An offer they can’t refuse

One of the best conference sessions I have ever attended was presented by Chris Bessell-Browne from Qantas College.

E-Learning at an airline is challenging because a relatively high proportion of the workforce does not have ready access to a computer. This poses a problem when, for example, you need to roll out compliance training to each and every individual.

One way in which Qantas solves this problem is by showing a series of video scenarios to large groups of their employees. The scenarios involve real employees as well as paid actors, and they recreate scenes that have actually happened at the organisation – eg a young woman receiving unwanted attention from a colleague at the Christmas party, a baggage handler being bullied by a peer in his team, a manager reprimanding one of his team members for her dishevelled appearance, etc. Each video is then followed by a slide featuring several discussion questions, asking if so-and-so was in the wrong, that kind of thing.

According to Chris, the discussions get quite animated as people argue their case for or against. Because there is often no clear “correct” or “incorrect” answer, the interaction represents a melting pot of views and perspectives – carefully facilitated by the L&D pro. It makes the learning experience engaging, relevant and authentic. In other words, nothing like typical compliance training.

As Chris proceeded with her presentation at the conference, everyone in the audience was on the edge of their seat as they eagerly anticipated the next instalment.

When was the last time anyone reacted like that to your training?

Businessman with information and resources streaming out of his smartphone

Video breathes life into content.

For example, while reading about how to provide effective feedback and perhaps downloading a 6-step job aid may be enough to improve your feedback giving skills, suppose you could also watch a video of a manager providing feedback to her direct report. Now you have a role model to follow, and a real-world example to make sense of.

So why doesn’t everyone do this? We have the tools at our disposal – from the camera on our smartphones to a plethora of free editing software downloadable from the internet.

I suspect one of the barriers is fear. We look at the slick productions such as those commissioned by Qantas, and we’re afraid our own efforts will appear amateurish in comparison. And you know what: they will!

When professional production houses shoot a video, they do so beautifully. The picture is rich and sharp. The audio is crisp and clear. The lighting is perfect. That is, after all, what you are paying them for. And it ain’t cheap.

When we record a video on our smartphone, the picture might be somewhat dull, the audio tinny, the lighting dodgy. But I put to you that if the quality of your production is good enough to see and hear, then it’s good enough to learn from.

And if the content is relevant, you’ll find your target audience surprisingly forgiving. You needn’t be Francis Ford Coppola because what really matters is the learning outcome.

So my advice is simply to give it a go. Test a few home-made clips on a pilot group to see how they fare. Incorporate constructive feedback, build on your success and scale it up. Your videography skills will improve over time, and you might even consider buying better equipment and software.

Sure, a beautifully crafted production will always be preferable, but it’s not always attainable or even necessary. You have the power right now to provide your audience with a learning experience that’s engaging, relevant and authentic.

So make them an offer they can’t refuse.

18 thoughts on “An offer they can’t refuse

  1. I’m often on the side of not over-engineering solutions now too. Much of the time, when you really look at the need (learning & business) it usually comes down to something that can be addressed easily and quickly – and often not by developing any sort of formal learning product at all, or else a much more pared down learning product alongside a job aid or other performance support. Often what is more critical than how it looks is whether it can be deployed quickly and cheaply. And quick and cheap is usually does NOT=highly produced video or elearning content.

    That said, I have had some participants comment that unprofessional (staff) audio talent distracts from learning – and I could probably forsee bad staff acting talent as potentially distracting – and detracting from learning. Some people notice it more than others.

    And…you’ve got to admit, the staff talent in the Qantas videos Were all pretty good!! It was a bit tricky identifying them from the paid actors!

  2. I’ve become more and more convinced that elearning will very soon be following the wider internet trend of an emphasis on video. Personalised learning videos and video-based quizzes (like the face-to-face ones at Qantas College), to name just two, have awesome engagement and learner experience affordability.

    Many ID projects won’t go down that pathway because of budget restrictions, and I agree with you that slick, ‘professional’ productions aren’t always necessary. The quality of some of the smart phone videos I’ve seen are fantastic.

    However, I think that there are other restrictions with videos. I recently built a project for the banking and financial services industry. A major banking company didn’t have sound cards in their computers, so video features were shelved in the early stages.

    Also, the increasingly common brief requirement to adhere to WCAG 2.0 accessibility standards is also a barrier – in fact a law now for government web projects. Video needs to be supported with closed captioning. Usually this is not difficult to implement, but will increase the production timeline and budget.

    Tanya makes a good point about poor acting distracting from the learning. I’ve seen this myself with voice overs done by instructional designers recording audio themselves when this is clearly not one of their strengths.

    Still, like you, I love video-based learning but, like usual, it all comes down to client expectations of quality, expected timeframes and budget – none of which are usually realistic.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Tanya and Kerrie.

    It’s a fine line, isn’t it. I agree that bad is distracting and thus impedes learning. I do feel for those IDers who have done their own voice overs, as I strongly suspect none of their colleagues volunteered to do it, even the SME – yet another challenge!

    I also agree that accessibility requirements add another burden. Of course we all support the principle of accessibility, but sometimes I feel that rules and standards are used as a weapon to suppress rather than empower. (Ooh, that’s a bit loaded – maybe I’ll leave that one for a later blog post.)

    The Qantas employees were indeed exceptional actors, and not all organisations will have that talent at hand. Combine that with the client’s demand for a Rolls Royce on a Daewoo budget, and the enormity of the task is magnified.

    However, if we can somehow *just do it* – perhaps with an ally in the business or a sympathetic line manager – then we have something to promote (preferably via testimonial). Let the talkies do the talking.

  4. “Let the talkies do the talking.” Absolutely.

