The story about the cobbler’s children, who, ironically, never had shoes, is also true of training departments. We promote the value of learning and urge our internal and external clients to invest in their staff’s development. But often, we forget about our own development.
If tomorrow’s training function is to truly become a media-making powerhouse, it will have to shed its “cobbler’s children” reputation and practice what it preaches. It will need to commit to developing its staff so trainers are more than just media dabblers but become media masters.
A significant challenge is that it’s not easy to find people who have skills and knowledge in both learning and media. In fact, most organizations are faced with hiring people who are either media professionals not steeped in adult learning, or learning experts without solid production disciplines. Trainers need a hybrid collection of skills.
Many trainers are not trained to think like media producers. Professional media disciplines are not covered in train-the-trainer programs or adult education programs in college. Sure, they cover rudimentary instruction on software, but they don’t cover the skills you’d need to work in a newsroom. Likewise, many learning executives were trained to think about development and HR, not to think like media executives.
To that end, this series of articles will end by considering what skills tomorrow’s learning media professionals need. This is by no means exhaustive but designed to help you start thinking about how to build a team of training professionals with media skills. It could also serve as a development plan or a recruitment checklist.
In the future, good learning media professionals should be able to produce engaging content across text, graphics, audio and video. There are three areas of skills in these areas: planning, media creation and media editing skills.
Media Planning Skills
Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” One of the biggest reasons people new to media take so long to produce content, and often produce it poorly, is lack of planning. Learning professionals can save time, prevent mistakes and keep content focused by investing 40 percent of their production time in planning.
Be sure your team members have the skills to analyze training needs and to craft the content and prepare the production. Many media planning skills have strong crossovers with instructional design skills. Here are important planning skills:
- Perform learning needs analysis and write learning objectives.
- Discern the most appropriate modalities for the topic (text, graphics, audio, video or a combination).
- Structure content and plan media elements based on the grammar of each modality. This process requires an understanding of the principles of visual grammar for video, spoken grammar for podcasts and audio, web grammar for text, and design rhetoric for graphics.
- Write scripts for audio and video that conform to media writing conventions.
- Write content for different screens; studies show each is read differently.
- Manage production processes, including location, risk assessment, scheduling and team communication.
Media Creation Skills
When people think about making media content, they most often think of the tasks performed at this stage, including shooting video, recording audio, writing blog posts and designing graphics. Interestingly, for audio and video production, the creation side takes much less time than most people think. For example, with video, it’s not unreasonable to see 40 percent of time spent on planning, 20 percent on shooting and 40 percent on editing. Here are some key media creation skills:
- Record clear audio for podcasts and videos using digital audio recorders and microphones.
- Frame and shoot well-focused video footage that is ready to edit into sequences.
- Conduct interviews with subject matter experts using video cameras, digital audio recorders and microphones.
- Coach talent to look and sound good in podcasts and training videos.
- Write screen text, such as blog posts, that follow the emerging web writing conventions.
Editing is critical and represents both the consolidation of a message and the process of quality control. Editing written content has its own set of specific skills, while audio and video editing have a different set. Regardless of modality, editing is a disciplined process that reviews structure, checks for inaccuracies and ensures everything flows smoothly.
Editing is a set of what may seem contradictory skills. At one level, editors need to see the big picture and how the content achieves the learning objective. They also require attention to detail to check that every image, sound and word works to achieve the learning objective and to remove redundancies. Here are some key skills:
- Review narrative structure and flow.
- Check for accuracy, typos and punctuation.
- Position audio and video assets on a timeline in video and audio editing software.
- Check that content conforms to modality grammar. For video, that means how pictures flow and how other message layers support it. For audio, it requires an understanding of how to weave together spoken word, music and sound effects.
Hire or Train?
The age-old question about building good teams is whether to hire the best or train people with the right attitude to be the best. The answer will always depend on the situation, but most people with the right attitude can learn these media skills. Relative amateurs have quickly become media masters in the world of learning with solid training.
If you choose to develop your staff, make sure they learn good habits, not bad habits. Send them to training programs that draw on professional production techniques. If, on the other hand, you are hiring staff, ask them to demonstrate to you how they have performed these tasks so you are sure they actually are familiar with them.
One of the best ways to determine whether someone is a professional is to look for their media technique. Less experienced individuals’ techniques will not be as subtle. With more experienced media producers, techniques take a back seat to content.