This blog post is based on our recent ebook ‘Learning Videos: From Commission to Creation’ and is here to help you decide the best way to utilize video in your learning content.
What Video Formats Should I Be Thinking About?
The term “format” simply means the style or type of video being produced. Broadly speaking, formats are either fiction (i.e. scripted drama) or non-fiction (one of many documentary styles).
We’ll look at a number of formats next, beginning with the scripted drama, documentary and immersive video.
At its best, learning dramas (scripted stories that have actors in them) touch the viewer like no other medium. They can engage and stimulate minds and emotions in profound and long-lasting ways. Drama’s major strength lies in its ability to show behaviors—human beings in all their complexity, with recognizable flaws, problems, and ambitions. When behaviors are rendered truthfully and with an understanding of the audience’s culture, a sort of transference takes place. The viewer places themselves in the shoes of the characters they’re watching. And this promotes engagement in much more than facts or principles.
With dramas, we should aim to present identifiable dilemmas that people find difficult to resolve. That’s the shortest version of a learning video’s most important maxim.
Learning dramas are most effective when based on particular types of source material that features behavioral challenges:
Here are six drama video formats that you could use.
1) Linear Narratives
These are stories that are told “in a straight line.” In other words, from beginning to end and unbroken. They are relatively rare within learning initiatives. However, they can be incredibly effective in building a convincing set of characters, a clear context, and an ever-increasing sense of tension and drama. This format tends to be naturalistic, and seeks to convey your workplace and the work done within it as accurately as possible.
Linear narrative video works best for content that is:
- Difficult to pin down in terms of “right” or “wrong” (e.g. judgment calls)
- Highly behavioral in nature (e.g. “Why do we break the rules when we know them perfectly well?”)
2) Branching Scenarios
Perhaps the most popular dramatic form in learning at the moment is what’s often referred to as branching drama or branching scenarios. The structure shown above allows learners to make decisions that affect the narrative. They get to see the consequences of their decision-making in a tailored experience. Branching dramas can be designed hand-in-hand with the overall modular learning design so that the learning experience is seamless and the learning as effective as it can be.
Each branching drama project is shaped from scratch. Sometimes the source material contains a high level of complexity, so the structure diagram would need more branches and a greater number of variables. It’s possible to work with simpler branches than the one shown here—a right and wrong path, followed by feedback.
This branching structure would work best for content that:
- Is heavy on consequences
- Has a clear binary right/wrong axis
3) Narrated Story Sequences
Narrated stories can easily be neglected in discussions about format. They can be highly effective as well as quick to create and inexpensive in comparison to other styles. That’s because they allow for a greater volume of footage to be shot in a day, as audio recording/actors speaking aren’t a concern.
Narrated stories involve a voice being played over the footage, describing the background to the action, or the inner thoughts of the characters. This encourages a narrative to be thoughtful and reflective.
It works well for material that:
- Is innately sensitive or reflective
- Requires the learning to pick through issues carefully
4) Non-Naturalistic Snapshot Films
Sometimes learning is best affected by caricature. Showing your learners an over-the-top example of how something should (or more commonly should NOT) be done, is a popular approach. This format tends not to have a believable physical setting. It can be shot against a plain backdrop or in a neutral-looking space.
It works best when:
- Most learners are familiar with the learning point and simply need clarification or a refresher
- A straightforward judgment call is required
5) Disrupted Timeline
Rather than going “beginning-middle-end”, these narratives can run as “end-beginning-middle”. This allows us to show the end-result of a set of actions upfront, then examine how that outcome came about.
This can create a narrative hook in the viewer—especially where the initial scene is particularly impactful—that can focus minds and provide a dramatic context for the learner’s thinking as they watch.
6) Right Way/Wrong Way Sequences
This is another popular format. Learners are asked to watch a particular key task or behavior being done badly and then asked to identify what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how things might have been done better. They then see the same situation with the same characters, but this time the task is carried out perfectly.
Documentary: A Non-Fiction Format
And then there’s the non-fiction documentary. Something of a catch-all term, documentary can take many forms—from a formal interview with a CEO to a voiced-over presentation created with stock footage. There’s a wide range of options in between, including advertorial comms pieces, case studies, and product explainers.
Videos showing complex physical processes tend to be particularly effective here—for example, the various tasks on an assembly line. This can be made clear quickly and precisely when filmed.
The documentary format gives context and authenticity to your messaging, and this can be vital. The British Army, for example, usually prefers documentary to drama video as it feels non-soldiers are easily spotted by those taking the training, and this could reduce the authenticity of their videos.
As with dramas, non-fiction formats are varied:
- Interviews with cutaways
- Case studies
- Product explainers
- Mixed-media presentations
With documentary videos, there’s a stronger case for starting with a blank page. While it’s possible to create any of the formats listed above, it’s more effective to create a blend of these that fits the precise needs of the project. Documentary products can include combinations of different formats—for example, stock footage with voice-over and animated elements, or vox-pops with case study-style B-roll footage.
Should We Consider Emerging Formats?
These days, there’s a glut of new visual media technology that offer the opportunity to work in innovative formats such as 360-degree film, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR). While these formats can be eye-catching and offer something new and exciting to your learners, there are potential pitfalls. If you’re considering using cutting-edge technology, it’s wise to consider:
- The full cost of implementation – do you have budgets for enough headsets, for example?
- Learning efficacy – does the technology you’re looking at deliver the function you’ve defined?
- Appetite for something new – will your employees welcome innovation in learning?
These innovative technologies can have a narrow use in a learning context. For example, a 360-degree video headset experience might be very effective for hazard-spotting or replicating a specific physical environment, but outside of that, it’s probably no more effective than conventional video. It’s worth asking yourself: “What is your ROI on new technologies? Can the same thing be done as effectively for a lower cost?”
Factor in some R&D time before you commission a product involving new technology as there can be any number of hidden barriers to adoption.
A Final Word About Video Formats
Video can be a fantastic resource for your ongoing learning strategy. Whether you’re seeking to make use of video as part of a blended learning program, one-off training, or front and center in your latest learning initiative, it’s always important to go in fully prepared. From the six types of drama (and one non-fiction format), we hope you’ve found something that resonates with your needs and can help you create a more engaging learning experience.