What I Learned Producing 90 eLearning Videos In 8 Weeks At Google

What I Learned Producing 90 eLearning Videos In 8 Weeks At Google
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Summary: How making the first YouTube Certified Online training program shaped my approach to all video production projects -- even the non-crazy ones!

5 Things I Learned Producing 90 eLearning Videos In Two Months

Google had a problem. Their vitally-important YouTube partners didn’t understand how to use YouTube’s complex backend systems. They were relying on classroom training to certify such professionals, but were only training about a thousand professionals a year.

My colleagues and I solved this problem by developing 90 eLearning videos in 8 weeks, creating the first YouTube Certified Online training program. They could then 10x their scale, going global and providing consistency that the classroom didn't anyway.

We made the videos. We scripted them, directed them, led the production team & post-production team, rolled out a new Learning Management System (LMS) and uploaded/configured it all, and built out the exam and all the behind-the-scenes stuff that makes it all work. This, in a high-stakes environment (Google HQ) where only high-quality production would be acceptable, and in the middle of a torrent of changes and revisions to the product itself.

Pulling off such a huge transformation in such a short time was brutal. We didn’t sleep much for two months. But our success was not due to our ability to work hard or any amount of organization; it was largely due to the decisions we made about the post-production process.

Post-production is the part of video-making that scares Learning and Development folks the most, probably because they know the least about it. It seems very technical, dazzlingly creative, and probably expensive. Yeah, it can be…but it doesn’t have to be.

The key to success is doing things in the right sequence:

1. Make An Inventory

First things first, you need to do an inventory. Don’t rush this step or cut corners, because it is the foundation of everything that comes next. Make sure the names of your files make sense and that you know how to find things. Back up your resources, delete the trash, and sort/tag/keyword the rest. Take the time to note points of interest and any core content. Join any multi-cam clips, select the best of multiple audio sources, and generally gain a comprehensive understanding of what you have and where it is.

2. Craft The Audio

Sound conveys time and tone to your viewer, but, unfortunately, there is little you can do to fix audio in post-production. Before you get caught up in visuals, find and sculpt the best audio takes. First, create your story, sequence, and flow from the soundtrack, so keep that script from your pre-production handy.

3. Create A Rough Cut

Now open your eyes to what you just edited, find the weak spots, and look for ways to make the whole composition stronger. Drop in placeholders for visual references (images and text) but don’t worry yet about transitions. As soon as your story is complete and your learning objectives have been met, you’re done with this rough cut. Now share your rough cut with a small subset of your target learners, and ask them what they learned. Do not share this rough cut with anyone else if you can help it. Everyone will want to see, but you want to wait until the next stage.

4. Make It Pretty

Until now, you should not have worried about how good or bad your work looked. Now, you can. Replace any placeholders with the real content. Conceal any awkward bits with visually interesting elements such as photos, outtakes, or b-roll video segments. Smooth things out in a way that reinforces your story. Ideally, you should listen to your test group of learners before you start this stage. In practice, feedback tends to overlap with this stage, and that’s usually okay. You can share this cut with a handful of key stakeholders as needed, but don’t let them get excited and forward it around yet. Trust me on this one -- the resulting unsolicited feedback will confuse and delay your project.

5. Add The Magic Of Modern Technology

Now you can finesse the transitions, add effects to the video/audio, de-green that green screen, insert any fancy motion graphics and keyframes, and do all the other extra stuff that wasn’t possible on a personal computer 20 years ago.

To Sum It Up

Note that by doing things in this order you will meet your learning objectives halfway through the process. This is key. There is no possibility that you will hand over a finished product that does not already meet its goal.

With this approach, you can simply “refine until deadline” and quit when you hit it. The more time you have, the better it will probably look. But most importantly, you’ll be motivated in the final stages by producing the best possible product, rather than by racing to complete your basic goals at the last minute.

And how did we know what the goals were? A small tweak in the conventional Instructional Design approach: we started with the exam.

Before we wrote the scripts, we made the test. When the last step of the Learner’s process is the first step you take, all the SME and legal and marketing approvals are identified and engaged upfront. Scope is unequivocally established. The targets are clearly set, and every single one becomes a learning objective met by at least one resource.

When the project changed mid-stream (which happened often), we went back to the exam and got approvals on those changes before changing anything in the videos. Because of the number of reviewers required to change an exam question (legal, product SMEs, ID, etc.), this also had the bonus effect of shielding us from many of the non-critical requests that could have easily killed our deadline.

I hope you don't have projects this crazy often, but even when you do, know that you can still succeed! There's no other way we could have met this timeline with such high-stakes, moving-target content.

Having done it this way once, it's since become my default for all Video eLearning projects. Give it a shot with your next one, and tell me how much better it goes for you!