their own speed by skipping ahead through content they already know or replaying sections that they are less sure of. Teachers can supplement in-class lessons with videos that bring material to life in a new way.

Similarly, workplace training commonly uses videos; this saves money and time for organizations with multiple offices. Through onboarding or skills videos, managers can ensure that new or existing employees have access to the same quality material no matter where they’re located or when they join the company.

However, the challenge of making useful, quality videos for the workplace or classroom, within limited budgets and time frames, still exists. There are many more tools and tricks expected from a video than just flashing lights. In actuality, the following aspects are the most important.

Clarity is key

For a video to share important information, it must first and foremost be easy to watch. The quality of the video doesn’t have to be worthy of a Blu-ray player, but it has to play easily on a laptop or cell phone, and it must be clear. Videos that appear blurry are difficult to watch and will quickly lose the viewer’s interest. Videos should not include effects and different transitions without a clear purpose. Only effects that support or reinforce points should be included. For example, if a video is about how to use a particular software application, consider drawing a box around, or darkening the screen around, the part of the software being addressed as a way to highlight that area.

For real-world video footage, good lighting is very important. Lighting is to video what paint is to a canvas. Viewers shouldn’t struggle to understand what they are seeing because the lighting is too dark or too bright. Using a smartphone to record the video often resolves issues of clarity by giving high-quality results without the need for an expensive camera. If narration is part of the video, make sure the audio is clear and easy to understand so the audience can hear it. Further clarify content by hitting two senses with the same message: “showing and saying it.” For example, show a recording of the mouse cursor clicking a screen, and narrate “Click the red button with the mouse” while a mouse click sounds. All of these actions help reinforce the lesson of where to click and why.

Engaging content

A video is only as useful as the content it shares. Videos should cater to a specific audience—a teacher working through a difficult math problem will define “engaging content” very differently than an HR manager training a new employee. Pick content that is engaging to the specific audience and is a good representation of the concept being taught. It doesn’t require extensive creative training or storyboarding to choose a difficult concept and work through it similarly to the way that it would be presented in person. Get the viewer involved—have viewers click in the video or answer a question that directly reinforces the training or lesson before they can move on. Add text overlays to the screen with subtle motion to reinforce the words. Be careful not to include too much text; simplicity is critical. Relate back to buzzwords and phrases that will help solidify key points in the viewer’s memory.

Subtle motion as part of the emphasis will draw viewers’ eyes and focus their attention. Adding motion will create engagement, but ensure that any images, diagrams, or graphs are not too busy. Even adding an arrow that moves or draws on the screen to highlight a data point in a graph will make it more engaging. However, fast, abrupt motion may cause the audience to become disoriented and miss a message while trying to understand what just happened. Another valuable technique to provide clarity and emphasis is a subtle zoom, pan, or tilt. When the camera slowly zooms in on an area of the video, the viewer focuses attention in that area and is more engaged with the content. This is because the human brain is wired to detect motion.


Videos should generally keep a faster pace than a presentation given in person. Information delivered in a video can be absorbed faster, so the viewer may quickly lose interest if the video spends too much time on a concept that was understood immediately. An additional benefit of video is that audience members can rewind and rewatch segments they don’t understand, offering the freedom to learn at their own speed. The quantity of information should be limited to five to nine “chunks,” or topic areas that are very specific. Break videos down into a table of contents, summary, and key parts, with a short narration to maintain focus.

Measure your success

The most important requirement for a quality video for learning is that the concept is understood and committed to memory. This holds true whether the video means to emphasize the importance of company culture or help students study for their final exams. Make sure the video works—engage with viewers throughout the video, and test them afterward to make sure they paid attention and the video was meaningful. Tricks such as adding polls throughout the video, offering quiz questions, or a “choose your own adventure” method encourage viewers to engage and interact throughout.

The number of “views” alone is not a very clear indication of whether the audience actually watched the video. Most view counts happen when “play” is clicked. A more accurate and informative metric is the percentage viewed. Understanding how much of the video and which specific parts were watched will help you identify what is and is not working in the video content. Combine that with quizzing for a true measure of your video’s effectiveness. By monitoring responses and view rates, instructors can ensure that their audience grasped the information and the video was effective.

Video can be an extremely helpful learning tool for education and training. While many educators and companies fear that they lack the proper resources to fund or develop a quality video series, in reality, the more simple and clear a video is, the more likely it is to serve its purpose. With technological tools that are readily available, instructional designers, managers, and teachers can develop high-quality videos that yield stellar results with little training or time investment.

Want more on video? Get ahead of the curve!

Are you looking for more advice about video production? The eLearning Guild’s FocusOn Learning event explores the growing use of video as an interactive light for learning. Featured sessions, concurrent sessions, and hands-on instruction in the video track provide conceptual knowledge and practical skills you need to make effective application of the technology to enhance learning and performance in your organization or for your clients. FocusOn Learning takes place June 8 – 10 in Austin, Texas. Register today!