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  • Ashleigh Hull

Ready, Set, Engage: Interactive Video

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

"Tell me and I forget.

Teach me and I may remember.

Involve me and I learn."

Benjamin Franklin

The words interactive video have been flying around a lot in the Transition office lately. Usually when things are flying around, I duck to avoid them smacking me in the side of the head; but this time, that hasn't worked out. This interactive video stuff has been hitting me at every pass, getting into my brain, making me think about it and look into it and, yes, get excited about it.

One reason for the interactive video buzz is that we're doing a lot of work at the moment with a company called Outtakes - they produce amazing video, we do lots of fiddly techy bits in the background, and together we create this magical moving picture show that you can interact with. I'll tell you about some of our work as we go.

So, all of these goings-on have forced me into pondering what actually makes an effective interactive video. Why is it a valuable tool for elearning development? And how can we as e-learning developers use this capability to create truly excellent learning material?

I actually went round and asked everybody this. There were a couple of weird answers, and several times people didn't seem to hear my question and just told me to go make them some tea (...kidding...), but there were some decent responses, too.

I'll do you a list, since that's what I'd like to read. I prefer to just skim through the headlines and not read the content itself. I won't judge you for doing the same.

Our top five

In no particular order:

1. Fun

You're actually reading all of this? Good on you!

Being professional doesn't have to mean being dull. I'll say that again, in case you missed it - being professional doesn't have to mean being dull. Why not enjoy your work, and make something that other people will enjoy too? Why not be a bit quirky and even a bit weird? Why not make people smile?

Bill Webb, instructional designer / writer / illustrator / creative genius, says that 'a touch of humour, whether visual style or storyline, can make learning more fun.' Agreed, sir. Don't be boring in the name of being professional. Get people laughing. Make learning fun.

2. Short and snappy

A two-hour unceasing barrage of information; we all know and dread this kind of training. If we can even call it training, since instead of actually learning anything your only takeaway is a vague sense that someone was trying to tell you something.

It's hard to absorb lots of detail in one hit. It's hard to concentrate on a single thing for long periods of time. We all know this. So why do we make people try?

We built an interactive video recently for the catering and facilities management company who take care of one of the most popular concert venues in the world. They wanted an introduction for people who had just started working there. The video we've built takes you through the venue and introduces you to a whole variety of people and the jobs they do, from HR to security to the kitchens. You can choose whether or not you want to click on each person you meet, and hear about their role and impressions of working for the company - meaning that the total length of the video is somewhere between 2½ and 5 minutes in length.

Your video doesn't have to be feature-length, people. If you can say everything you want to in 5 minutes, why make it any longer than that? Why try to cram in more than is necessary? Snappy + concise = actually memorable. And surely that's the point.

3. Scenario-based questions and puzzles and games (oh my!)

Kristen Featherstone - one of our e-learning engineers - loves scenario-based questions in interactive videos. She says they teach you, keep you engaged, make you want to play the video again (which as a learning provider is surely a win - people actually wanting to go through your material more than once?!).

Another of our videos is a good example of this. It's for contractors coming to work for a large facilities services company - health and safety compliance, basically. Sometimes it will ask you a multiple choice question about something you've just learned, but the thing I really love is the hazard perception videos. They're a similar idea to the hazard perception part of a driving test - you watch a short clip and have to click on the hazards you identify. But the great thing about the scenarios in this video is that they're totally relevant to the viewers - scenarios they will actually come across in their work - and that they teach by involving you, challenging you, and giving you a goal, rather than simply presenting information.

4. Audiovisual harmony

People learn in different ways. Information sticks in some people's brains when they hear it, others when they see it written down. It would be remiss if your learning didn't cater for all of these learning styles.

But you need to be careful with your design here. Written information needs to be used carefully so the viewer isn't bombarded by several different things calling for their attention at once. If there's text, the learner needs time to read it without missing vital visual material. If there's a voiceover, it needs to complement what's happening on the screen, not distract from it.

5. Actually interesting

I've discovered that you can take even the most boring subject matter and make it interesting. Just recently, I've seen the team here at Transition make several elearning courses about financial legislation. I actually cannot think of anything worse, and I have to read them.

I've gone through them multiple times now as part of our testing process, and because of the way they're built - the interactions, the questions, simply the layout of the page - have stayed engaged and retained the will to live. If we can do this with static learning, how much easier could it be with interactive video?

Building something that gets the cogs in your learners' brains whirring can be a challenge. But in the end, if the learning isn't interesting, why bother at all? If your interactive videos aren't making people think, making them consider the things you're telling them and so remember what they're being taught; well, then why are you making these videos at all?

The Long And Short Of It

You might have got this far and be asking, couldn't I do all of this with static elearning, or even with traditional video? Why go interactive? I'll steal from Outtakes' Duncan Brown to answer:

'Video looks real, it transports the viewer instantly to a time and place and it can convey the nuances of emotion and human behaviour like nothing else. [But] it can present quite a broad brush view and take the viewer along at a fixed pace skimming over things that they might not have fully grasped. Interactive video can help to correct these issues with learners free to explore additional information at their own pace...instead of being a passive experience, learning through video becomes one in which the viewer is actively involved.' (You can read more here).

So, why go interactive? Because it means your learner is immersed in the learning. It means they get right into it. In other words, it means they engage with it.


If I had to sum all this up (and I know I don't have to, but I can) it would be with this one word.

I think often we make the assumption that just because something is moving on a screen, it's engaging. But there's a difference between engaging and mesmerising. I know this from many, many hours spent watching bad TV. That's mesmerising - it's something I can stare at and switch off to. But we're trying to teach. Our learners just staring and switching off is the last thing we need.

These interactive videos need to do more than mesmerise - they need to engage. They need to be fresh and exciting, funny even. They need to say things in new ways, do things you aren't expecting. They need to keep you on your toes. The best TV shows, the ones I remember, are the ones that make me laugh and that keep me guessing. I think the same is true for interactive videos.

So, there you are. Our thoughts on what makes an effective interactive video. For the record, I think it's something Transition and Outtakes have actually managed to do - you can have a look at this Shakespeare video we've been working on to see what I'm talking about. I love this one. I keep showing it to all my friends.

It's also worth mentioning that you don't need to spend a ton of time and money on this kind of thing. Working with people like us may not actually be as expensive as you'd assume. Why not give us a call and find out more?

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