Most online courses include a visual component — whether it’s slides, charts, images, or video content. Video is the preferred learning tool for younger demographics, and can also be used alongside text to provide a more immersive learning experience. No matter what type of course you’re offering, do a little research and develop a thoughtful and strategic approach to your video content that works with your budget and skill sets.
What makes an effective course video?
U.S. Department of Education research indicates that the best approach is engaging students in active learning. If the individual is able to interact with the material they’re learning, they’re better able to retain that information. So if you’re going to incorporate video into your WordPress courses, your primary focus should be making sure that you’re creating an engaging and interactive experience for your learners.
Your videos should also be accessible. If the volume is so low that a student can’t hear it or if they’re hearing impaired and there aren’t captions, they won’t get much out of the course.
How to make videos more interactive and engaging
1. Allow participants to pause, rewind, and fast forward videos. When you watch a video online, you’re probably used to being able to pause, rewind, and fast forward. But not all course videos allow you to do this. Giving your students the ability to watch videos at their own pace improves retention and also makes for a less frustrating experience.
Sensei LMS recently introduced a handy new feature that automatically pauses a video if another tab or window is opened on top of the video. This is useful if a student gets distracted by an app or email notification or wants to look up a term definition. If they forget to hit pause, it can be annoying to rewind back to where they left off. This also keeps students from simply playing videos in the background while doing other things online.
2. Include chapters in your videos. YouTube, Vimeo, and VideoPress all allow you to add chapters to your videos. Time-stamped chapters make it easier for students to navigate your course. They can pause at logical breakpoints, skip ahead, or easily refer back to information they may have missed or want to refresh themselves on.
3. Use graphic elements in your videos to call attention to key information. Use static and motion graphics in your videos to mark each chapter, add annotations, draw attention to important information, and make your videos more entertaining. Freemium tools like Jitter, Canva, and Veed.io offer simple, intuitive interfaces and easy-to-use templates, so just about anyone can create graphics that look professional.
4. Use multiple, shorter videos, instead of one long video. Studies show that, depending on the type of information you’re presenting, students are better able to retain information from videos that are shorter than 15 minutes. In some cases, less than six minutes is ideal.
5. Create virtual field trips. Perfect for courses about art history, geography, wildlife, and many other topics, virtual field trips allow your students to experience places that they would otherwise be unable to go. You can film your own field trip, use stock footage, or license video from others.
6. Include screencasts in instructional videos. Especially if your classes cover software how-tos or programming, screencasts can be incredibly helpful for your instructional videos. They can illustrate exactly how to use specific tools to achieve desired outcomes. Free tools like Movavi can help you easily create screencasts to incorporate into your course videos.
How to improve video quality
7. Use bright, even lighting. If you’re filming yourself talking in a room or in front of a backdrop, use at least two-point lighting. Set up two softboxes on either side of you — at an angle — to create even lighting with no harsh shadows.
8. Use a high quality camera and microphone. You don’t have to use a fancy $10,000 video camera for your course video creation. Most smart phones and webcams can capture 4k video. Just make sure you set your phone or webcam on a tripod, or if you have someone filming you while walking around, make sure they’re using a gimbal stabilizer to keep your video from being shaky and jarring to watch.
9. Write a script. To make sure you stay on topic and that your video flows well, write a script. You can use a teleprompter, or if you’re narrating or doing a voiceover you can read from a printed or on-screen script while you record your audio.
10. Film in a non-distracting, professional looking environment. If you’re filming yourself giving a lecture, make sure you’re in a distraction-free, clean environment. Opt for a quiet room with a white sweep or green screen, a peaceful outdoor environment, or a warm and inviting home office or studio.
11. Use a reliable third-party video host. Never serve your videos directly from your website’s server. It may seem easier to just upload your videos in WordPress but if you’re getting a high volume of traffic, or have a slower shared hosting plan, your videos may frequently stall to buffer or you may end up dealing with high bandwidth charges. Choose a reliable video host like VideoPress, which was designed specifically for WordPress sites.
Ensure your videos are accessible
12. Accessibility is important when offering online courses. Your video content should be as accessible as your text and the rest of your website. If you want more detailed information, check the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Below are a few things to consider to help make your videos more accessible:
- Include captions
- Describe visual information
- Avoid background noise
- Speak clearly
- Avoid strobing/flashing effects
Just getting started with teaching online?
If you’re still in the planning stages of developing your online courses and haven’t picked a WordPress LMS yet, consider trying Sensei. Instead of using third-party software and trying to integrate it with your site, Sensei allows you to create and manage an online learning environment directly within your WordPress dashboard.
Most of Sensei’s features are free, but there are a few paid extensions that will give you additional capabilities. Sensei lets you easily add videos from YouTube, Vimeo, and VideoPress to any course. Create certificates of completion, drip course content, show students their course progress, and let them share their grades on social media.