Why Video Learning Isn’t Always Best

Videos—even good ones— that follow the traditional “lecture-style” formats may not be effective for many employees.

Every learner has unique career aspirations, skills, and learning preferences. It, therefore, stands to reason that many organizations seeking to give their employees the best possible training also are looking to incorporate the latest and greatest learning tools on the market, especially when it comes to developing their next crop of managers. Unfortunately, newer doesn’t necessarily mean better. Case in point: video learning.

With mobile devices in every pocket, it’s understandable that many HR teams lean toward video as a portable and engaging platform for busy workers, especially those YouTube-obsessed Millennials (I kid).

Just because an employee watches TED talks about leadership at home, it doesn’t necessarily follow that he or she will learn well from the same platform in a professional setting.

One of the biggest truths about adult learners is that experiential learning is often the best (and most appreciated) way to learn, as study after study has shown. Static video courses bear a great deal in common with college lectures—and that’s a problem for more reasons than one. According to one study, “Undergraduate students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use more stimulating, so-called active learning methods.” This preference for active learning holds true for adults, too.

As adult learning pioneer Eduard Lindeman notes, “Adults have a self-concept of being responsible for their own decisions, for their own lives… They resent and resist situations in which they feel others are imposing their wills on them.” This presents a real challenge for adult learning because, according to Lindeman, “the minute adults walk into an activity labeled ‘education,’ ‘training,’ or anything synonymous, they hark back to their conditioning in their previous school experience, put on their dunce hats of dependency, fold their arms, sit back, and say, ‘Teach me.’” 

Following this line of thinking, videos—even good ones— that follow the traditional “lecture-style” formats are probably not going to be effective for many employees.

To be fair, there are some specific contexts that lend themselves to video learning, e.g. when content is particularly visual, detailed, or emotional, such as the creative, medical, or counseling professions.

But does management training in a corporate setting benefit from hitting that level of detail? Or that level of emotion? For me, that’s a yet-to-be answered question, but I lean toward “No.”

It’s not just that most management content doesn’t reach the level of detail needed for the aforementioned contexts. It’s also that most managers don’t have the same needs as a doctor or counselor in the field. Managers who may be juggling half a dozen tasks at once are unlikely to have the time or patience to sit through a video, even if it’s only a few minutes long. Managers need easy, bite-sized content they can pick up and put down throughout their day, and video learning is poorly suited to frequent interruptions.

There are a couple of other glaring issues with video as a standalone-learning tool, namely, privacy and timeliness.

Privacy is one of the toughest issues with video. Particularly with open-concept office environments on the rise, it can be tough to keep computer monitors truly private. Managers might be afraid of appearing lazy by watching a video at work, or of accidentally exposing themselves to a sensitive situation. Even with headphones, a manager watching videos on “how to fire a team member” might be in a tough spot if she finds her direct report looking over her shoulder at a video of actors in a firing meeting.

And speaking of reenactments… remember those classroom videos featuring “Jill” with big hair and “Bob” in baggy tweed suits? We laughed at them, but (if you’re anything like I was in high school) we mostly ignored what they had to say, because, let’s face it: They were like 100 years old! That may be a slight exaggeration, but the reality is that almost as fast as it is filmed, video becomes dated. Not only that, but in many cases, the actors in the videos are not people we can relate to on a personal level—whether it’s a matter of age, gender, ethnicity, or otherwise, most video production companies are behind the times when it comes to diversity.

So what’s a well-meaning Learning and Development (L&D) professional to do? Based on what we know about how adults learn, I’m willing to argue that text-based learning is generally better suited to the needs of today’s managers than video.

Unlike video, text allows the learner to decide what to focus on, skip over, or go back to. It’s easy to call out and share salient points with others (I do this all the time, as my team can attest), and if I accidentally close my browser or lose my place, I can easily find it again with the search function. Text is also discreet, so learners can focus on digesting the information rather than avoiding prying eyes.

Best of all, text is cheap and straightforward to update as policies change or new information becomes available. This is critical in a world where the 24-hour news cycle is omnipresent, and employees are conditioned to look for, recognize, and respect only the most current information.

Organizations must acknowledge and address the needs of modern learners, even if it means ditching or reducing the amount of video used in training. Call me old-fashioned, but as employees continue to demand control over when, how, and how much they want to learn in one sitting, I firmly believe text will play an increasingly important role in the future of corporate learning.

Rob Cahill, CEO of Jhana, an industry innovator in first-level manager online training and resources. Recently, Jhana has been analyzing training methods and has discovered that despite the hype around video, users are still choosing traditional text-based resources. Cahill founded Jhana in 2011 after personally experiencing how first-level manager effectiveness can make or break retention and help reach company goals. His mission is to provide effective and relatable management training that is available around the clock. Today, Jhana’s clients have grown to many Fortune 1000 companies, including AOLOrbitzCARFAXCareer BuilderGroupon, and more. 

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