Thoughts on producing pre-recorded videos for online training workshops

Here are some thoughts on this topic in case it is useful to anyone doing something similar
Thoughts on producing pre-recorded videos for online training workshops

Given the current pandemic, I know a lot of people have had to switch to online training recently, so I thought some notes on producing pre-recorded training videos might be useful. The full post, along with other thoughts about learning and teaching in wildlife conservation, can be found at my website:

Over the past 18 months, a big focus of my work has been designing and delivering online training workshops, including recording videos for our trainees to watch in their own time. This is something I’ve come to really enjoy, but if it had been in the job description when I applied for this job that I would be creating these videos, I’m not sure I would have been so keen! I’ve always cringed at seeing and hearing myself. Thoughts flood in like “you are pulling a silly face” and “you are mumbling again”. But over time, as hearing my voice and seeing myself on the screen has become more normal, I’ve come to care less about these things, and even to look forward to the opportunities for creativity and learning new skills. 

In this two-part post I want to share some of the things I’ve learnt, the things I still haven’t learnt, and the things I’ve learnt but haven’t actually put into practice. I’m not an expert at this, so please add your thoughts in the comments below.


In this first part, I want to start at the beginning. What are the first steps once you’ve decided that pre-recorded videos are the right thing for your online training? Here are my thoughts…

Technology – software: The videos we create have a ‘floating head’ – either my colleague or me in a small box in the corner of the screen, guiding participants through the video. This means that we need software which can record both the presentation on screen, the video of us talking, and overlay the two.

For this we use Camtasia. It is simple to use, there are lots of tutorials online and you can record from both a webcam and the screen at the same time. It isn’t free, but it is just a one-off payment (at the time of writing about £163.86 for an education license for two computers). There are, however, lots of free, open source options available. I’d love to hear about people’s experiences and recommendations on different types of recording software.

Technology – hardware: You don’t need a fancy camera to make these videos, but the better it is, the more professional the videos are. We started out just using external webcams plugged into our laptops, and I then tried a GoPro for quite a while. However, neither of these options were great, the former because the quality was poor and the latter because the lightning was too low indoors. I now use my partner’s dSLR camera, because he has a fancy one and the quality is much better. Fancy cameras don’t come cheap however, if I didn’t have access to it, I’d probably just stick with the webcam, maybe upgrading to a slightly better one. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference.

The other bit of hardware I sometimes use – letting you into a big secret here! – is a teleprompter. Teleprompters are the devices T.V. presenters use to read their scripts while looking straight at the camera. They take a bit of getting used to, but they avoid the need to either learn a long and complicated script by heart, or to refer to paper notes. And they are not as expensive as you might expect. You can get a simple teleprompter for £100 or less.

Designing the presentation: Generally, the same rules apply here as when you are designing presentation slides for the classroom, so I won’t go into detail. I’d just say, keep the slides simple, with as little text as possible. One thing to note is that if you are going for the ‘floating head’ approach, with a video of you on the screen at the same time as the presentation, you need to make sure that you don’t overlap with the text. To solve this, I always make sure the bottom right corner of the presentation is clear from writing.

How to make it engaging: Let’s face it, pre-recorded videos can be dry and it can be hard to keep the participants engaged. They might be simultaneously checking the surf forecast, watching the osprey nest cam and reading their emails, all whilst watching the video. Ultimately, this is their choice, but adding in an interactive element can help to increase learning and attention spans [1]. Here are a few ideas of ways to make videos more engaging: 

  1. Adding short quizzes throughout the presentation so that participants can test their knowledge can help to increase attention [1]. I write about this more in part two of this post in the section about editing and producing.
  2. Include exercises – I like to use cloud-based software such as Padlet and Google docs to enable participants to do exercises while watching the video. These two also allow me to see what the participants outputs. 
  3. Add random rewards – these can be anything from a short, silly video to an interactive game that is freely available on the internet. Just something to give everyone’s brains a quick break.
  4. It is ok for participants to have a break, so perhaps build this in.

Do you have any other ideas about how to make videos engaging?

