Having cut my teeth in video production using presenters, shooting lots of talking heads and generally learning how best to use video in learning, I’m not for throwing the this baby out with the bathwater. The talking head is a well-used and respected form of communication. In learning it can be used to enhance online learning, if used with care, even innovatively.
1. Presenters pull things together
A talking head or presenter is often used as an anchor or link to pull things together. Think about great TV documentaries, where the presenter not only talks point-of-view to you the viewer, but may also interview other experts, point to real objects, try and apply things in real contexts. A word of warning. Don’t use amateurs or actors for this task - unless the 'expert' has the gravitas and skills to pull it off. It needs a professional touch and actors often end up ‘playing the role of a presenter’ and not presenting. This means that you should not rush into this before thinking about your budget, resources and video skills.
2. Expert authenticity
Nass & Reeves showed that known experts, perceived by learners as experts, can actually increase retention. That’s not to say they should be slathering out hour long lectures on video. But there is a place for showing a real expert practitioner to the learner. It brings authenticity to the learning experience. The trick is to keep it short. Apply Occam’s Razor to the task – the minimum amount of video to reach your learning goals. This is important in many MOOCs, for example, where the expert is the draw. However, even here, the overuse of talking heads by sometimes dull experts can be bad news - don't overdo this.
3. It’s all in the eyes
Do NOT have some small, postage stamp size video embedded in the corner or anywhere else for that matter. The bigger the image the greater the retention (Nass & Reeves). If possible, bring part-screen, embedded videos up to full, or as near to full screen, as you can. This really does matter in terms of retention.
4. Vox Pops
These can work well, just ordinary members of the public, professionals, frontline employees, students, patients, customers - just being asked what they think about something. You have to shoot a lot of these to get good stuff but when it’s good, it can be great, and make the learning experience seem more real and relevant..
5. Video tutors
The video tutor can be used, like a presenter, to pull the learning experience together and humanise the learning experience. Be careful with cartoon and animated tutor agents, as research has shown that these can prove to be counterproductive. Video, on the other hand, is a real person. You can use this to, for example, introduce sections, introduce analytics “Let;s see how you’ve done so far…” then visualise the results. Different pre-shot pieces of video can also be usefully used in feedback and so on.
You can do this using a single camera, with the presenter speaking off camera and the expert replying. Or you can shoot the interviewer later, asking the questions and cutting it together. Alternatively you can have a series of alternative close ups and two-shots to do the thing like a chat show. These latter two are not as easy as you think, as you need an experienced Director and editor.
7. Informal stuff
Alfie Deyes is a kid who used to live round the corner. He’s now a huge YouTube star with bestselling books and is rich as Croesus at 21. Have a look at these YouTube kids. They’ve got this stuff sussed and know exactly how to present in a way that defies the conventions of TV. It’s chatty, it’s informal, it’s off-the-cuff. I think there’s a strong argument for breaking some of the traditional TV rules in video for learning. In MOOCs, this has now been shown through the reserach - be yourself, be informal - don't ham it up or be too serious (ponderous).
A bit more specialised this but POV sims can work wonderfully well for soft skills. Learning programmes are not TV. In an engagement with a learner from the screen, you are doing one-to-one communication and dialogue. So point-of-view video in simulations can be fantastic. I’ve designed, written and produced many of these branched video simulations for recruitment interviewing skills, fraud detection, conflict management in hospitals and so on. You frame the head as a close up, to mimic that feel of the person you’re speaking to or watching, literally being the other person across the desk or in the room. Depending on what you ask, you get different responses, driven by software. This can be a wonderfully realistic form of simulation, where the person you’re dealing with (actually hundreds of video clips) starts to feel real.
9. Lighting and audio
This takes a little practice but the point is to have a well lit face, slightly off centre but not flatly lit. This means getting contrast or shadow onto the face. You can do this by the judicious sitting of the subject at an angle to a good natural light source, a window or standing light. However, it is usually better to have a set of lights that allows you to do this properly. Lighting’s an art – take your time, get it right, then shoot. And this can’t be stressed enough. Make sure you get good, professional audio on your video. Learners expect this and poor audio can inhibit and damage learning. A good mike is essential.
There’s some technical issues around framing and backgrounds that are important here. A good rule is to have a well lit background with good depth of field. A relevant background is worth considering: bookshelves for theoretical experts, workplace for business expert, hospital for medical and so on. That’s not to say it should dominate.
More in this series:
10 ways to make badass INTROs in online learning
10 bloody good reasons for using much-maligned TEXT in online learning
10 essential online learning WRITING TIPS psychology behind them
10 stupid mistakes in design of MULTIPLE CHOICE questions
10 essential points on use of (recall not recognition) OPEN REPONSE questions
10 sound pieces of advice on use of AUDIO in onlinelearning