7 Research-Based Training Video Tips

Karina Kasparova
October 12, 2022

Are you looking to step up your training video game and create more effective training videos? 🔝

Luckily, science has given us plenty of guidance on what works and doesn't work when it comes to getting your point across.

Here are 7 tips backed by research that will help you create training videos your employees will actually pay attention to.

Are you a visual learner? Our Learning expert Kevin outlined the tips in a video format just for you 👇

How to Make Engaging Video (3 Quick Tips)

Tip #1: Add a (human) face

We, humans, are social creatures and our brains are wired to find and engage with faces.

It's a principle that has long been documented in one of the most important books in the e-learning space - e-Learning and the Science of Instruction by Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer.

The Personalization Principle outlined in that book states that humans are naturally social creatures that like to be engaged in conversation.

This Principle can be applied in practice by adding a visual character in a training video to simulate a person-to-person interaction and increase viewer engagement.

Additionally, a 2014 study into how video production affects student engagement found that among different types of instructional videos, informal talking head videos are more engaging.

In the same study, 46% of students attempted to solve a related problem immediately following a talking head video, whereas only 33% did that after watching slideshows and screencasts.

Who can be used as a talking head in training videos?

Traditionally, instructors, subject matter experts, or actors. But lately, AI avatars are becoming more and more popular as talking heads in employee training videos.

You can read more about using AI avatars in training videos in a separate detailed blog post.

Where should you add talking heads in a training video?

The above 2014 research paper suggests showing talking heads at key moments throughout the video.

For training videos specifically, we recommend using a talking head

  • at the beginning of the video to tell the learners what the video is about
  • when outlining key points/takeaways to reinforce learning
  • at the end of the video to recap and make the call-to-action more impactful

Tip #2: Change up your visuals

While talking head videos are certainly engaging, too much of a good thing isn't.

Monotone visuals aren't the best for learner engagement - lack of visual variety leads to boredom and zoning out. 🥱

This is backed by research from the Nielsen Norman Group, which in 2005 did an eye-tracking study to measure viewer engagement with talking head videos online. In a 24-second long video excerpt, viewers' attention didn't stay on the talking head for very long - it diverted to other objects in the video frame and outside the frame as well.

The study was expanded in 2017 to analyze how we can increase viewer engagement in a talking head video. The short answer - change up the visuals.

To expand on that, here are a few things you can do to increase engagement:

1. Include interesting background elements

Visual elements other than the speaker can give users somewhere to divert their gaze without fully switching off from the video itself.

Just make sure that the elements aren't too distracting - you still want the viewer to pay attention to the audio.

2. Show related text content outside the video frame

If the learner's attention does shift from the video, make sure that the content outside the video frame is useful and related to the content of the training video.

The text can contain useful supplemental information or links to other interesting content in case they do lose interest in the video.

3. Shift the camera angle

Zooming in, zooming out, and moving the subject slightly to the left or to the right is an easy way to keep viewers engaged.

If you're using AI avatars to create training videos, you can mimic different camera angles using this technique:

Avatar Angles

4. Include graphics within the video

Reinforce and complement your message with graphic elements within the video.

They are a new interesting visual element to focus on but repeat the message to reinforce learning.

These elements can include:

  • text
  • shapes, arrows
  • animations

Tip #3: Shorten your introduction

Make your introduction as concise as possible, ideally no longer than 5-10 seconds.

In your introduction, focus on answering these two questions:

  1. What is this training video going to be about?
  2. What is the learner expected to do afterward?

Keeping the introduction short helps reduce the overall length of the video. And if there's one thing that has been proven time and time again in the e-learning space, is that short videos are more engaging.

Even as far back as 1956, Miller's Law states that the number of objects a person can hold in their short-term memory is limited to about 7 plus/minus 2.

How does that translate into video training?

Since the short-term memory capacity of a learner is limited, that means the number of topics covered in one video should reflect that. The fewer topics are covered, the shorter the video.

Tip #4: Reduce cognitive load

I’m sure you’ve seen all these kinds of training videos: 

  • 😴 The ones where the instructor gives too much information, so you stop paying attention.
  • 😨 The ones where too many things are happening on screen, so you just stop watching. 
  • 😏 The ones that are simply too long, and you decide ahead of time it’s not going to work for you.

Yup, we’ve all been there. 

The thing is, our working memory can only hold a limited amount of information at once.

Here’s what you can do to keep viewers from feeling overwhelmed:

1. Orient the viewer

Set user expectations before they start watching the video; get them familiar with the system's characters, symbols, behaviors, and other components (also known as the pre-training effect).

This way, they will understand it better.

