The Evolution of Online Education

I really enjoy showing people how to do stuff, especially creative stuff. When I started doing that kind of thing for technology companies, in the late 1990’s, I had to get on a plane in order to reach my audience as there was simply no other way. In 2008, I started Adobe TV as a way to educate a much, much wider audience without having to replicate myself and/or spend all my life in the unfriendly skies. My team and I built a TV studio in the Adobe SF office and brought all the “Evangelists” like me in to record their presentations. 8 years later and it’s still going strong, reaching over 3 million people all over the world each and every month.

The model was to basically take an existing presentation, or classroom lesson,  and record it on video, then distribute the video online. That model is still the primary way most people learn complex subjects, and I’ve been thinking lately that it’s become antequated and will die off soon. The next evolution is already here.

I just wrapped up a project in which I was leading the creation of very short (7 to 10 second) tutorial videos, showing how to do basic creative tasks in mobile apps for one of my clients. The videos are offered “in-context”, meaning that when you first encounter a new tool, the app offers to “show you how” and if you want to be shown, you get a very short video loop which clearly and articulately demonstrates how the tool works. There is no audio, no “presenter’s voice” to get in the way. It’s not necessary.

For this type of instruction, this new model, IMO, represents the quickest path from concept to brain. This is the best example I’ve seen recently:

I had the need to explain to a group of people how to find the UDID on their iOS devices, and I can’t think of a quicker way to show someone than that example above.

Only a few years ago, the common wisdom was “engaging” online video content had to be 5 minutes or less. By last year that had shrank to 2-3 minutes, and in almost all instances today my clients want videos to run no longer than 2 minutes. Closer to a minute and a half if possible. People just want the information in the shortest amount of time without anything getting in the way.

So, if we really break it down, to get an idea across to a large audience, does it even need to be that long anymore? Should most visual communication be geared towards the 15-seconds-or-less, audio-free, Instagram-length video loop? Or a series of loops for something more complex? You don’t necessarily want to teach brain surgery that way, but for many ideas it just may be the right answer.

The model of the 15, 30, and 60 second commercial spot, which has been a tradition in visual media since the beginning of Television, remains one of the most effective means of storytelling. Teaching someone a task is a type of storytelling. Could that model be the future of showing people how to do creative stuff, or for that matter ANY kind of stuff?



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