A lot of people tell us we should use video to deliver learning. So, it’s only natural that we search for opportunities in our training practice. But in our excitement, are we forgetting to also ask when not use video for training?

About 17 years ago, I was asked to help a BBC production team brainstorm some ideas for a digital project about European culture. One of the producers believed video held the answer to everything. He kept saying, “Video is now accessible on the web—let’s make video.”

Back then, we jokingly called web video “Postage Stamp Video” because bandwidth and compression technologies were still in their infancy. As such, video was highly pixelated and rendered the size of a stamp.

Anyway, this guy wanted to create a video about the grammar of Spanish. Wow—could you imagine a video on Spanish grammar? Video is a “show,” not a “tell” modality. Would it be worth producing a topic that’s easier to follow on paper?

Most production companies quote $800 to $1,000 to shoot and edit one minute of video with some B-roll and basic graphics.

If you’re making the video yourself, it’s more about time than money. Allowing two and one-half to four hours production for every final minute of video means a two-minute video will could cost you a whole day.

Five questions to ask

So, as much as we need to consider video as a key learning tool, we also need to know when it’s not the right tool. Here are five questions I ask folks when they’re unsure whether video is a good idea for their training need.

  1. Is the topic best understood by showing or telling?
  2. Can the topic exploit all the communication opportunities video offers?
  3. Will the video be properly produced?
  4. Can learners access the video?
  5. Is video the most cost-effective way to aid the learning?

1. Is the topic best understood by showing or telling?

If you were teaching this topic in a classroom, would you tell learners about it or show them through a demonstration? Video, as we discussed elsewhere, is a “show” not a “tell” modality.

Changing a spark plug is an ideal topic for video. HR policy or tax law is not. Body language in a communication class is good for video. Written grammar is not.

If your instinct is demonstration rather than lecture, video is probably worth the investment. People remember more of what they see in video than what they hear.

If your instinct is to give a lecture, save your time and money. Instead, give them written content or record a podcast that will take a fraction of the time to produce.

2. Can the topic exploit all the communication opportunities that video has to offer?

The video message is founded on pictures. However, other elements such as music, graphics, sound effects, and special effects like transitions, filters, and slow-motion augment the message.

Can you use these additional elements to make your video more engaging? If you’re not going to use captions, animations, text graphics, or filters to help communicate the learning, you’re leaving money on the table.

Training videos need to be engaging. And unless you’re going to use everything you’ve got to convey the learning, it may be a waste of your time. It may be easier to provide a well-written job aid.

I’ve seen ten-minute training videos of one person talking. They could have easily been made more engaging with text graphics, B-roll, occasional music, and special effects.

3. Will your video be properly produced?

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” This applies to training videos. Poorly produced training videos squander valuable opportunities to make learning more impactful.

Good training videos are anchored to the learning objective, have a learner persona, are well-structured, and involve creative repetition. They have good audio and shots are crisp and clear.

None of this happens by mistake—it takes planning, just like instructional design. “Winging it” just makes your video less effective. Is it worth making video if you don’t have time for planning?

My advice to people in my workshops is to allow two hours prep for every final minute of video. That’s if you want it to be good. If it’s worth doing well, you need put in the time. If you don’t have the time, perhaps a podcast or job aid might waste less time and money.

4. Can your participants access video?

It’s often the simple questions that we forget to ask. So, here’s a simple one. Will your learners be able to access your videos?

Do they have time? Are they allowed to? Do they have access to computers? If they’re in manufacturing, is there enough bandwidth to support video learning? In retail, is bandwidth prioritized to electronic banking?

5. Is video the most cost-effective way to enable learning?

In the Utopian world of ideas, the ideal way to determine whether video is worth producing is to ask the question, “Is this a show topic or a tell topic?” Need to show body language? Great, the clear answer should be to make a video.

But in the real world, that’s not always the best decision. Video is expensive to produce when you hire a crew. It’s timely when you do it yourself. Does your training department have the resources?

Sometimes the budget decisions give you little choice other than create a written guide to changing a spark plug. That’s reality.

Video is worth it when it’s worth it

Video is an amazing modality that opens all sorts of possibilities for trainers. It enables us to deliver learning to learners when they want it, where they want it, and how they want it.

But it’s not ideal for every topic or situation. A key discipline for trainers making video is knowing when not to use video for training.