Archive | elearning

Blogs on elearning and elearning industry updates.

How to use video in your eLearning

Posted by Tom Hickmore, 7th November, 2018
elearning, news

Wondering how best to use video and audio in your e-learning?

We recently collaborated with Elucidat, whose authoring platform is used by many organisations to empower people-centred elearning.

We created a five-minute interactive piece to showcase Elucidat’s video and audio capabilities and help you decide which multimedia approach is right for your learning goals and budget.

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What’s the best way to use video on a website?

Posted by Tom Hickmore, 30th May, 2018
elearning, news

The other day a very clever man who founded and runs an authoring tool company showed me around his most excellent product. Chatting afterward he remarked that while he was aware it’s accepted wisdom that having a video on your website is a “good thing” he’d never understood how it could work for him.  After all, his product does pretty much the same thing as all his competitors’ products, so is there really much benefit to running through the features with voice-over, screen grabs and the like? 

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The Case for Video Drama in Learning

Posted by Tom Hickmore, 9th January, 2018
elearning, video drama, video know-how, video production

People can’t absorb information effortlessly, it takes hard work and application.  It is said.  But drama allows you to “effortlessly” walk through a learning dialectic as you look through the eyes of characters in a conflict.  Drama can be visual, but more importantly it’s emotional.

Danish educational theorist Knud Illeris says genuine learning involves a subjective connection between the learner’s interests and motivations and the learning content, which always includes a cognitive, emotional, and social dimension.

This makes perfect sense if we are teaching soft skills such as diversity and inclusivity.  Being led through a scenario and allowed to view the world through other people’s eyes is clearly a perfect means of fostering empathy and understanding.  But what about less emotional subjects?  Is it worth making a learning drama about compliance issues or accountancy?

If you can have more than one opinion about an issue it can be dramatized.  If you can have an argument about the pros and cons of an issue this can be crystallised into clear stages of a dialectic and this in turn transformed into the actions of characters who bring it to life.

Watching this drama, we naturally consider the wider implications of the actions.  What does it mean to break a petty rule?  We identify with the rule breaker, but do we really want to be them?  Is the righteous character boring or simply trying to make it better for the rest of us?  Such questions are not explicit, but implicit in the actions of the scenario.  The beauty of this is that the viewer makes their own meaning.  We reflect on it while we’re on coffee break.  It resonates, and sparks conversations with colleagues.  It weaves its way smoothly into our long-term memory.

Watching a learning drama won’t make you into an expert, but it can make you feel like one, because when we watch other people in conflict we naturally have an opinion about it.

Drama delivers a subjective connection between the learner’s interests and motivations and the learning content, including a cognitive, emotional, and social dimension. And once you have established that connection you can use cheaper media – perhaps cheaper-to-produce types of video – to deliver the more detailed learning.

This is the power of drama.  It’s effortless to consume but takes some serious expertise to put together.

10 uses of video in learning

Posted by Tom Hickmore, 24th October, 2017
elearning, news, video know-how

I was asked to write something about which type of video is good for which learning application.  Let’s begin by asking “what is video actually good for in learning?”  People don’t want long, detailed information in a video, because it means sitting through something not so pertinent, till you get to the bit you want.  No, text is better for the details.  Video, however is much stronger than text for delivering high-level messages with impact and emotion.  This is the core function of video in learning.

Context established, let’s have a look at the various video forms:

1. Talking heads

A talking head is the simplest sort of video to produce.  Plenty of L&D people shoot these themselves.  The main strength of a talking head is the power of the testimonial.  It’s not so much what’s being said as who is saying it.  In an onboarding film talking heads of your new colleagues relating what it’s like to work here seem believable, especially when compared to a voice-over cut to shots of the office saying the same thing.

Another advantage of the talking head is concision.  People don’t talk like books, they naturally speak in high-level concepts.  A talking head interview is a great way to get a lot from your subject matter expert.  It’s quite easy to know the right questions to ask, harder to know what the answers should be.  So, formulate your key questions and let the SME take the strain.  A clever, informed person will answer concisely and without going into unnecessary detail.

Let’s return to onboarding:

Q “What’s it like to work here?”

A “Really nice.  Nice people, nice environment, they make you feel at home.”

Mix this with a smiling face and it’s worth any amount of whizzy graphics and sexy voiceover.  Concise and believable.

In a set of onboarding videos it’s usual to combine talking heads from the shop floor with an animation and a piece to camera.

2. Animation

Animation sits somewhere between a video and text.  Animation is usually used as a snappy way of delivering compressed messages, but perhaps with a little more detail than your average video.  After all, you can put a lot of text into an animation and you can easily depict concepts with diagrams and visual analogies.  Of course, voice-over and music are key to providing an emotional hook.

In the case of onboarding, an animation is great for giving a breezy briefing about, say the values you expect the new starters to work with, or maybe the main points of health and safety. Content that’s quite dry but you want to ensure people get the high level points quickly.  Give them an overview and they can discover the detail.

