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Instructional videos: 7 questions to decide if you need them

Remember binge-watching cartoons on Saturday mornings? And, only the cool kids had TVs in their rooms? Today, TVs live in our pockets. And those cool kids? They now star on their own YouTube channels. In this world, adding instructional videos to an online course becomes a no-brainer, right? 

Unfortunately, for learning designers, it’s not. 

Like any learning design choice, instructional videos have strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the day, learning designers help learners meet the learning objective (whether they use online course videos or not). 

In this post, we created a list of questions to help you decide if opting for instructional videos is the right choice for your online course. 

Instructional videos
1) Do your learners just need to memorise stuff?

If your online training focuses on compliance or other purely knowledge-based subjects, you don’t need instructional videos. 

But what about multi-sensory learning? 

The often-cited learning experience cone by Edgar Dale that people learn “10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, and 50% of what they see and hear,” has been debunked. Yep, all those beautiful infographics were based on faulty research. 

On the bright side, now we can bring back textbooks without feeling guilty. 

2) Do you have a low budget?

Unfortunately, high-quality video material comes with a high production cost. A 3-minute testimonial video from a studio in Melbourne starts at $1000. The price tag for a 10-module microlearning course: $10,000. And that’s just the instructional video production. This price doesn’t include curriculum development or scriptwriting. 

If you don’t mind low-quality video (hello, smartphones), then consider crowdsourcing videos from within your organisation—rather than hiring a professional videographer. 

However, will low-quality instructional videos lose your Learning and Development (L&D) staff credibility or will your learners find it engaging? 

Only you can decide what type of instructional videos you need for your digital learning course, but expect to pay high production costs for professional videos.   

3) Do you need online course agility?

Producing high-quality instructional videos for evergreen content (unchanging content) can produce a great Return on Investment. 

But business moves quickly, and online course development needs to keep up. 

With the high production cost of instructional videos, L&D often sacrifices agility. Instructional videos also require a team for production. By comparison, one person can quickly create text-based curriculum and assessments. It’s also easier to upload and push text-based materials out to your organisation. With a global workforce, text-based courses also require less bandwidth making content accessible to all employees with their mobile phones. 

So ask yourself: am I creating evergreen content or will this content need modification in a few months? 

If you need agility, text-based courses win out over instructional videos. 

4) Do you have large amounts of content for your online courses?

MIT’s evidence-based recommendations for Edx publishers, their popular online learning platform, suggests designers keep instructional videos to 6 minutes or less for maximum learner engagement. 

Communicating large amounts of content in 6-minute chunks presents an instructional design challenge though. The Khan Academy proves it can be done, but it’s not easy. The full list of MIT’s recommendations may also help you transmit large amounts of content via instructional videos. 

Even following those recommendations, learners most likely need both instructional videos and other written materials, including assessments, to retain large amounts of content. 

5) Do you worry your learner will zone out?

Have you ever watched TV to relax at the end of a long, hard day? 

Of course you have. We all have. And every time we do, we train our brains to zone out while watching instructional videos. 

There’s an easy fix to stop learners from zoning out: build in interactivity. 

Lots of software, such as Canvas Studio, allows learning designers to stop videos for a comprehension check or other formative assessment. By elevating passive instructional video watching to an active learning experience, designers can help learners meet the objectives more effectively. 

6) Do your learners need to refer to the material often?

People praise instructional videos because, unlike a live lecture, learners learn at their own pace by rewinding, pausing, and accessing the material on demand. However, learners can use text-based materials in the same way.

If learners need to refer to the material often, they might prefer the speed of finding the necessary information on a table or chart. By designing print reference materials, learners also harness the old-school power of the poster. They don’t even need to click anything if they post the information in their workspaces. It can be a powerful strategy for deskless workers who aren’t necessarily attached to a computer or mobile device at all times, such as construction or healthcare employees.

At the end of the day, does your teaching medium meet your learners’ needs in their flow of work? Not everyone’s flow of work includes a computer.  

7) Do your learners need practical experience?

Online course videos predominantly provide a passive experience. However, learners often need to practice new skills. 

Most of us tend to think of hands-on learning as the only way to practice a new skill. Arguably, digital simulations and games can be just as powerful as hands-on learning. In fact, sometimes digital scenarios show information hidden from our senses. But, just like instructional videos, these types of learning experiences often have a high production cost. 

If your learners need practice not provided through quizzes, then you might consider investing in simulations or games instead of instructional videos. 

So, should you invest in instructional videos?

If that’s your question, then you’re asking the wrong question. You should be asking: which medium will best teach my learning outcome? 

One interesting study found that construction workers learned hands-on skills more effectively with video instruction; however, no gains were reported for theoretical knowledge. So the skill you’re aiming to teach will affect your decision on whether or not to use instructional videos. 

Instructional designers can choose from text, slideshows, infographics, interactive books and quizzes, learning games, instructional videos and more. With the technology at our disposal today, we’re able to better serve our learners than ever before. Serving our learners might mean thinking outside the box to create blended solutions with interactive, as well as textual, components.

How do you decide whether or not to use instructional videos in your online courses? Contact us today to start a discussion. We’d love to hear from you!

To hold your learners’ attention better, don’t miss our post on how to Improve retention in online courses.



Transforming Learning: Applications Of Instructional Videos – eLearning Industry. (2019). Retrieved 6 October 2019, from

Guo, P., Kim, J., & Rubin, R. (2014). How Video Production Affects Student Engagement: An Empirical Study of MOOC Videos [Ebook]. ACM. Retrieved from

Thalheimer, W. (2019). Mythical Retention Data & The Corrupted Cone. Retrieved 6 October 2019, from