Category: eLearning & Instructional Technology

Low-tech high-value instructional video

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By Larry B, March 4, 2010

Lots of us involved in instructional technology content development are rightly cognizant of high production values and a carefully edited script.  In my prior job as director of educational technology development at Harvard Business School, we were very focused on making highly-designed instructional products that looked great, sounded great, and didn’t waste a syllable in their tightly edited, word-crafted voiceover.

Nothing wrong with that, if that’s your target market and you’re planning to productize the content at a high price.  But there’s another way, as Jon Udell highlights in his conversation with Sal Khan, principal of Khan Academy.org.  Khan (interestingly, an MBA graduate of Harvard Business School) has created over one thousand instructional videos aimed primarily at middle/high school and college students on topics from Biology to Physics to Economics to Mathematics.

Khan uses nothing more complicated than a screen capture program like Camtasia, a Wacom tablet and a $20 headset to create powerful, explanatory tutorials that give the feel of looking-over-the-expert’s-shoulder.  Khan’s videos are posted to YouTube, which has granted khanacademy an exception to the ten-minute limit that applies to conventional YouTube channels.

What’s amazing is the scalability of this approach. Khan has been able to create this vast collection of material because he’s found the right combination for effective teaching while having a scalable process. You might think that reaching kids today means competing with video games, high-def TV, sophisticated animations and graphics by trying to beat those formats on their terms.  Khan’s gone the other way, and hit a home run, as evidenced by the popularity of his site and the feedback coming from kids, parents, and teachers.

There’s lots of rich detail in Jon’s interview with Sal on IT Conversations and it’s worth a listen (even if you don’t usually find podcast interviews compelling – this one is worth the download). Khan is working on analytics, assessment, and other innovation around the library of content he’s creating.

But at its heart, the lesson I see in this is that it’s not always about having the most advanced technology and picture-perfect production. Figuring out how to reach your audience and be effective, might mean going decidely low-tech.