What makes training videos so good, and what can you apply when creating your own?
This post is the second in a series on using videos in training. The first post explored six reasons why you should consider adding videos to your training strategy.
In this article, we break down some of the best explainer videos out there. Explainer videos are often short, and sometimes animated, videos that illustrate complex ideas in a simple, engaging, and meaningful way. I’ve shared some notes on what they did well, and in some cases, what I think can be improved. The goal? To help you find nuggets of inspiration for your next training video. Let’s dive right in!
This award-winning airline safety film from Virgin Atlantic is delightfully creative. It relies on humor and relatability to capture attention. Like the main character, we’ve all probably ignored the safety demo at the beginning of a flight. This helps us relate to the video. We then learn through the eyes of the main character as we follow him through his dream sequence.
Here’s why this video works:
- Personalization with a twist: Each narrated scene has a different theme with a different style of VO. This helps bring contrast to each and highlights various learning points. It also holds attention by creating momentum and anticipation of what theme will come next.
- The contrasting themes also assist with another learning principle, segmenting. Each scene contains a single, discrete learning outcome related to safety (e.g., life jackets, seat belts, and exit signs).
- The background audio drops out at 2:38 when flight mode is switched on. Did you catch this? There is a physical reaction to this, which reinforces the point. Sometimes, the absence of sound can have a powerful effect, but we suggest to use it sparingly.
- Another learning principle on display is that of coherence. The animations match the voiceover perfectly While you may be surprised how often videos lack this, this video allows viewers to see and hear what to do at the same time. Observe what happens from 4:40 onwards for an excellent example of this.
What can be improved:
- Not much, but if I had to nit-pick, it would be the ending. The sequence beginning at 4:40 acts as a summary of the key learning points, which is a smart way to visually reinforce the takeaways. However, it’s helpful to list these points on the screen in text form to underscore their importance even further. Consider a small list that builds in the corner of the screen. As we witness the action, we also have a record to refer back to. This saves us the mental effort of remembering the entire sequence of steps.
This video breaks down a commonly misunderstood decision that most of us have to make.. Let’s see what we can learn from it.
What worked well:
- The opening is well designed and introduces a concept (rent space vs. rent money), that resonates in its simplicity. It’s the first principle of the whole video. As Elon Musk stated, the lesson here is to, “boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.”
- The example gets technical with the details of each expense, but this makes it more realistic. If your audience is motivated to learn, they’ll appreciate more detail.
- The side-by-side comparison of assets and liabilities, shown over time, creates a compelling case study of the inputs that affect the outcome of this decision. The way they keep returning to this creates a visual frame for the learner to scaffold new information.
What can be improved:
- It’s important not to rush video content. For example, this video quickly introduced information on re-investment rates and returns It would’ve been nice to see the variables in a graphical representation so you could see the inputs change first before you see the effect on the outcome.
I love this blockchain video. It breaks a complex topic down into principles and applies the basics of multimedia design.
What worked well:
- This video is another excellent example of coherence at work. It weeds out any unnecessary words and graphics to cover a highly complex topic in less than six minutes. Superbly focused.
- Pay attention to the timing of the display of words and graphics with the voiceover. They’re perfectly aligned. This principle is called contiguity and it presents corresponding text and graphics near rather than far from each other. Graphics and narration are also in sync rather than taking place successively. It’s subtle and you hardly notice it. And, that’s a good thing.
- The three factors that make blockchain unique are well signposted (0:54, 2:31 and 3:17), creating three mini-chapters. The result is a list of clear takeaways that are reinforced at the end (5:26).
- The use of clean, simple, and beautiful graphics supports the narration. Too often, graphics can get in the way, resulting in extraneous processing. That was not the case here.
What can be improved:
- If anything, there are a few too many words on the screen in places. Take a look at 0:26 and 2:55. Notice how difficult it is to read the text, listen to the voiceover, and take in the animation. It would have been more helpful to use keywords instead of full sentences.
- Another nit-pick, but I’d also show all three factors on the screen at the same time near the end for a visual recap of the main points.
Our final example is a magnum opus from Ray Dalio. It tackles the most ambitious topic of any that we’ve looked at—the entire economy! While this video is a bit long for online training purposes, it offers some great ideas. Let’s see how it does.
What worked well:
- The use of simple (and might I add, beautiful) animation and voiceover with sound effects and background music keep the momentum going. Don’t underestimate the role of background music! It plays an outsized role in creating energy, especially for a technically demanding subject.
- As with the other videos, the signposting is top-notch. You can see clear chapters emerge at:
- 1:17 (transactions)
- 2:17 (markets)
- 3:28 (credit)
- 6:20 (cycles)
- 11:58 (short term debt cycle)
- 14:35 (long term debt cycle)
- 16:50 (deleveraging)
- 29:37 (the summary and conclusion)
However, these chapters present a possibility for improvement (check out the section below).
- You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The transactions scene at 1:17 makes use of simple graphics that don’t change, but their placement does. By moving them around, you can create new relationships and concepts.
- First-principles again, as the explainer starts with a small concept (transactions), then zooms out to show broader concepts (markets, cycles, and eventually deleveraging). Elon Musk would be proud.
- The video makes use of the concept of pre-training by providing definitions of concepts before showing how they relate to each other. (e.g., credit, borrowers, lenders, assets, liabilities).
- Repetition is a good thing. For example, “credit is important” is repeated multiple times. Don’t believe me? Just watch from the bartender example at 9:15 and note how everything before this is pre-training.
- The use of on-screen text is minimal and always matches the voiceover. It’s contiguous, which we also saw in the blockchain explainer.
Here are a few things I liked at specific timestamps:
- 11:58 : The short term debt cycle explainer uses many of the icons, graphics, relationships, and concepts already introduced to show a new flow of logic (isn’t it scary to see how debt keeps rising despite each cycle being relatively short?).
- 21:13: I love the way they return to the previous analogy of ordering a beer at the bar to elaborate on what an economic depression is.
- 22:16: The budget deficits sequence is another perfect example of starting with first principles and slowly zooming out to show the interaction of all elements in the system (ominously leading to social unrest!).
- 26:22: There’s a brilliant use of a simple question mark to transition between a statement of fact (deleveraging can be beautiful or ugly) and the explanation for it.
What can be improved:
- The video is a little on the long side, but it covers a lot of ground! I detailed the various chapters as an example of signposting above. While this type of featureisn’t possible with a YouTube video, a video in an online course can use these as natural places to split the video into bite-size components.
- Then, you can introduce knowledge checks to confirm understanding from chapter to chapter. This helps learners scaffold their knowledge.
- An ever-present counter or list of the factors that lead to the debt burden could be shown during that chapter, much like a scoreboard during sports. This can help reduce memory stress on the learner as they currently have to try to keep track of everything that’s been covered.
- The conclusion takeaways felt a bit rushed, and there was too much text filling the screen. I’d like to see all three rules on the screen at the same time. This gives learners time to absorb them.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post. I hope you found your nuggets of inspiration. In the third and final installment of this series, I’ll tie this all together and provide you with a blueprint to answer the question:
“How should I go about experimenting with training videos?”
About the Author
Andrew Barry runs Curious Lion, Inc, a corporate training agency that partners with ambitious companies that know that training is the highest leverage thing they can do. He also writes a bi-weekly newsletter for a growing community of curious humans. Learn more here.
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