2. Chunk the information

Students learn better when videos are broken down into segments. 

It’s also a good idea to give them control over pausing, going back. etc. with buttons and other navigational elements.

Chunk the Information

3. Eliminate elements that do not contribute to the learning goal

Cut unnecessary stuff like complex backgrounds and music, even though they’re interesting. ✂️

Keep in mind that all elements should add to the learning experience, otherwise they’re simply a distraction.

Tip #5: Choose the words carefully

Now let’s say a word or two about… words. 😊

Yes, combining pictorial and verbal channels when delivering information maximizes our memory capacity.

As per Dr. Lynell Burmark, an educational consultant who writes and speaks about visual literacy: 

“…unless our words, concepts, and ideas are hooked onto an image, they will go in one ear, sail through the brain, and go out the other ear. Words are processed by our short-term memory where we can only retain about seven bits of information. Images, on the other hand, go directly into long-term memory where they are indelibly etched.”

65% of the population are visual learners, and there's no doubt that video is a powerful tool for learning…

…but here’s a bummer:

Many learning videos fail to properly combine images and text.

So here are some basic rules to keep in mind:

1. Sync actions on screen with narration

It’s simple — just make sure the narration always supports the visual part of the video. 

Make them simultaneous rather than sequential; it’s less taxing on students’ memory and therefore more effective.

Perfectly Synced Animations

2. Avoid redundancy when presenting verbal information

Words as mere narration work better than narration combined with on-screen text. 

This may sound counterintuitive, but there’s no need to duplicate them.

3. Follow the user’s mental plan when describing actions

Present information in a way that reflects how users think. 

Here’s a simple illustration:

❌ Click NEW on the File menu. (worse, because it’s not how users would approach it)

✅ On the File menu, click NEW. (better, because it matches the user’s mental model)

4. Write in a conversational style

Remember the personalization principle we talked about before? 

Well, it can be applied to words as well. 

Make your narration sound as natural as possible to establish a sense of social partnership between the student and the narrator. 

In short: If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.

Tip #6: Make it interactive

Here’s the thing: Adding interactive elements to your videos can greatly improve learning outcomes. 

🛋 🥔 Ever heard about the couch potato effect?

A comparison was made between a) a video that ran continuously and b) a video that stopped and prompted the user to press PLAY to continue. It turned out that the segmented video with pauses resulted in a significantly higher increase in procedural knowledge than the uninterrupted version.

Ok, so there’s a science behind it, but how exactly can you apply this finding to your videos? 

Here’s how:

1. Segment your video

Break it down into several bite-sized segments, so it’s easier to follow and navigate. 

Enable pausing and temporal cueing to reduce cognitive overload and provide a better sense of control.

2. Enable external user controls

Basic user controls (pause, start, stop, replay…) help with video processing. 

In fact, any kind of user control is in some way interactive and turns the passive viewer into an active learner.

3. Include interactive questions and features during the video

If possible, make your video interactive with built-in features such as interactive questions and quizzes.

This results in less mind wandering, increased note-taking, and better learning outcomes. 🤓

Use video for quizzes

4. Encourage interactivity on a human level

Interactivity isn’t always about technology. 

You can also make your video interactive with emotional interludes.

Here are some ideas:

  • talk about relatable situations and intense topics
  • make students feel certain feelings
  • help them remember a scene from their past…

Tip #7: Provide easy access to your video

Okay, this tip may not be about training video as such, but that doesn’t mean it’s not super important (it’s also super simple): 

🔎 Make it easy for viewers to find the right video(s). 

You want their learning experience to be as smooth as possible, and here’s how you can help:  

1. Make it discoverable

Help students find the information and the location of your video by providing:

  • a table of contents
  • keyword search option 
  • other navigation features

2. Give it a clear title

The title plays a crucial role — it’s the first thing people see before they proceed to the video itself. 

So make it clear (no jargon) and provide a short description if possible.

3. Arrange your video content in a consistent way

Consistency helps users form a mental model. 🧠

Make sure you always arrange your content in the same way; chronologically, alphabetically, or thematically.

What tip will you try first?

So there you have it, our top seven research-based training video tips to help your viewers learn and retain information.

Keep in mind that these are just general guidelines – feel free to experiment with different visuals, audio, and lengths to see what works best for your content.

And don’t forget – if you want to create effective training videos but don’t have the time or resources, we can help.

With Synthesia, you can simplify your training video creation process by eliminating the need for actors, filming equipment, and video editing software.

Try a free demo video to see for yourself.

And if you want to learn even more about training videos, we’ve got you covered. 👇

Frequently Asked Questions