The world of corporate learning and development has benefited greatly from the power provided by today’s e-learning and instructional design software tools. Instructional designers are able to build complete training courses on their own and, more recently, have been able to develop start-to-finish e-learning applications thanks to a wave of easy-to-use development tools.
Video, however, is a different story.
While video is on almost everyone’s list of technologies that will be used increasingly for learning and development, it is still a technology that is difficult to develop and deploy without assistance from experts who have the proper development tools and a system infrastructure that can properly support video-based e-learning.
What follows are the four key phases for assembling a video-based e-learning lesson: shooting, encoding, melding and deploying.
1. Shooting the video: In many ways this is definitely the easiest part of the video puzzle — all that’s needed is a camera and something to aim it at. But this may or may not suffice.
In many cases it is perfectly acceptable to use amateur video in corporate training lessons. However, there is a big difference between amateur cameras and professional cameras — and there is an even bigger difference in the quality of amateur videos and professional videos.
The checklist for setting up a high-quality video is a long one. Requirements include a setting with the proper foreground and background, adequate fill lighting, key lighting and back lighting, which is different than background lighting.
Shooting video independently is possible, but there are situations in which a professional may be required.
2. Encoding the video: Video encoding — the process of converting a big, bulky video file to a more streamlined format, such as Flash, that will play much better over the Internet — is a relatively simple process. A video encoding software tool will open up a big video file and convert it to a better format.
The trick is to understand the best settings to optimize output. “Encoding is a science by itself,” said Aby Alexander, president of video collaboration consultancy eXstream Solutions. “The basic challenge is to maintain quality while keeping the file sizes down, but there are many variables involved, and reaching optimum settings is not a simple task.”
Video encoding performance is measured in kilobits per second, and encoding bit rates can be set from 100 kilobits per second to 2.5 megabits per second. It may be tempting to use the highest-quality setting to achieve a great video result, but encoding at a high bit rate requires high bandwidth, will likely not play smoothly on all systems and is expensive — approximately 75 cents per kilobits second when using a leased data center.
Be aware of the pros and cons when selecting encoding bit rate settings. In general, be conservative with your bit rate settings in deploying to a diverse audience via the Internet. If unsure of the settings, consult with a professional.
3. Melding video into your training lesson: Almost every e-learning tool has the ability to import Flash video, but this is still not an easy task. Here’s why. Almost every e-learning tool does not stream videos when they run inside the lesson, so your learners are likely to experience delays and interruptions when they get to your videos, especially if the videos are longer than a minute or so in length.
It’s also important to note here that the file size for a five-minute video can be between 1 and 1.5 gigs. No matter what type of compression algorithms an e-learning tool uses, embedding a few five-minute videos into a lesson will slow things to a crawl.
When possible, set up lessons to play lengthy videos outside of the e-learning lesson itself. An LMS administration team or an external video professional can help.
4. Deploying the lesson: Beyond the challenges in the development stages, deployment means understanding the difference between an LMS server and a rich media server. In short, an LMS server is optimized to be a strong database server that does a great job of tracking and reporting on learner activity, but only does an average job of playing large videos and other rich media.
Rich media servers, which are sometimes known as video streaming servers, are designed to run Flash and video in the best manner possible with virtually no interruption from start to finish. Running video means setting up, configuring and maintaining this infrastructure.
Online training development is not nearly as difficult as it was 10 years ago. Complex tools such as Authorware and Toolbook have been replaced by Articulate Presenter, Adobe Captivate and many more user-friendly tools. As a result, L&D teams can now build start-to-finish lessons without involving teams of specialized personnel.
However, the tools and data center infrastructure to handle the start-to-finish tasks that are needed to produce video-based e-learning are merely sufficient at present. In advance of any video-based development project, it makes sense to do some research to determine what’s needed to make the project a success.