What Makes A How-Do-I Video Great ?

I have been thinking a lot about how differently each of us (inside and out of Microsoft) approaches creating How-Do-I videos.

Let’s start by agreeing that no one instructor will please everyone, and the best way to create truly excellent videos is to step away from ego and try to zero in on what it is that this community values in instructional videos.

Videos

Create A List, Check It Twice

What follows are the characteristics that I look for and pay attention to, both when I’m creating videos and when I’m watching them. 

One of the things that I hope will come out of this posting is a healthy, strong, ongoing discussion about what makes for "good" videos; that is videos that are worth your time to watch.

 

Depends on whether your meaning of “good” is good. 

We can probably all agree that good sound quality is better than poor sound quality, and even agree on whether a given video has good (or good enough) sound quality. We may not all agree on what makes for good pacing – that is,  some people prefer a faster pace, others prefer a more deliberate pace. 

When thinking about these characteristics, we also need to consider the relative importance of any given characteristic. Once again, we can probably all agree that it is very important that the video have sufficiently good audio and video quality to be watchable and understandable, but we may differ in how much value we assign to the length of the video or smooth transitions.

Thus, if we were doing a survey we might want the user to answer paired questions such as: "Do you prefer to see videos that move along more quickly or more deliberately? " and  "How important is the pacing of the video to you?

Instructional Quality

I’ll arbitrarily break instructional quality into

  • Instructional approach
  • Pacing of the material
  • Signal to noise
  • How well a single topic is encapsulated

Instructional approach.

  • Does the presenter approach the topic in a logical fashion?
  • Does the presenter provide "motivation" (that is, what you’re about to learn and why you care)?
  • Is the example sufficiently clean and simple to understand the key point of the video?
  • Is the example sufficiently "mappable" to your own problem domain that you can see how to go from this example to work you might want to do?
  • Does the presenter (A.) ignore best practices, (B.) follow best practices, (C.) violate best practices.
  • Does the presenter used obscure, esoteric, techniques that lead to confusion?
  • Does the presenter skipped over interim steps, leaving you a bit confused?
  • Does the presenter dwell over-much on the obvious?
  • Does it seem that the presenter knows what he or she is talking about?

Pacing

  • Do you find the overall pacing: too slow, too fast, about right?
  • Is the presenter making the right assumptions about what you already know?
  • Is the instructor speaking: too slow, too fast, about right?
  • Is the instructor adding code to the demo: too slow, too fast, about right?

Signal-to-noise ratio

  • What percentage of the video do wish the presenter had edited out?
  • Was this video worth the time to watch it?

Encapsulation

  • Does this video teaching single topic, or does it cover number of related topics?
  • How well do the name and description of the video map to the content?
  • Does this video makes forward references to other videos?

Production Quality And Other Factors

Audio/ Video quality.

  • Is the quality of the video high enough that you can easily see what is being described?
  • Is the quality of the audio high enough that you can easily hear every word?
  • Is the video, unobtrusive (no sudden and unexplained jumps, no dropouts, etc.).
  • Is there anything in the video or audio that is distracting (background noises, instructor chewing, etc.).
  • Did the presenter take the time to make sure that the most important part of the screen is easily visible without making you dizzy with excessive zooming?
  • Does the presenter take the time to add callouts (circles arrows etc.), where that is necessary to understand what the presenters say?
  • Are transitions smooth?

Entertainment/charisma value

  • Is the video: so boring you want to claw your eyes out/ reasonably interesting/ a fair amount of fun?
  • Overall, is the instructor interesting to listen to?

Duration

  • Given the topic, was this video too long, too short, or just about right?
  • Overall be fine if the presenters videos are: too long, too short, or just about right?

Questions For You:

  • What am I missing in this list?
  • Which of these are very important?
  • Which of these are nearly irrelevant?
  • To what extent is all of this secondary to having videos on the right topics?
  • When a new version of Silverlight appears, would you rather see more videos of lower quality, or fewer videos of higher quality?
  • What have you seen in other videos that you wish we would do here?
  • What are we doing in our videos that you wish we would stop?

What?  No survey?

It’s tempting at this point to create a survey based on these questions; but that would presume that I already know what all the right questions are, and more important, that would kill the discussion before it even begins.

While blog comments are not the ideal discussion framework, I invite you please to respond in any way you like; answering one or more questions; adding, deleting or otherwise editing my lists; or just commenting on the overall topic.

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About Jesse Liberty

Jesse Liberty is an independent consultant and programmer with three decades of experience writing and delivering software projects. He is the author of 2 dozen books and multiple Pluralsight courses, and has been a Senior Technical Evangelist for Microsoft, a Distinguished Software Engineer for AT&T, a VP for Information Services for Citibank and a Software Architect for PBS. He is a Xamarin Certified Mobile Developer and a Xamarin MVP, Microsoft MVP and Telerik MVP.
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