The use of Video in E-Learning, by Mark Reilly

The use of Video in E-Learning

Setting the Scene

I can only talk about what I have seen, what I would like to see, and what I would like to do with Video in the context of e-learning, but first a definition of ‘Video’ from

[mass noun] the recording, reproducing, or broadcasting of moving visual images

‘Moving visual images’ may not be actual video but does it really matter and when it comes to the digital representation? The differences are often semantic.

I was doing some background research for a current project. The topic is one of the many Health and Safety topics available. The content for evaluation was delivered by Flash. There was text, moving diagrams and (sometimes) a presenter. The presenter had been ‘captured’ on video before being digitised and embedded into the e-learning application.

Now some e-learning modules in this Health and Safety course contained an on-screen presenter and some of didn’t. Whether they had this digitised video or not each and every module had the same ‘video controls’ which consisted of Play and Pause buttons. The animated sequences – a beating human heart for example – were played back in the same way and were sometimes mixed in with the video presenter. There was a voiceover – a voice which was over everything. The style of presentation was always like watching a video; a really boring video.

And just like watching a video I couldn’t go at my own pace – each second of video took one second of my life to watch although at times in seemed to take several for each second I was treated to. I couldn’t rewind and I couldn’t fast forward. If it had been a film it would have gone straight to DVD.


Many (and I do mean many) years ago I worked on some e-learning which used video interspersed with interactivity and user input. A ‘real’ actor from that time – actually from a few years before that particular moment in time – was used across all the modules; video sections set up the context, engaged the learner (a semi-famous TV comedy actor – his name revealed ‘Only when I Laugh’ – grabs attention) and set up the non-video portions of the content.

It had relatively high production values, was well scripted and if the learners remembered anything they remembered him and that was already more than most e-learning ever did or does.

Fast Forward, Play

Back in the present there is still the question of Video in e-learning. Greater bandwidth has made it easier than ever to deliver our video but what do we want (or need) to use it for?

First I’ll tell you what I don’t want to use it for: to deliver learning as if it was a low-budget TV program. Money wasted on Video for tell-and-test. I can’t control the pace and I never get the camera angle I need. I really don’t want it. Endless YouTube videos on how to repair an iPod screen is not a substitute for a precise, and concise, document (eventually I found one) with clear diagrams and photographs. I have endured many e-learning videos that were simply substitutes to books.

Ultimately, what we don’t want is the cheap-to-produce talking-head video presenter who fights for my attention and adds nothing to my experience. I also don’t want an online TV program no matter how good it is. Even the best programs are consumed passively and learners should never be passive because when they are they are passive they simply cease to become learners.

Play x2

I read somewhere recently about bringing the production values of cinema to e-learning. Most films and videos start with a script or a book and great books usually mean great films. Films never quite hit the heights of a good book. A film is rarely better or more memorable than a book. But it does compress time. And this is a perfect use of Video.

With a video I can establish a mood, feeling, situation and context very quickly. I can get people engaged in seconds and minutes rather than minutes and hours.

I think that well scripted, shot, directed, acted and produced video in e-learning can set the scene and motivate learners in a way that a list of objectives at the start really can’t. Used sparingly and well (intrinsic feedback?) it can create and maintain motivation, increase understanding and produce real impact.

Widescreen Impact – Small Screen Costs

There was a time – a time not that long ago – that cheap video production looked… well, cheap. Nothing was able to approach that cinematic look –many of us didn’t know why. Video equipment to achieve anything even approaching a high level of visual quality was expensive and bulky.

Without delving into a myriad of technicalities it is worth knowing that a larger imaging sensor on a camera means less intrusive video noise and shallower depth of field for any given aperture. And wide apertures give shallow depth of field which gives that cinematic background-blur. It also isolates the subject and focuses attention selectively.

Today we see consumer equipment being used to make broadcast quality short films and commercials. Just check Vimeo for GH2 and EOS 5D for some brilliant examples.


  • Video is not a substitute for some carefully chosen words and/or images
  • (Good) use of Video can set the scene quickly and in an engaging way
  • TV is not E-Learning – don’t give me 20 minutes of a video presentation, try and make me pay attention, and tell me ‘Sorry, you are wrong, try again’ when it becomes clear I haven’t
  • Sometimes it is cheaper than animation and its inclusion can then be justified on the grounds of cost
  • And finally: Video is just another option – it is up to us to use it well and have it serve the learner.


Mark Reilly is Digital Account Director of Spring Corporation and has worked on e-learning projects with Shell, RBS, Standard Life, JP Morgan and BT. He designed, co-developed and deployed the first e-learning system at Standard Life in Edinburgh. Mark seeks to blend change management, technology and learner requirements together in integrated solutions. Email: OR

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