Videos can provide a rich way of engaging learners and bringing the voice of the educator, and the other people, places and things involved in the course in a highly presentable format. Videos are not the epicentre of learning, they should be one component within your overall design of a course which uses learning resources and activities to engage and encourage learner interaction.
Videos are not the same as lectures, and the attention span of the learner sat in front of a computer or phone will usually be much shorter than a student sat physically in a lecture theatre. Videos on the FutureLearn platform should be 5 minutes or less and certainly never more than 10 minutes. Videos that are too long or not engaging are likely to remain unfinished by the learner and will contribute to lower completion rates.
Getting the balance right
Video-heavy courses can be very successful, but too much passive content can reduce opportunities for learner interaction. Some courses can have very little video, or even none at all and still be very successful. Finding the right balance is a skill – if you’re unsure of how much video to include, we recommend you first outline them in a high-level course design and seek feedback from colleagues in your team, and from your FutureLearn Partnership Manager. Video also comes at a cost, so that might have an impact on how much you want to produce. Re-using existing video is always a possibility, but comes with the risk of quality, duration, permission and suitability for a new audience, so do bear this in mind.
We recommend that partners read the following research papers and reports about the use of instructional video:
Hansch, Anna and Hillers, Lisa and McConachie, Katherine and Newman, Christopher and Schildhauer, Thomas and Schmidt, J. Philipp, Video and Online Learning: Critical Reflections and Findings from the Field (March 13, 2015). HIIG Discussion Paper Series No. 2015-02. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2577882
Clark, Donald, Video for learning –15 things the research says (December 19, 2019). Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/video-learning-15-things-research-says-some-may-shock-donald-clark/
Harley, Aurora, Videos as Instructional Content: User Behaviors and UX Guidelines (January 19, 2020). Available at: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/instructional-video-guidelines/
Stages of video development
A lot of the advice here is from professional film-makers yet it’s just as appropriate for them as it can be for those making more ad-hoc content.
There are three stages to video development:
- Pre-production and planning
- Post production and uploading
If you’ve ever shot a video, you have passed through each of these stages. Each has a number of areas (or considerations) before you move forward. As with most processes, skipping parts is always possible but can lead to problems later on.
Pre-production and planning
While in the planning phase the ideas can flow, resources can be secured and key decisions are made which will impact the rest of the production.
- Where and how does it fit into the course?
- Duration? Aim to keep them short and to the point, long videos (over 5-10 minutes) are generally considered inappropriate in length
- Messages conveyed within the video
Storyboard and scripting
- Overview image or description for each scene in the video
- Notes on any mixed-media requirements (such as animations, transitions, overlays)
- Details of how the video will flow from one scene / person to the next
- Space to accommodate FutureLearn assets (banners, transitions, logos) and your own (watermarks, logos)
- Will you write a script? (You don’t have to, but it can make transcripts a bit easier, quicker, cheaper.)
- Educators and other people – whoever needs to be captured in the video
- Crew requirements and cost
- Casting and filming guests on the course (for example patients, researchers, experts, etc.)
- Which location will you be filming in (might need some planning to get there and film)
- How much will the video cost?
- Legal / release forms requirements (see our contributor care advice)
- Planning the time for future steps in the process (production, editing, distribution)
- Preparing for delays, interruptions, mistakes and dealing with these as they arise
We find the most engaging videos are those where the educator speaks directly to camera with enthusiasm and clarity (although conversations between two or more people can also work well). In general, this is preferred to the presenter looking off camera. You should aim to create a direct and personal relationship between the educator and the learner, and eye contact helps to achieve this.
A relevant setting might add to the value of the film and can provide added interest, although this will vary depending on the content of the course. Green screens can also be used effectively, providing that the selected background is relevant and not distracting.
- Find the best time to film
- Look for the light source – try light the scene naturally
- Check for power supply / bring batteries
- Listen for background noise / try to avoid sudden noises (or embrace them)
- Prepare for the weather (if outside)
- Decide where to set-up, leave kit, secure valuables
- Get permission (where needed)
- Use microphones – bad audio really harms a good video
- Microphone placement – try to use external microphones where possible (wired, Bluetooth or radio-based)
- Consider all sounds that will be recorded
- Try to keep all wanted sounds at the same level, unless for effect
- Avoid unnecessary or distracting sounds
- Use the best camera you can get (a mobile phone or webcam really can be fine)
- Play with/ test your camera, get used to how it works (if filming by yourself)
- Check the angles for recording, explore different views to capture the same idea
- Avoid excessive camera movement, unless pointing towards a moving object, or using it for effect
- Consider everything in the frame of your recording – it all conveys a message. Think of photography’s ‘rule of thirds’, if it helps.
- Consider your light sources / direction
- Illuminate what your recording
- Film facing away from the main light source (typically the sun or a bulb)
Scenery and art
- Clothing (costumes or just dress comfortably!)
- Sets or props to help explain a concept, or make a point
Post production and uploading
- Preparing media for publishing on the FutureLearn platform
- Considering re-use of the same assets
- Ensuring media aligns with the FutureLearn technical guidelines
Graphics and FutureLearn assets
- Adding FutureLearn assets to the video in a video editing package (pro and not-so-pro versions available)
- Adding any other assets, such as watermarks or university logos
- Titles to introduce speakers / locations / etc.
- Animations, transitions* or effects*
- Keep track of your digital assets (source video files, images, assets, timings for editing, scripts, transcripts etc – needs good organisation)
- Using software or websites to share and keep track of files (for example Dropbox and Trello – can be helpful!)
Subtitling and transcripts
- Create transcripts and subtitles for your videos (you can enlist 3play media to do this)
- Ensure all videos comply with the FutureLearn guidance for video accessibility
- Correcting colour balances
- Adding transitions
- Can become a lot of work; you can leave it to the professionals (or just not do this)
- Levelling the sound, if there are big differences across the video (or across different videos – keep it consistent)
- Adding sound effects*
- Adding music*
- Log into Course Creator, add a video step and upload your video
- Add the transcript file to the video step
- Finish off adding the step by adding content to explain the video; i.e. what it covers, who’s in it and what learners are expected to do / discussion prompt.
* Starred items – we recommend you avoid the cost of adding fancy graphics and sounds unless they enhance the learning experience.
- Keep it authentic – don’t over-engineer the fact it’s on video or blow your budget on things that don’t enhance the learning experience.
- Have clear audio – if learners can’t hear, the experience of watching the video is significantly diminished.
- Use visuals to highlight points, animations can clearly explain a concept much quicker than a talking head (but take resources) and narrated images or diagrams can add a lot for learners trying to understand your perspective.
- Keep content visible – ensure subtitles do not cover key information by either keeping that section clear for captions or not including captions for that section of the video where possible.
- Keep on point – all videos need to be clear how they align to the course structure,
- Be engaging – have as much fun as you can, pack in the characters and what makes you unique
- Keep it legal – only film what you’re allowed to show, get licenses and waivers from people involved (see our contributor care advice), don’t use third-party content without permission.
For further guidance and practical tips on how to create high-quality audiovisual media while working remotely, please see this article: Producing high-quality media while working remotely
The FutureLearn Studio team has a great deal of experience in producing videos for online courses. If you'd like feedback and guidance on your video plans – or would like to commission FutureLearn Studio to produce videos for your own course – you can read more about the team's services or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a call.