    “Sometimes I feel that rules and standards are used as a weapon to suppress rather than empower.” Sounds like a great blog post topic.

  5. Great comments! Kerrie was just thinking when I was reading your first comment (but tried unsuccessfully 3 times to reply…my phone does not seem to enjoy commenting on wordpress…yet I continue to persist with forcing it to try…!)….

    Your observation of elearning moving toward web content (Youtube, social etc) made me think of another potentially untapped big opportunity with video > ‘user generated’: employee (smartphone) shot, uploaded and shared with others (e.g. ‘how to’ video of processes / procedures, homemade tutorials…even possibly employees just sharing experiences, stories).

    Authentic content developed by employees for each other rather than centrally developed and distributed by L&D. Advantages: ownership, fostering a culture of sharing and performance support…and no need for acting skills ; )

    And – in fact – part of the reason why the Qantas video narratives worked so well with staff talent was the authenticity- of both the talent and stories (based on real events). This counts for a fair bit, regardless of which way you go.

    We’ve started talking about having employees do ‘how to’ vids – majority of business in my org are operational transport staff (drivers, crew, maintenence etc..) so video of physical procedures (ie. someone doing something) works well in this context. Now, if only (business, LD managers, compliance managers, safety ppl!) would let go of their need to *control* and vet ‘training’ content….

    In a similar vein, our LMS admin and I have also started developing ad hoc ‘tutorials’ (screen recordings) of LMS processes in lieu of documentation and user manuals that nobody wants to wade through…just to use amongst ourselves – good way to capture this knowledge and avoid having to get someone to ‘show’ you how to do it each time.

  6. I adore user-generated content! And it makes sense. Afterall, who is the SME?

  7. Thanks for your comment, XLPro Training.

    Just to clarify: is your question rhetorical?

  8. “When we record a video on our smartphone, the picture might be somewhat dull, the audio tinny, the lighting dodgy” It doesn’t have to be. The reality is that a production studio (Bunnings lights and a green screen, aka large sheet purchased online from China) can be set up at a relatively low cost. Often these videos are viewed through a smartphone so the recording and viewing device becomes the same resolution. I’ve also been playing around with POV glasses. For a $40 pair, the image is a bit dull but the effect is quite good and, as you have said, it’s good enough to learn from.

  9. Quite right, Matthew.

    I suppose everyone’s videography talents are different, but taking a little bit of care to get the lighting right, block out background noise etc can go a long way. Furthermore, the quality of smartphone cameras is improving exponentially.

    I can vouch for green screens too. I used one recently for a DIY project and I was surprised out how well it turned out.

  10. I’ve been thinking a lot of this discussion over the last week. I loved Tanya’s idea of getting SME’s to video their processes – perfect!

    Like Matthew – I thought of POV glasses. But I think we have something coming up in the market soon which could also do the job – Google Glass!

    It sounds expensive though. I’ve heard around AU $1500.

  11. Indeed Kerrie, eyewear is perfect for demonstrative training. They’re a lot more elegant (and authentic? safer?) than helmet cams, for example.

    But the price tag of Google Glass… ouch! Matthew wasn’t exaggerating though: a pair of used pov glasses are for sale on Amazon for a mere $40:

  12. And this, is why I love blog conversations! They do (well the good ones) have the effect of making you think for days afterwards, and to draw you back in. And so, I am back. It was really your “I’ve been thinking a lot of this discussion over the last week”, Kerrie, that drew me in. I can empathise with that experience, it’s a good one. And it’s nice when people come back to the conversation.

    Anyway, the second thing was intrigue in the POV glasses…I hadn’t seen or heard of them before. Sounds like an interesting thing to experiment with though.

    Well, it will be interesting to see whether and how google glass takes off. Our learning tech specialist (Robyn) brought in a vendor to demo Google Glass and some VR tech….I’m still a bit ambivalent about the Glass…very interesting, something about it though that’s a bit disconcerting – maybe it’s just a matter of getting used to it. And yes, the expense…though that will likely go down dramatically once it becomes mainstream.

  13. I work for a large organization with it’s own internal communications department, and some of the most effective trainings that they have released have been filmed on an iPhone. Typically, they are a Q&A with an employee that has helpful hints or tricks, and it has a lot more impact on our agents when they are able to see someone who has been a similar situation give advice on that situation. I agree though–fear is a huge motivator as to why we don’t use more videos in training. Shooting a video is easy–editing one, not as much. I think as it becomes easier to edit videos through apps on the same smartphones that we’re shooting them on, it becomes more feasible for us to use videos in trainings, even if they aren’t 100% polished.

    RU Training Student

  14. Thanks for sharing your experience, Nicole. It’s always useful to validate with others who are at the coal face.

  15. One of the most exciting things about working in L&D is the way that individual learning designers are empowering themselves to proactively use new tech (which makes multimedia production cheaper, easier and _better_ almost by the day) to improve learning provision. There’s no better example of this than the explosion of video in learning: you used to be an instructional designer – now you’re a movie director!

    The challenges here are obvious – producing quality video is still difficult and still takes skill and effort, but a ‘guerilla’ shooting style and lo-fi production values are far more acceptable to today’s learners than they were a few years ago. And there are innovative ways of using video for learning that are still be explored and experimented with, as the discussion here about POV cameras and Glass proves

    One of my colleagues has been thinking about using video (or ‘film’ as he prefers to call it) a lot recently. A culmination-of-sorts of his thinking can be found here:

  16. Thanks for your comments, B.

    Interactive film is certainly an underutilised mode of delivery. I love those examples from the Resuscitation Council and the Metropolitan Police – they’re so powerful, I’m convinced!

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