Issues With Self-Directed Video-Based Learning

A great deal of self-paced, video-based training is available online. Most of it is offered free of charge, but there is quite a bit of commercial material, too. In the process of learning how to design and prepare such training, we examined hundreds of videos. We noticed a number of common issues with nearly all of them. We have tried to avoid these problems in our own video-based training.

1. Self-paced video training that is merely a recording of a live training class:

  • overall structure of the course was not modified to be suitable for a self-paced video-based experience
  • no post-production to remove silences, pauses, or irrelevant conversation; nor to add labels or explanatory text over the video
  • sounds, and sometimes video, of people settling in, saying hello
  • video shows a static shot of a slide while the instructor talks
  • video shows a static shot of a slide while the instructor doesn’t talk
  • video shows a static shot of a slide while students struggle to ask coherent questions
  • video shows a static shot of a slide while the instructor solicits non-verbal responses from students, such as “who has done X?” or “how many of you think Y is true?”
  • video does not show the slide while the speaker makes reference to it
  • video is of the training room, not a screencast, so slides are not entirely in the frame or are out of focus

2. Long introductions covering such things as:

  • the instructor’s background
  • the instructor’s (or training company’s) previous clients
  • the instructor’s company and other things they sell besides the immediate course
  • history of agile, XP, or the particular technical practice being covered
  • why you should care about learning the topic (obviously, you are already interested in the topic)

3. Slide-show presentation:

  • code snippets shown on slides, no running code, no code in an editor
  • instructor merely reads the slides aloud

4. Clarity of video:

  • insufficient contrast between foreground and background colors
  • font sizes too small
  • text is blurry – particulary annoying when code is displayed
  • camera not pointed at the subject of interest, or important parts of the image are cropped

5. Clarity of audio:

  • low quality audio – tinny, thin, reverb, distortion
  • background noise in the video
  • instructor’s voice is faint; too far from microphone, or bad microphone
  • extremely loud keyboard sounds, sometimes combined with low-volume or poor-quality audio for the speaker’s voice

6. Clarity of the speaker:

  • speaker mumbles
  • speaker slurs speech, doesn’t enunciate clearly
  • speaker has an unusually heavy accent
  • speaker uses incorrect grammar in a way that results in ambiguous statements
  • speaker doesn’t speak into the microphone

7. Pace:

  • too slow, sometimes combined with belaboring trivial side topics
  • too fast, sometimes combined with glossing over important details

8. Variety:

  • entire video is the same – 100% slides with talking, or 100% watching someone teach a class or give a talk
  • no attempt to employ different pedagogical methods or to address different learning preferences

9. Clarity of explanations:

  • unclear or incomplete explanations of key points
  • too much or too little prior knowledge assumed
  • mechanics demonstrated, but principles not explained
  • principles mentioned, but never connected with code
  • references are unclear – URLs, book titles, names of conceptual models or programming techniques, and authors’ names not pronounced clearly, and not reiterated in text, either overlaid on the video or provided in accompanying notes

10. Inaccurate information:

  • erroneous explanation of how something works
  • reiteration of common misconceptions rather than debunking/clarifying them
  • basic mis-statements that may be misleading to learners
  • demonstration of a technique shows the technique incorrectly; e.g., writing production code before test code when demonstrating test-driven development (very common, unfortunately)

11. Lack of practicum:

  • no opportunity to practice using the techniques presented in the video
  • no downloadable or shared code base to work with

12. “Secret” software version dependencies, typically on obsolete versions:

  • Video covers versions of products that were current at the time the video was made, and the versions are not documented in the marketing material so that students can see what they’re paying for; the instructor does not produce updated videos to cover newer versions
  • the video itself does not mention the versions of the products used in the lesson

13. Instructor stumbles through IDE actions:

  • forgets keyboard shortcuts, does not edit out the fumbling from the final video
  • spends time demonstrating how to create a project via the IDE, when the subject of the training class is not how to create a project via the IDE
  • spends time talking about or demonstrating tools or IDE plug-ins that are not relevant to the topic of the training class

14. Preparation:

  • no agenda, no structure, instructor just improvises

15. Help

  • no links or other references provided along with the video to help people who need more information about selected topics

16. Length:

  • very long videos, sometimes over 3 hours in duration, rather than dividing the material into smaller videos that are easier to download and deal with

17. Context:

  • it isn’t clear to the consumer where the topic fits into the larger picture of software-related work; why the topic is useful to know
  • it isn’t clear to the consumer what prerequisites are needed to get value from the video
  • it isn’t clear to the consumer what next steps they might take after completing the video