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An old technology we still haven’t mastered
L&D’s complicated relationship with video.
Last week, the talk of the L&D town square was OpenAI’s announcement of GPTs — customized versions of ChatGPT that users can create to perform specific tasks, with no coding required.
As I’m still working through my thoughts on GPTs, I want to dedicate this week’s Dispatch to a much less sexy technology: video.
To demonstrate just how unsexy video has become, let’s turn to Donald Taylor’s Global Sentiment Survey, which, since 2014, has asked L&D practitioners what will be ‘hot’ in workplace learning in the year ahead.
The last time ‘Video’ appeared on the survey was in 2020, when it ranked fifteenth out of sixteen possible options. According to the GSS, the only thing less sexy than video in 2020 was ‘Other’.
To be clear, this doesn’t imply that L&D isn’t using video extensively. It simply means that, if we were to map the technology onto the Gartner Hype Cycle, video would be positioned firmly in the ‘plateau of productivity’ phase.
As a profession, we’re basically over it. It’s been widely adopted, we feel like we understand its capabilities, and we’re no longer interested in talking about it on LinkedIn — especially when there’s a new tech savior in town.
In many ways, video has become the default format for digital learning. Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, and Masterclass offer online courses that are almost entirely video-based. From a design perspective, the question in this context isn’t ‘Should I use video?’, but ‘What content should my video include?’
The emergence of this default can, in part, be explained by people’s expectations of digital learning, which have been shaped by their experience in education. And that experience usually involves a teacher, standing at the front of a classroom, delivering information.
While it’s not surprising that this format has proliferated online, what we’ve essentially done is take something we know to be ineffective – namely, the lecture – and replicate it digitally. Bish, bash, bosh. Job’s a good’un.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t effective uses for video in digital learning, or that there isn’t a place for talking-head instructors in certain contexts. But despite the fact that we’re apparently bored of video, it’s not difficult to find examples of bad practice.
In my experience, most of these examples can be attributed to the assumption that technology will somehow resolve design deficiencies:
Big block of text? Make it a video.
Boring topic? Make it a video.
Complex process? Make it a video!
On the Custom team at Mind Tools, we tend to reserve video for specific purposes, and try to account for Mayer’s principles of multimedia learning (see the ‘deep dive’ below for more on this) in the materials we develop for our clients.
Where I think video can be particularly effective is in establishing an emotional connection between the learner and the topic at hand, and in building trust. Where I think it is less effective is in conveying complicated ideas, or in bridging skills gaps where practice is required.
To circle back to GPTs, it’s possible that AI is different, and that this new technology genuinely will save us from ourselves. But if L&D is still struggling to use the technology it already has, are we really sure that more technology is the answer?
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🎧 On the podcast
Healthcare is a difficult environment to work in, where decisions literally mean life or death. Combine that pressure with diverse roles, shift-based workers and difficulty getting time away from the frontline - and you have less-than-ideal conditions to promote learning and career development.
So how do you support colleagues if you have an L&D role in such an organisation?
In this week’s episode of podcast, Ross G is joined by UMass Memorial Health’s Liz Ferro, Diana Avery and Matt Pfleger to discuss how we can create space for people in stressful jobs to learn and develop.
Check out the episode below. 👇
📖 Deep dive
As I mentioned above, our team will generally try to account for Richard Mayer’s twelve principles of multimedia learning when incorporating video, graphic, or audio content into an intervention.
First published in his book Multimedia Learning, the principles are based on Mayer’s research as a professor of psychology at UC Santa Barbara. In broad terms, they are designed to provide guidance on the structuring of multimedia materials to facilitate learning.
One of the core ideas in Mayer’s work is the ‘Multimedia Principle’, which suggests that people learn best from a combination of words and visuals, rather than from words alone. According to Mayer, visuals should complement written material in a way that enhances comprehension, and should not be purely decorative.
As an example, imagine you were designing a course on weather patterns and cloud formation. Instead of merely describing different types of clouds (cumulus, stratus, etc.), the Multimedia Principle dictates that you should support this description with visuals to promote comprehension. This could be in the form of text and images, or a narrated video with relevant graphics.
Mayer, R. 2001. Multimedia Learning.
👹 Missing links
In this newsletter, psychologist Adam Grant and education economist Matthew Kraft discuss the pros and cons of looping — the practice of keeping students with the same teacher for multiple years. While the pair agree that the empirical case for looping shows that the effect is relatively small, Grant argues that these effects become more significant when aggregated across millions of students. It’s a fascinating discussion about a topic I knew little about until now.
When we started this newsletter, the first article I published was a conversation with ChatGPT, in which I asked the AI if it was going to steal my job. It told me I had nothing to worry about, but I’d always taken that response with a pinch of salt. In a new paper, researchers tasked ChatGPT with a needs, task, and learner analysis for a 12th-grade media literacy module, and the AI did pretty well. A little too well, from where I’m sitting.
This story has absolutely nothing to do with learning design, but it’s too good not to share. Apparently, there is a booming market for rare, limited-edition Kit Kats from Japan. These Kit Kats come in flavors like melon, matcha latte and daifuku mochi, and are prized by enthusiasts and collectors. When Danny Taing ordered 55,000 of these Kit Kats at a cost of $110,000, he expected to sell them in the US for around $250,000. Then the shipment went missing…
👋 And finally…
While we’re sure all of our readers take the time to savor every piece of training they’re assigned, this video made us chuckle.
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