Using Video in e-Learning: (Almost) Everything You Need to Know


Not that long ago using videos in e-learning was pretty prohibitive due to the costs associated with it. Fast forward a few years and with everyone having access to video-cameras on their smartphones and laptops, it has become a lot more feasible for the everyday e-learning designer to use videos in his/her projects. 

But remember: just because video has become more commonplace, that doesn’t mean that adding video to e-learning is without its challenges or that every project merits it. I recently did some research into using video in e-learning for a course I’m presently designing and I thought I’d compile some of my findings into a blog post.

Pros and Cons of Using Video in e-Learning

Whether or not you choose to use video in your project will depend on many factors, including time, budget, and subject matter. Whichever way you choose to go, there will be advantages and disadvantages.



  • Reduces the reading load
  • Various forms of media can help keep learners interested/engaged
  • Help visual learners retain information
  • Great way to demonstrate interpersonal and behavioural skills
  • Expensive and time-consuming to script, record and edit videos.
  • Low quality video is more distracting and detrimental than useful
  • Uses more bandwidth and take longer to load

 When you should use video

Although the cost of developing video for e-learning has gone down significantly over the years, it is still a time and resource-intensive undertaking. As such, you should only use video when there is a clear instructional purpose behind it. Here are a few examples of when video might be a good idea:

  • To model behavioral or interpersonal skills
  • To demonstrate how-to do, and how not to do, a specific task
  • To reduce the reading load for learners
  • To emphasize an important concept or point
  • When you need more emotional appeal than photos and text alone can deliver

High-level steps for using video

If you’ve decided you will be going ahead and using video in your project, here are the high-level tasks you will need to accomplish.

  1. Decide which content will be presented through video
  2. Decide if you will Do-It-Yourself or hire a professional videographer
  3. Script and create a shot-by-shot storyboard
  4. Schedule videographer, actors, location, sound & lighting technician
  5. Record the video
  6. Edit the video using editing software
  7. Compress and render the video
  8. Insert video into e-learning course
  9. Provide learners with software requirements for accessing the video

Key considerations for using video

Below is a list of some of the basic considerations you will want to look at when planning your video project.

  • Scripting and Storyboarding: Has the script been written and vetted? Scriptwriting may seem easy but it can actually be quite difficult and time-intensive to create realistic dialog. Do you have a storyboard for all the shots you need to capture when recording your video? Do you need a close-up shot of a product or of a specific technique? Have it planned out, shot by shot.
  • Video Equipment and Technology: Do you have the equipment needed to shoot videos? (Camera, editing software, microphones, lighting, backdrops, etc.) If you don’t currently have the necessary equipment, will you be purchasing (new or used) or renting the equipment? What are the price differences? If you are hiring a professional, which equipment will he/she bring?
  • Location: Where will you be filming your video? Do you need a sound proof location? Can you film in a public space? Do you need to book the space, or make arrangements to make sure it’s quiet? Do you need to purchase a back drop for the room?
  • Actors: Will you be using employees or paid actors? If you are using paid actors, do they need to be a certain age, ethnicity, gender, etc. Do you need to schedule them a few weeks in advance? Do you have any backups in case someone doesn’t show up? Do the actors need to be wearing any specific type of clothing (business suits, casual jeans, etc.) and how should their hair and makeup be done?
  • Lighting: Professional looking videos are well lit to avoid shadows, darkness, etc. How will you accomplish this?
  • Sound: You may need a professional sound technician who has wireless microphones and the equipment needed to make sure all the sounds are crisp and clear.
  • Final editing: Do you have the software necessary to make edits to the footage? If not, will you hire a professional to do this? What are the costs and timeframes involved?
  • Logistics: Now that you’ve got your equipment, location, actors and sound & light technicians all sorted out, you need to schedule everyone to be in the same place at the same time for at least a few hours to do the recording!

Which video format to use

As  I did my research into using videos I started wondering which video format is best for e-learning. I also found it’s really easy to become confused and lost in the world of video codecs, containers and formats. I think it’s really important to understand these basic video technology concepts so here’s my attempt to break it down. Almost all video out there is compressed (meaning it’s been altered to take up less space on your computer). A video codec is software the decompresses the files so you can watch them (popular ones are QuickTime,  Windows Media, DivX) and a container (really another word for what I call “format”) is the bundle of files that actually comprises the video (popular ones are .FLV, .MP4, .MOV, .AVI). Which type of video “container” should you use for your e-learning project? There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer, but you can reference the table below to help make your decision.