3. Pieces to Camera

The final video element we often find in onboarding is a piece to camera from the head of the organisation.  Let’s face it, these are usually a bit headteacherish and dull, but you kind of need them.  Why?  It’s all about giving the message clout.  If the CEO has bothered to put some time aside to say this, it’s definitely important.  This is the one person the viewer can look at as synonymous with the organisation.  The buck stops here.

As an L&D professional, it’s not that often you’ll be able to get the CEO or another high level exec to present your message, but when you do, you know it’s as important to them as it is to you.

4. Presenters

Presenters are usually used as part of a mix.  Essentially they put a face on a message and join up elements in an efficient and engaging manner.  Good presenters are expensive, but having someone engaging on screen can, nevertheless, be a cost-effective bit of screen time, because hiring a presenter for a day can be very productive.  Presenters can be used to link bits of eLearning in a course, or perhaps a series of expert talking heads.  Given a good enough script and a bit of spice they can bring an emotional hook, usually when they explain the reason behind the learning.  Presenters can say just about anything you write for them and make it sound authoritative and convincing.  But don’t overuse them.  As with any video content, short is sweet.

Sometimes colleagues are used as presenters.  Colleague presenters bring a basic level of audience trust with them if they are talking about their area of expertise within the organisation.

There are two ways an amateur presenter can work for you –

  1. They have a natural talent for presenting
  2. They are very enthusiastic despite their lack of presenting polish

Or anywhere along this spectrum.  Never pressure someone into presenting who has no hint of either of the above.  If that’s the only talent you have, better to go another route.

5. Drama

You can do it with low or high production values, but drama is still the most expensive form of video.  For that money it’s got to be powerful, and it is!  But drama depends on the script.  Don’t waste money filming a bad one and don’t underestimate the skill involved and write it yourself.

Done well, drama can bring that holy grail of the L&D professional – you watch it with your emotions and your intellect follows.  If it’s drama it’s telling a story and making it emotional.  Your characters don’t have to burst into tears over the quality of photocopies, but workplace issues must matter to them.  Just like on TV, you identify with the characters and start to think about the issues through their eyes.

As long as your subject matter is interesting enough for there to be at least two opinions about it you can make drama about it.  Probably the best value is got from making drama about tricky management issues such as diversity, sickness absence, or recruitment.  Topics which have shades of grey.  Drama weaves its way through the subject matter bringing the hidden issues to life.  The drama doesn’t teach like a text book, and nor should it.  All drama needs to do is to get emotional attachment to the subject matter.  Now you have an engaged audience they are primed to receive the dryer elements of the learning – because they see meaning in it.

I’ve made drama about a wide variety of subjects – IT security, the right and wrong ways of making a sale, a patient pathway, customer management, modes of advertising and even offshore subcontracting.  The possibilities are endless.

6. Comedy

Comedy, of course, isn’t a practical category like a talking head, but people do ask about how to use it in learning.  Comedy is a form of criticism – which makes it great for learning!  Comedy makes you stand back from what you’re watching and take a critical position.  You are engaged, but not so much with the action as with the commentary on the action.

Of course, writing comedy is a specialist skill.  And, comedy doesn’t always work across territories.

You can have comedy in your drama, or people often like making spoofs of well-known TV shows.

7. Role-plays

In L&D the term “role-plays” usually refers to an everyday scene acted out by people who actually do this stuff in real life.  I used to think these things should aspire towards verisimilitude, but now I also enjoy thinking of them as like The Only Way is Essex.  We know these colleagues can’t act, but they are having a great stab at it and we think they are great sports for trying.  I think such films are more enjoyable than the completely poe-faced ones that often look like weak drama – because they have no subtext.

A variation on the roleplay is to have a colleague acting opposite an actor.  This ups the level of the performance a great deal and can get some pretty good results.  They can seem very realistic, although it should be remembered that they will be necessarily longer than a scripted version of the same scene.

8. Factual/Documentary

This heading covers a multitude of programme types – everything from a classic documentary to a news report, to a magazine show, so really too much ground to summarise here.   A couple of tips:

  • A documentary needs to have an argument – a thesis it sets out to test.
  • A magazine show is like a dinner party – have a great host and don’t go on for too long.

9. How to

A how to video is an instructional video about how to do something.  Usually it’s physical, like changing a tyre, but it could equally be about how to use some software.  Can such videos replace text and illustration-based instructions?  Where video is weaker is in random access to the information.  Of course, you can scrub to and fro in a video, but it’s a bit haphazard.  If you put your video clips into an interactive framework you can create a navigable video manual.  This is a good replacement for text as you have much better random access.

10. Ted Talks

Ted Talks are what come to mind when people think of a filmed lecture.  Don’t be fooled that, because Ted Talks are longer it’s proof that video needn’t be concise.  A Ted Talk or a good lecture, is still more precise and high level than the long book or years of experience from which it springs.  A good lecture is still highly compressed, there’s just more of it.  I enjoy Ted Talks for getting an overview of someone’s theoretical perspective without having to bother to read their book.  And of course, seeing the speaker’s passion is what makes you buy in to the subject.


