Video or Image: The Existential Question

It’s not necessarily a matter of one solution being right and the other wrong. It comes down to the utility and function of both images and videos, the goal of the training, and the audience.

The decision whether to create a video or use a still image to communicate can be overwhelming. There are countless variable nuances that make a cut-and-dried answer to this dilemma nearly impossible. Rather than defaulting to one solution—“We should make a video!” —we need to be asking, “Should we make a video?”

It’s not necessarily a matter of one solution being right and the other wrong. It comes down to the utility and function of both images and videos. For instance, still images are excellent for a quick reference or pointing out detail. If it’s something that needs to be referenced frequently, a video would not be ideal. Having to constantly rewind or skip ahead is time consuming and can be frustrating for the viewer.

Creating a video, on the other hand, is ideal when there are multiple steps or content involves movement. Video is also great for establishing authority or when you want a more personal feel and message. For instance, videos are practical for showing how to use software. It’s beneficial for viewers to see the movement of how to navigate menus and buttons.

Here are some additional helpful tips and guidelines to consider when trying to decide if a video or an image is the best solution:

1. Look at the message you’re trying to convey. If your message is overly complex; or requires a lot of steps, video may be the better option. If the message is less complex, an image is the right choice.

2. What’s the goal? It’s important to have a goal in mind when creating content. If you don’t have a well-defined objective in place for the content, the end-user likely will not have a clear understanding either. Does the goal require a high level of engagement or a more personal, emotional connection? Then video is a good option. If the goal is the ability to quickly reference content or to provide clarity to surrounding content, an image may be an easier, better choice.

3. Know your audience. It’s critical to know not only who your audience is, but also how and where your audience is going to most likely view content. For instance, if they are on a noisy plant floor (where audio is hard to hear) or they can’t watch videos as they work, images might be better. If they have dedicated devices, video might be the right choice. Ultimately, you need to consider the end-user of your content. The demographic of your audience will play an important factor in which medium is the best choice. Be sure to keep this top of mind and create your content accordingly.

4. Cost and time budget. Consider your budget and the amount of time you have to create content, and the required quality. If budget is low or time is short, video may not be the answer. Video will take more time, more equipment (unless you use screencasting), and more processing time. If there’s a short turnaround time for the content, images will suffice for the first version.

For example, a health-care system facility was looking to quickly reduce workplace violence toward its staff. The facility wanted a quick turnaround, so the team felt the best approach was to create video vignettes. They created a series of scenarios, with each scenario having multiple decision points, like a “choose your own adventure.” Learners were able to go through the scenarios multiple times. This resulted in 75 percent of employees reported feeling more comfortable de-escalating incidents, and workplace violence was down 21 percent. I don’t believe the impact would be the same if this were presented as just text and images.

5. Consider the learning experience. Another instance to choose video is when you want the viewer to have the benefit of both the visual and auditory experience. This is not about learning styles, but about creating a more immersive experience and conveying information that will benefit from two sources—what is seen and what is heard. The audio could be music to reinforce a certain emotion or feeling, or it could be voiceover that reinforces or expands on the information being shown on the screen.

As you can see, there are many factors that will affect whether a video or an image is the best option. While there’s no one-size-fits-all option, I encourage you to tap into your creative side and experiment with both. It’s easy to fall into the habit of defaulting to your preference; however, considering these tips will ensure you’re on the right path to creating the most effective and compelling content possible.

Matt Pierce is customer support manager at TechSmith Corp., a software company that provides practical business and academic products that can dramatically change how people communicate and collaborate. A graduate of Indiana University’s School of Education’s Department of Instructional Systems Technology, Pierce has 10 years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training and user assistance teams for TechSmith, and also has run its visual communication Web show, The Forge, interviewing guests from around the world discussing the use of visuals, video, and technology in education, training, marketing, and more. Teach him something @piercemr.