The Making Of: Real Drama, Special Effects, and Interaction in eLearning Video
December 19, 2016 • Fiona Quigley & David Cameron • Video
The rise of high-quality
video in eLearning projects over the last few years has been phenomenal. Video
in eLearning is now nearly as common as images and text. Most eLearning courses
I see start with a video introduction, perhaps from the CEO or head of HR,
presumably to add a human dimension that will lessen the loneliness of the long-distance
There are other uses
of video that are now common in eLearning:
demonstrations and simulations
scenarios and conversations
interviews and stories
But are these really
the best options for video? We’d say no!
Modern video techniques
offer so much more
Just as there is a shift
toward using Hollywood-style production techniques in mainstream TV, so it is
time that we “Hollywoodized” eLearning—but at a fraction of the budget. Video
editing and production tools are now relatively cheap, so there is really no
excuse for not doing much more with video. A video that’s been brilliantly
scripted or that captures a real-life story will engage your learners, but there
are also a few learner-engagement tricks that you can easily adopt.
We recently completed
a project for a global investments organization. The brief? To bring new life
and energy to personal development planning (PDP).
Our first “aha” moment
arrived when we put ourselves in the shoes of a critical, even cynical,
learner. “Personal development planning—what’s the point of that?” Which gave
rise to the thought: What if there were
no personal development? This brought to mind the character George Bailey
as played by Jimmy Stewart in that Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. Facing financial ruin, George Bailey wishes to
never have been born—and is temporarily granted his wish. Accompanied by his
guardian angel, he sees how much worse off the world—and those he loves—would
be without him.
We quickly drafted an
initial script (Figure 1) to see if the client liked the idea as much as we did.
We weren’t disappointed. The client suggested adding a devil to the script, and
so our thinking moved toward using an angel-and-devil-on-the-shoulder approach
to highlight learning gaps and challenge misunderstandings.
Figure 1: This
is the original script as proposed to the client. We used video clips within
At the heart of our
course lies the story of Owen, a rather jaded employee who discovers that he is
much better at some things than he originally thought—insights the angel uses
to encourage him to develop his career. As Owen’s confidence grows, the devil’s
discouragement falls on deaf ears.
The video contains
visual and auditory effects, along with exercises and interactions, so it goes
beyond the typical sort of video you see in most eLearning courses. While it is
true that many eLearning programs use video and sometimes original drama, these
are presented in much the same way as text is—which is to say, rather flatly.
So what did we do?
We took a “Hollywood
production” approach to this project. We devised a treatment plan, produced a
script, cast the actors, defined the special effects, and wove the story of
Owen and his career development options around the core learning concepts. We
also devised interactive elements to accompany some of the video clips. As Owen
completes his PDP journey, we ask learners to complete certain PDP tasks along
From a conceptual
point of view, the video of Owen carries the narrative of the course and drives
most of the learning (Figure 2). We devised the video script first, then
figured out where everything else might fit. This type of approach—narrative-based
learning—is useful in supporting culture change. You can use narrative to
challenge the status quo and show how doing things differently can really
benefit an organization, and you can do it with humor (carefully—our audience
was international, and so we had to rescript the devil’s invitation to the
angel to join him for a beer, “A swift one down at the Horns and Halo?”).
Figure 2: The
core eLearning content prepares the learner for video examples, using the Owen
The eLearning development
process for interactive video
This was the process
- Planning and
writing the script
special effects and interactive elements
and selecting the actors
the set and background
the post-production work
Script planning and writing
The trick to using
humor in any form of training is to not alienate your target audience. It can
be very easy to patronize learners or oversimplify an organization’s
challenges. In this project, we focused on “known contradictions”—for example:
finds PDP boring, but knows that “the company” or HR loves it
consider PDP as a tick-box exercise, and so don’t put in the effort needed to
If you are at the
planning stage for your script, this is a good area to focus on with the client:
- What does
everyone “know” about the process, but still find frustrating?
- Where are
Using special effects (SFX)
The script needs to
include the actor’s words, the flow of the story, some direction for filming,
and details of any special effects (SFX). The use of SFX in eLearning video is
still relatively rare, so in this project we pushed the boundaries a bit to get
it to work.
We used SFX as audio
markers to bring the angel and devil characters in and out of scenes (Figure 3).
This gave the video a visual and auditory consistency, helping the flow. Using SFX
also adds another ingredient for storytelling—allowing you to use flashbacks,
Special effects from our “angel”
Casting the actors
Just as with any
characters you use for examples or scenarios, you need to make your characters
as diverse as your target audience. Diversity considerations include gender,
race, age, socioeconomic status, and job role.
Props and clothing are
also vital for actors. Do you need business attire, or will a casual look do?
If you are using computer equipment, be sure to hide logos—unless you are being
paid for product placement! Also, use the type of furniture and equipment that
your target audience would see in their offices.
Dressing the set and your
In this project, the
actors’ words and the SFX were the most important aspects for the learner to
focus on. As there was quite a lot going on in the foreground—actor, angel,
devil, and interactive elements on screen—we kept the backdrop a solid white.
The last thing you want is your learners’ attention straying to insignificant
post-production magic added, we had a video narrative that “looked the part”—contemporary
and engaging (Figure 4). This was a perfect fit for the client’s corporate
identity. We also added the interactive elements—activities for the learner to
practice completing various elements of the PDP. These activities popped up
within the video, keeping the learner within the story and focused on the
cultural change that was being promoted.
Figure 4: We
added interactive elements and contemporary styling in post-production
If you’re interested
in learning more about this project, you can check it out here. We’d be
happy to talk you through a full demo and answer any questions.
: Readers may also want to
review the articles Stephen Haskin has written for Learning Solutions Magazine
on the details of video production and
post-production. See a list of his articles here