Making it accessible: This is something I don’t think I have been great at. I’ve done it in response to participants’ needs, rather than thinking about it upfront. Everyone experiences the world in different ways, therefore, some people will appreciate adaptations to help make the training accessible. Two things I’ve learnt recently:

  1. It is important to provide transcripts or have subtitles. I haven’t yet managed to add subtitles, although I know they would make it much easier for some people, others will prefer not to have them. So until I have the option of making subtitles optional, I provide transcripts of pre-recorded videos as separate documents. If you didn’t use a script, then try either or if you have it (it is expensive) Dragon naturally speaking.
  2. It is good to have a video of yourself in a small square at the bottom of the screen within the pre-recorded video as some people will be lip-reading.

In part two of this post, here, I share thoughts about what to do when the time comes to record the video and then editing and producing the video.

1] Geri N, Winer A, & Zaks B. (2017) Challenging the six-minute myth of online video lectures: Can interactivity expand the attention span of learners? Online Journal of Applied Knowledge Management. 5, 101:111. 


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Go to the profile of Olivier Chassot
about 2 years ago

This is great, Beth! I imagine that everyone experiences these difficulties and your blog clarifies a lot of issues from the very beginning; this is very useful! At some point I use Zoom (opening a session just for myself and accessing it from 2 devices - cell phone and computer) to record my PPT presentation (or any other support) and video "floating head". Then I download the recording. 

Go to the profile of Beth Robinson
about 2 years ago

Thanks Olivier! The Zoom recording is a good idea :) 

Go to the profile of Michael Cunningham
about 2 years ago

This is an excellent resource, We will have to start doing this as Regional reps come on board and we start to repeat ourselves, as we seem to do to landowners and potential partners. 

Is there and easy way to make a kind of 'shareable document list' for resources like this, a kind of 'how to...' of conservation best practice, or help and support?

Looking forward to reading post two at a more sociable hour with our team! 

Go to the profile of Beth Robinson
about 2 years ago

Thanks Michael. Are you thinking something like a Google doc that people can add to? And what topics are you thinking? Just on the topic of learning and teaching or more broadly? B 

about 2 years ago

Good concept...The teacher and the students can engage themselves...There can be provision for live interactions,,,

Go to the profile of Beth Robinson
about 2 years ago

Thank you Shanmuga. 

Go to the profile of Claudia
about 2 years ago

Thank you for sharing this Beth!

I was just starting my first experience as a lecturer back in March when the pandemic caught us all by surprise. I had to adapt quickly to this new reality, and there are many things I would do differently today. We all faced similar challenges and there is still so much to learn and improve (at least that is what I feel from my side!). I found this article very useful :)

Go to the profile of Beth Robinson
about 2 years ago

Thanks Claudia! 

Go to the profile of Lucy Tallents
about 2 years ago

Great advice, Beth, and very user-friendly - thanks for sharing!

For beginners, I recommend recording yourself giving a live presentation if you can - there's no substitute for having a real audience to fire up your energy and enthusiasm!  You can extract sections later, and it doesn't matter if you mix up your words or hesitate - that just makes you more approachable to your viewers  :)

I've been trialling ffmpeg to record video - you can record multiple inputs (webcam + slides) and then overlay them into a single video.  It's one for coders as it's command-line, but free, flexible and good at reducing video size for easy download/streaming on mobile.

I also discovered a software last week called Open Broadcaster (OBS) which helps you to switch the layout during a video recording, or a live-streamed event, so that you can display a screenshare with/without headshot, for example.  I've not tried it, but my colleagues at Oxford Uni use it and it looks promising.

You can include interactivity in your video by using a tool like H5P, adding quizzes, branching scenarios, opportunities for reflection, 360 tours etc.  This is free if you're happy for your content to be public.  I'm dreaming about someone creating a command-line version of H5P...

If your video is hosted on YouTube, you can edit the auto-created subtitles or upload your own, and then viewers can choose whether to switch them on.  Providing transcripts is wise regardless, as it's much easier to search them for words/phrases than a video.

Free online teleprompter software exists, e.g. Zacue for tablets/smartphones, or CuePrompter for laptop/desktop.

Go to the profile of Beth Robinson
about 2 years ago

Thanks Lucy, as always, brilliant suggestions. I've been playing around with OBS a little, my computer struggles a little when I have it open as there is a lot of multitasking going on. I've used it for recording short videos and overlaying subtitles from a powerpoint, but I've been using Camtasia to record the screen so I am not sure I've completely got the hang of it, but I shall explore more soon. I'm going to carve out some time soon to explore the websites you suggest. 

Hope you are well! B