In summary, whatever video form you use its best use is for high-level and precise messages, usually with an emotional element.

eLN Glasgow – Show your work

Posted by Tom Hickmore, 26th September, 2017
elearning, news

A couple of weeks ago Tom Hickmore and I attended the eLearning Network Glasgow event ‘Show Your Work’. As my first eLN event and first event with Nice Media, the pressure was on (a slight exaggeration, but it’s always nice to make a good first impression). With Tom focused on his talk for the day, I was keen to meet some new people and get a feel for the latest L&D thinking especially with my new video production hat on.
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Real Drama for Learning

Posted by Tom Hickmore, 27th April, 2017
elearning, news, script writing, video drama, video know-how

To launch our Real Drama for Learning campaign we produced this fun little video to explain what it’s all about. We entrusted the task of guiding you through the main points to that most talented of creative directors Mr Zach Forsythe. Take it away Zach!

For the exposition on the topic check out Tom Hickmore’s blog here.

Real Drama for Learning

Script consultancy: we work with your team to turn workaday content into something truly dramatic.

Training:  Using our conceptual toolkit, we work with your team to give an understanding of the basics of dramatic construction.

Agency support: working with you at the bid stage, we provide creative support to elevate your video-oriented eLearning idea into a winning pitch.

Production: From idea to final film we work with you throughout the journey.

Real Drama for Learning – using emotion to communicate ideas.

Real Drama for Learning – an Introduction

Posted by Tom Hickmore, 27th April, 2017
elearning, news, video drama, video know-how

Why do we need Real Drama for Learning?

Whenever you see a video with more than one actor in it you expect it to be a drama. When it isn’t you are disappointed.

This is what prompted us to launch our Real Drama for Learning initiative. So often we have seen, so often we have made little films with actors in which they act out workplace scenes, but these scenes have no dramatic structure. It doesn’t matter how well they are filmed and acted they are never going to grab you. If the scenarios and scripts were created by dramatists the videos would cost the same to film and edit, but the results would be a lot more engaging.

But is drama really appropriate in a learning video? We’re not making entertainment.

Apart from the fact that many self-respecting learning agencies talk of aspiring to make content that compares with popular entertainment, we believe that drama is one of the most powerful forms of learning. Here’s why:

Drama is the technique of telling a story with actors. When we tell a story we give meaning to impersonal facts. The meaning makes the facts sticky to our memories. A story ends with a moral that ties up all the meaning into one little package. It’s the punchline that says “I told you so”: The boy who cried wolf is eaten; the Terminator gives his life to save John Connor, Rick gives up Ilsa and goes off to fight the Nazis.

These are glamourous and fantastic examples, but any human activity no matter how everyday can be food for drama, it only need be interesting enough for there to be more than one opinion about it.

Can we fix it?

Nice Media has set out to create a conceptual toolkit, distillations of classic technique to help learning designers to design and write drama. Subjects include – how to design characters, character functions, protagonist and antagonist, how to turn learning points into plot points, how to handle exposition and story structure. It may take a lifetime to become a dramatist, but with moderate effort anyone can learn the basics of dramatic storytelling.

Still in the dark?

To make it clear what we’re going on about here’s an example. How might we dramatize the management of sickness absence? Start at the extremes to leverage emotion. One extreme is Brian – an employee who shows no signs of illness, but is chronically off sick. This immediately suggests two potential extreme reactions – over-empathy and total lack of empathy. One character thinks the absentee is a lazy rotter and the other really feels his pain. Make these two people the business owner, Theresa, and the HR manager, Lucy. Theresa and Lucy are the antagonist and protagonist, (with Brian Lucy’s sidekick). They both want the same thing, to get Brian back to work, but disagree on how it should be achieved. Now, at the passing of every procedural step, Lucy clashes with Theresa and Brian’s feelings are bounced around in front of us. In each clash we traverse the attitudes, concerns and delicacies of what is going on as the issues are tackled in this conflictual structure. The issues are alive with emotion. After the screws of procedural pressure are turned up to the max on Brian, he blurts out that he can’t come back to work because, as a gay man he feels discriminated against. It turns out that Theresa has allowed the development of an intolerant company culture. The revelation saves the company and gets Brian back to work and productive.

The sexual identity bit of the story could be anything else that the company needs to know about itself that could cause a prolonged absence such as childcare issues, bullying or a bad manager.

This happy ending provides the “story proof” and the moral that the procedures, while difficult for all, are the best way to ensure a good outcome.

The way ahead.

This is the first in a series of articles and videos in which we will share our conceptual toolkit and help you and your team to write better drama.

If you have a set of learning points you’d like to dramatize send them to us as a challenge and we’ll see what we can do.

Real Drama for Learning

Script consultancy: we work with your team to turn workaday content into something truly dramatic.

Training:  Using our conceptual toolkit, we work with your team to give an understanding of the basics of dramatic construction.

Agency support: working with you at the bid stage, we provide creative support to elevate your video-oriented eLearning idea into a winning pitch.

Production: From idea to final film we work with you throughout the journey.

Real Drama for Learning – using emotion to communicate ideas.


Marshall E-learning

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