It might sound a little like heresy to ask that question, but it’s critical that every once in a while, we step back and challenge the ideas that are taken for granted to make sure they hold up.

Videos have been an accepted part of training for as long as it’s been economical to produce them. They’ve also come a long way since Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry taught us how to use Windows 95.

Videos are used for a good reason. Research has shown that they can be a highly engaging delivery method. While the oft-cited statistic that “people will remember 95% of a video’s content” is almost certainly overstated, video certainly has the ability to grab the attention of learners. Our eyes are naturally drawn to movement over static images, and employees are 75% more likely to watch a video than read text.

However, videos are no silver bullet. Filming a person reading what otherwise would have been a chunk of text on the screen doesn’t automatically make the content more memorable or engaging. Studies have shown that we choose to engage or disengage within the first ten seconds of watching.

So how can you use videos effectively?

#1 - Obey the 6 minute rule

Our attention spans are slowly decreasing in length. Some may say we’re turning into goldfish, but in reality, we’re probably getting more efficient at identifying what’s relevant or irrelevant as our daily content consumption increases.

Aim for videos that are 6 minutes or less. This is the top recommendation from research that used data from 6.9 million video watching sessions of online courses. Shorter videos were consistently more engaging for learners, while a SAGE Publishing White Paper found that it also improved learning outcomes and boosted the likelihood of replays.

While chunking videos into 6 minutes or less might feel impossible, it’s worth the time and effort.

#2 - Focus on the right content

As mentioned, videos aren’t a silver bullet for instant engagement. Some things are better suited to teach with videos than others.

Videos are optimal for teaching sequential actions, including processes, procedures, situations, and real things moving in the real world. An ideal use case is a library of short videos based around learning how to perform concise tasks that people can access on-the-go, when they need (i.e. learning in the flow of work).

Videos are not good for teaching numbers, names and concepts- i.e. semantic knowledge. In one test case, trainee nurses watched a video showing a nurse preparing a patient for an allergy test. Afterwards, the trainees were able to recall the procedures easily, such as placing a pillow under the patient’s arm. However, they struggled to recall the semantic teachings, such as the names of allergens and the number of days since the patient had taken an antihistamine.

So, while videos are great for showing actions, they fall short at teaching semantic information.

#3 - Don’t use video alone

This one is a no-brainer off the back of #2. Completely eliminating semantic knowledge such as names, numbers and abstract concepts for your training videos is likely impossible, as well as unnecessary.

Instead, use video as a single cog in a bigger machine that is your learning program. As you assess your learning goals and outcomes, identify the aspects that will be most effective in a video format, then supplement your videos with follow-up learning and recall questions. Make sure the video is available to rewatch so learners can check back for information they may have missed in their first viewing. 

So, should you use videos in digital learning?

Yes, absolutely. Videos can be amazingly effective tools for attention and engagement. However, they aren’t silver bullets, and it’s important to carefully plan how they can be best used within a learning program.