When used in the right way, video can be a powerful, emotive medium. It’s also omnipresent — everywhere you look, people are on their devices using their free time to consume a variety of videos.

But video is more than just escapist entertainment. As learning professionals, we already know its potential value in allowing us to drive engagement and observe people in places we can’t normally go. While video has been a key part of digital learning for many years, there’s been a recent resurgence in the use of video as an engaging tool that supports efficient, relevant and high-value content creation. This increase in popularity is driven by more affordable, high-quality production costs as well as the emergence of new technologies and platforms such as video-focused learning experience platforms (LXPs), 360-degree video, and virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR).

Not that long ago, we described videos by their genre: drama, talking heads, documentaries and animations. We could simplify these categories into fiction and non-fiction videos. However, this classification is too broad and offers no starting point for thinking about solving learning problems. Instead of trying to solve the problem with a ‘What’s the format?” approach, why not change the focus to, “What’s the business challenge, and how do we respond to it?”

This approach gives us three reframed categories of video learning, which we can describe as the head, the heart and the hand. Starting conversations with these three categories in mind can help us identify business needs quickly and inform the practical and creative decisions we make about video.

Head: Culture and Behaviors

Useful for: Any subject focused on the ebb and flow of human interactions, such as leadership development and soft skills training.

Culture and behaviors pieces tend to use big, expensive drama videos and often involve branching scenarios — features that are unique to digital learning, although TV is starting to embracing them (see Netflix’s 2018 thriller “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”).

These films tend to be about how and why people do what they do rather than what it is they’re doing. It’s the perfect medium for training on difficult conversations, leading a team, resolving conflicts and anything to do with interpersonal skills. Because they’re more about how and why people do things, rather than what, they’re often set in fictional companies where the product or service is unnamed or unimportant.

While there’s value in using real employees for interviews, like in a talking head video, it’s best to use professional actors. They specialize in translating emotions from script to screen and making complex points and scenarios believable.

The cost: These videos require actors and a good deal of care in scripting, so they’re at the higher end of the price spectrum. However, the cost of producing video has plummeted, mainly due to the decline in equipment cost. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to make a high-quality film, the camera you needed probably cost $100,000. Today, you could buy one for about $8,000 to $9,000. As a rough estimate, an hour of this type of video would probably be twice the cost of an hour of e-learning.

Bonus tip: In terms of the time you’ll need to manage a large-scale drama, it breaks down roughly as 40% pre-production (script, casting, location scouting, etc.), 20% for the shoot itself, and 40% post-production (editing, sound, reviewing versions and so on).

Hand: Process and Technique

Useful for: Any subject matter that demonstrates a predefined process or linear sequence of events, such as training on software systems, assembly and manufacturing, health and safety, and regulatory procedures.

This category is about capturing process and skills. A common application is systems training, such as capturing the best way to use a new software. These videos often involve animation and mixed media — for example, post-production text or images overlaying video footage. Mixed media, especially graphical overlays, can add sophistication and valuable learning to a process film.

The cost: The common mixed media approach of video, animated elements and music is relatively quick, simple and cost-effective, mainly because there’s minimal or no scripting, no need to hire professional actors, and no venue costs. When you need more complex animated elements, however, costs can escalate. There’s a significant difference between a few graphical flourishes with text on screen and fully animated video segments.

Bonus tip: Even when dealing with simpler forms of animation, like “paper-mation” or graphical text, you still need to storyboard. You may think these videos are simple to develop, but that upfront design is critical to success.

Heart: Marketing and Communications

Useful for: Helping staff or customers understand the way they work or embrace change.

If you’ve ever asked, “How can we convince our people that this is a good idea?”, then this type of video is for you. Because it’s about changes to key business concepts, these content pieces often function like sales or marketing collateral. Less is more here; keep these videos short, like an advertisement.

In terms of subject matter, these videos can cover almost anything: a new diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiative, a product launch, new systems, a process or software change, or messaging around a buy-out or new office.

This category often involves interviewing a senior leader at the organization — someone with authority who can impart a key message in a clear, expert way. There are many variations of this kind of interview, some “glossier” than others.

The cost: Costs will vary, depending on how cinematic or simple the requirements are. When a script is required, factor in ample time to work on the messaging.

Bonus tip: Set yourself the challenge of imparting the key messages in 90 seconds. The end product may be longer, but you can typically deliver information at a high level in a minute and a half.

Video Is an Ever-changing Medium

You can solve almost every learning challenge, no matter how complex, with “moving image.” It’s a matter of figuring out how and where to use it. As technology changes, video does, too. These changes require L&D professionals to innovate constantly, so we don’t keep producing the same learning assets we’ve been making for years. The result? Happier, more knowledgeable and more engaged learners.