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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 https://www.instagram.com/uflibrarywest/.

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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