How to Make Short-Form Videos as Tutorials, and Why You Might Want To

Miffy Lamp at night
If Cindy Craig were an on-trend technology company, she would describe her work as “microlearning.” Mercifully, because she’s a librarian, she talks instead about making short-form video (<15 seconds) as a happy medium between the unwatched screencast and tutorials with static screenshots.

Craig has a splendid new essay up in In the Library with the Lead Pipe, called “Modular Short Form Video for Library Instruction”; although it’s pitched at librarians, it’s useful for anyone interested in teaching multi-step processes.

She begins with a quick review of some focus-group research and learning theory, suggesting that although screencasts aren’t very popular with students, there is good reason to suggest that audio-visual instruction is better than purely visual.

Then, technology happened: Craig started out making videos for Vine, the Twitter-adjacent video service that restricted videos to 6 seconds. Unfortunately, Vine today is best known as the late, lamented Twitter-adjacent video service, and so she had to reorganize everything. This time, she focused on SnapChat, which allows 15-second videos, and Instagram, which allows 10 (and which also has the Boomerang app that lets you cycle images quickly back and forth). You can see the results here

Craig’s list of best practices is pretty sound:

  • Carefully map out the research process from start to finish. Don’t assume users will even know how to find your library’s website.
  • Break up the research process into smaller chunks. Think about where users are likely to get stuck or confused. Your videos should help users over these hurdles.
  • If you plan to capture screens from a database, have a partner click through the screens while you hold the smartphone or tablet.
  • As you film, add simple narration to clarify what is being shown. Avoid distracting music or sound effects.
  • Use captions to make your videos more accessible and to reinforce the message.

A slightly more formal way of saying the first three is to remember to plan for storyboarding, which definitely saves a bit of time in editing.

I will say I was a little surprised that these videos are made by a camera pointing at a screen, rather than inexpensive sceencasting software, because to my (um, “middle-aged”) eye they look a little dark, especially on my laptop. Having said that, it also might make them more engaging. Again, judge for yourself, and do read Craig’s article!

Do you use short-form videos for instruction? How has it worked for you? Let us know in comments!

Photo “Miffy Lamp at Night by Flickr user Sharon VanderKaay / Creative Commons licensed BY-2.0

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