Video Format Comparison Chart

Video Format



.SWF (Flash File) & .FLV (Flash Video)
  • One of the most widely used video formats (it’s the standard video format used by nearly all embedded video on the Internet)
  • Tends to be the best quality and smallest file size for compressed video
  • It’s native format to Adobe Flash
  • Can be created from .AVI, .MOV, .MP3, .MP4 and more. (Using converter tools)
  •  Apple iOS Devices do not support the Flash Player Plugin – hence do not display .swf or .flv files. (Important consideration if you are designing training to be displayed on iPad or iPhones)
  • Supported by both Windows and MAC
  • Because it’s one of the older video formats around it’s pretty commonly used.
  • Almost all popular web browsers support this format.
  • It is possible to convert .AVI files into other formats.
  • Excellent audio fidelity
  •  Apparently there can sometimes be issues displaying .AVI files on iPads and iPhones.
  • This format was introduced in the early 90s and  video techniques have since been introduced which pose challenges and limitations to .AVI
  • Primary disadvantage of .AVI files if they are larger than many other audio formats (longer to load, use more bandwidth)
.MP4 and .MOV (MPEG-4)
  • Developed and supported by Apple
  • Compatible with both Apple and Windows platforms
  • Is quickly becoming a very common video format
  • You can store subtitles directly in this video format
  • Meshes well with other media (for example, works well in PowerPoint presentations)
  •  The file size can still be quite large even when compressed.

Managing Video File sizes:

One of the biggest disadvantages to using video in e-learning is the amount of space/bandwidth they use. Even when compressed, video files are not exactly tiny. However, there are a few basic things you can do to manage your video file sizes:

  • Chunk your videos into small segments
  • Compress your videos
  • Limit the width and height of your videos in your courses (of course, don’t make it so small you can’t see the screen clearly!)
  • Host your videos online (YouTube, or similar) and link to them or embed the YouTube videos directly in your course (this might only be a possibility is Internet access is available, and there might also be a security risk involved in this to take into consideration)

Various hints, tips, advice:

Here’s a couple of other interesting tidbits and nuggets of information I found as I was doing my research.

  • Keep videos short (no more than few minutes, get to the point quickly)
  • Use closed captioning (for hearing impaired, and for clarity)
  • Make sure your e-learning authoring software and LMS are video compatible.
  • Consider how easy/difficult the use of video will make it to edit and maintain the course down the line
  • Remember your color blind audience!

Helpful Links and Resources

I thought I would share some of the web pages and resources that helped me write this post.


15 thoughts on “Using Video in e-Learning: (Almost) Everything You Need to Know

  1. Jeanne Strayer says:

    Nicole, Could you elaborate on the benefit of reducing the reading load? Would you ever conceive of using a talking head for this purpose? I really enjoyed and learned a lot from your post. Thank you.

    • Nicole Legault says:

      If you have a course that is text heavy (sometimes it’s unavoidable) it might make it easier on the learner if certain things can be demonstrated through video instead of being represented through words. Or, like you said, to have a talking head who is “guiding them” through the course could also be beneficial, instead of having to read everything. Thanks for leaving a comment Jeanne and I’m glad you enjoyed the post and learned from it.

  2. Cedric Smith says:

    A lot of great information Nicole! As stated in your post and a few of your resources, it is important to keep videos short if possible. People tend to lose focus and become less engaged after a certain amount of time. It’s also good practice to break videos up into short sections. This will allow users to easily identify and access key points. I’m looking forward to the next blog post about your experience presenting at DevLearn 2012.

    Thanks for sharing,


    • Nicole Legault says:

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment Cedric 🙂 Much appreciated! Glad to hear someone else is also looking forward to hearing about my Vegas experience!

    • Darkone (@darkone) says:

      Cedric, something that caught my attention a few years ago, and something I’ve always meant to return to, is the FourDocs format pioneered by UK’s Channel4.

      The basic premise is that the attention span you referred to is typically four minutes for online material. One of the FourDocs documentaries was making a FourDocs documentary.

  3. cm3kz0ut says:

    Just did a video embedded within an eLearning module. Take-away points: Video is and will always be the most complex medium in town. Travel and crew kicks any budget into urber-mode (not good for profit margins). Finally, Video is the least flexible medium for simple things like pointers, process flow and screen shots with humans in the pictures.

    Don’t worry, I’m intensifying our effort in video, but that doesn’t make the obstacles any less bearable.

    • Nicole Legault says:

      Those are really valuable tips… it’s so cliche but SO TRUE that we learn the most (and remember what we learn the most) through real life experiences. Thanks for the comment 🙂

    • Nicole Legault says:

      As a matter of fact, I did! 🙂 On that note — thanks again for attending my session and for the feedback you provided! It was really nice to get to meet you in person 🙂

  4. Tim says:

    Great post! I’m a big fan of video within eLearning…as long as its implemented well. I’ve seen some eLearning where the video detracted from the course. It’s all about balance and relevance.

  5. elearning developer says:

    While I agree with your main point, I beg to state that over use of video in elearning isn’t that useful. The best case scenario is that an elearning developer is working on apps that include only the positives of using video in elearning.

  6. Amol says:

    Hi Nic, happy to read your article. We are in the process of creating some Video based e-learning. Any idea how much will it cost for a 30 min video ( with film or with animation?) in USD?


  7. TalkShop Technical Writing says:

    We can use of video learning when we are teaching a step by step procedures on how to do a certain task. This will be easier for the students to follow the instructions rather than in a text-based or by using manuals.

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