eLearning best practices: Production effects

When you create software training videos, you will undoubtedly need to back up your videos with production effects. There are many things you can do after the training is complete, like adding zooming effects, callouts, and screen highlighting. In this article, I discuss how to use these features most effectively.

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What are production effects?

Production effects — or after-effects — are elements you add to your training video after the recording is complete. Aside from the items I discuss at the start of this article, there are many other effects. For purposes of this article, I cover the three most common effects.

Zooming (or pan-and-zoom)

The person watching your video usually sees the entire application running. Zoom effects allow you to zoom in on specific areas of the application. Usually, this effect follows the cursor around, forcing the student to see only a portion of the screen.

In this author’s humble opinion, the zoom effect is overused and quite confusing for the student (but cool looking if you are the trainer). If you look at some of the popular training sites like Lynda.com and GoSkills.com, you will rarely see a pan-and-zoom effect. The reason you do not see this is because students do not like the feature. The ability to zoom in and follow the mouse is very cool looking but rarely adds much value to the end video.

If you are taking a training course to learn a product you never used, you want to take in the whole user interface. You want to absorb how the features work and see everything in action, not the specific area where the mouse happens to be at a particular point in time. If you watch the video in this article, I demonstrate how the person taking your course gets little value from the pan-and-zoom of a mouse moving around the screen.

When you do use the zoom control, you should use it for a very particular purpose. For example, maybe you are demonstrating the use of a very intricate portion of an application, or only want to show a dialog box on the screen.

Callouts: The mouse wiggle killer

Have you ever watched a training video where the trainer wiggles the mouse over every portion of the screen? They talk about clicking a particular button, so before they do, they hover the mouse over it and wiggle it around like you do not already see what is happening. Mouse wiggle is a serious issue with training videos because students get so distracted from it, they might stop watching.

When I create training videos, I take my hand off the mouse, so the pointer does not move around on the screen. If I do put my hand on the mouse, it is for a purpose, and I work hard to track the pointer to exactly where it needs to go. However, even that can be distracting if all I’m doing is talking about a feature.

For example, let’s say you are training someone how to use Microsoft PowerPoint and want to talk about how you can insert pictures or text onto the slide. If you are not physically showing the student how to do the task and you are just talking about it, just make a statement like this: “The icons here at the top of the page allow you to insert a picture or insert text.” Never move the mouse, just make the statement.

After you are done recording the video, you can add callouts that draw a box, circle, or arrow to call out those icons.

Just like the zoom features, too many callouts become overwhelming to the student, so only use them when necessary. Callouts are also the most painful for you as an author to maintain. Drawing boxes, arrows, and text all over the screen and aligning them with the video can be an agonizing process. Worse, if you have to re-record the video, you will have to maintain all the callouts as well.

Here is a best practice I use for callouts:

If your only purpose for moving the mouse is to highlight a particular area of the screen, consider using a callout. If you are moving the mouse to perform a certain action, then do not use a callout.

Screen highlighting

When you initially start using an application, you are teaching the student about the user interface.

To carry forward the PowerPoint training example, let’s say you want to introduce the PowerPoint user interface to the student for the very first time. You want to highlight the location of the tabs, navigation panel, and content areas. Very often, a trainer will grab the mouse and wiggle the pointer around in an attempt to get the student’s attention. Remember, mouse wiggles are bad 🙂

Instead of wiggling the pointer around to introduce a portion of the user interface, I suggest you use screen highlighting. This feature dims the rest of the application so only the portion you are talking about remains fully visible.

Just like any other callout or zoom control, you want to use screen highlighting judiciously. The best use for screen highlighting is when you want to pull the student’s focus onto one particular area of the application so you can explain a major point.

Other production effects

There are many more production effects you can add to your videos, but these are the three primary features you will find yourself using on a regular basis to support the student’s learning. There are certainly other important effects like:

  • Fades
  • Animations
  • Screen blurring
  • Volume leveling
  • Background music or sounds

Those are just a few others, but I recommend you start with the three I list in this article first. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, remember students want to learn the features of an application, they do not want to be blown away by special effects because they will be too distracting and will lower the learning curve.

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