What Makes a “Good” Tutorial?

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What Makes a “Good” Tutorial?

The usage of tutorials or explainer videos is increasing as some companies’ workforces are still working remotely or because they have realized that in-person training is not necessary for every topic. But, as many of us who are accustomed to learning online have seen, not all tutorials are created equal.

It’s easy to identify the bad ones, they drone on, confuse more than clarify, or overload the learner with so much information that it’s unfair to expect that they’ll remember all the points. So, what makes a tutorial video “good”?

While “good” is inherently subjective, the folks at TechSmith, creators of Camtasia, have compiled a list of what they believe makes a good training video. Having viewed several of their tutorials, I can state that they, as they put it, “know a thing or two about making video tutorials.” They created an “essential elements” list to help you make your next tutorial video, training video, or software demo one of the good ones. This post is my annotated summary of their list.

Clarity

Tutorials need to be clear, easy to follow, and to the point. 

That seems like it shouldn’t need to be stated, but after viewing many tutorials that left me questioning what I just watched, there’s a reason it’s number one on their list.

Clarity starts in the planning phase. This is when you identify the specific learning objectives (what your learner needs to know or do to be successful after watching your video). Tutorials typically have one to three objectives, as they are meant to be brief instructional videos. If you are approaching the five or above range, you’ll want to reevaluate if all of them are objectives or just points being covered.

Here are some examples of learning objectives we have used recently:

  • The user will submit and reconcile commission payroll reports.
  • Users will submit IT help desk tickets to report hardware or software issues.

These aren’t just points being covered in the tutorial; these are what the user will be able to do once they have viewed the video.

Flow

Each section flows naturally from one to the next. 

Videos that jump from one section to another with an “oh, and this..” flow exhaust me; it’s challenging to remain focused when the presenter is all over the place. Information needs to be presented in a logical manner, preferably in the order that the learner will use it. If you are jumping from one section to another, even if it’s related, and then back, don’t expect your learner to remember that aside you just talked about because chances are they won’t.

If a clear order of steps doesn’t exist, then group similar concepts together. If there are three different paths to reach a specific form, present them all at once instead of as you come across them.

Pacing

Content needs to be delivered at a comfortable and appropriate pace. Most record voice-overs separately from the screen recording. This can make syncing audios and visuals tricky if you don’t pad the narration with pauses. 

Pacing needs to be considered while scriptwriting. If you’re showing a complex step, afford it a little more time. If it’s a simple step, there’s no need to provide extra detail. The idea is that each step gets the right amount of time and attention.

I record voice-overs separately from screen recordings and, when I first started, it was difficult to get the audio and visuals to sync up. That’s because I was reading the script, and I, like most people, tend to speed up when I read. The narration felt excruciatingly slow at first, but it was infinitely easier to sync with the on-screen components once I started adding pauses to the ends of sentences and steps. This makes it easy for you to go in and edit the amount of time between the steps.

Cognitive Load 

Working memory is limited and can become overwhelmed, making learning difficult or even impossible.

A learner who is more familiar with the topic will allow you to present more topical information before their cognitive limit is reached, as additional context and support are not needed. The inverse is true for a novice learner; they will need more context to understand and will reach their cognitive limit sooner due to having to learn the ins and outs of the topic.

A learner who has worked in Salesforce for years will not need the steps to find an object and create a new record, while someone who has never used it before will need direction on how to access the right object, how to create a new record, and how to enter the information, etc. The seasoned learner could learn several new topics about Salesforce, while the new learner may only be able to process one or two.

Knowing your audience and their skill levels are the best way to determine the appropriate amount of information and cognitive load.

Appeal

A lot of videos are created based on demand or because of compliance.

The purpose of tutorials is to show a learner how to do something, so the appeal comes down to if it’s useful. If it’s not, it has no appeal.

Tone

Tone can make your tutorial more comfortable to watch and should be addressed in the scriptwriting stage.

Word choice in your script goes a long way in determining the tone of your tutorial. A good rule is to state things as they are, don’t exaggerate or embellish.

Overly excited or monotone voice overs seem to distract and put off learners. Personally, the overly excited tend to annoy me, while the monotone puts me to sleep. I doubt I am alone in that reaction. Narration that sounds as if you are talking to another person is usually the most well-received. A general, happy tone is a good option, so try smiling while you record. It really does work.

Presentation

It is easy to focus on presentation and forget all the steps that come before it, but that will make a good presentation harder to accomplish. How the tutorial looks, sounds, and is displayed play a role in its success. 

I will admit that I am guilty of thinking about the presentation before completing all the previous steps at times. I start thinking about how the final product will look and function before laying all the groundwork. It’s easy to do because the presentation is what your audience will see. It’s exciting to think about the end-product but rushing it can undercut its success.

General presentation guidelines:

  • Ensure you have the best picture quality possible. It makes the viewing more accessible for the learner, and it also allows you to zoom and pan to draw attention to specific points.
  • Set your volume at a mid-level setting and test the narration to make sure it is clear and easy to hear. You can raise or lower the volume of your voice over in your editing software.
  • Use transitions and additional effects sparingly. Don’t add effects just for fun or visual stimulation; use them when it adds to the learning experience.

So, while good is subjective, these are seven elements that are the core traits of successful tutorials. While I believe these are all essential to a good tutorial, I do feel the weight lies with clarity, cognitive load, and appeal, which I deemed usefulness. These three elements serve as the backbone of the video, providing structure, while the other elements contribute more to the appearance of the tutorial. However, creating a video that pairs a solid structure with an appealing appearance should result in a pretty decent tutorial. You may even call it good.

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