Instructional video ideas - 30 tips for making lessons your followers will love 

Instructional video ideas featured image

11 minute read

Written by Liam Donoghue, Marketing Executive

The bright light is blinding. You can feel the cold stare of the camera pointed directly at you. 

‘I hope I don’t fumble my word’ you think as you begin recording your latest instructional video. 

Anyone who's had to record a digital lesson or online course will relate to this feeling. 

Producing a punchy, engaging, and interesting lesson is tough. Reading blanky of a script is a surefire way to lose students. 

There are a lot of things you can do to make a kick-ass instructional video and you don’t need to do them all at once. When you’re building your online course make sure every one of your lessons includes a few of the tips we’ve provided.

By switching up your video style, incorporating new elements into your production, and approaching topics from different angles you’ll be well on your way to making video content viewers love. 

Hey, I guess that was a tip in itself. You can find our 30 top tips for producing engaging instructional videos below:   

1. Switch up your setting

A woman training in the park on some suspended hoops

Who wants to watch 50 instructional videos where the teacher is sat at the same desk for the whole course? Same background, same bookshelf, same clock that looks like it isn’t moving because times stood still. 

Ok a bit of a stretch, but freshening up your surrounding will help to keep your students engaged. 

Bonus points go out to anyone who can make a change of scenery relevant to their video. If you’re a personal trainer recording some lessons on site in a gym or park is a great way to add some visual flair to your video. 

Teaching astronomy? I want to see you up a hill at night telescope at the ready. 

2. Don’t have a set length for your videos

An uncoiled tape measure

Don’t let your videos become routine. Mix up their length to keep your students engaged. Now, I'm not saying make a one and a half-hour video, that would be too long. But changing up the times slightly will create curiosity in your content. 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 10 minutes. 

If students know it's going to be a 5-minute lesson every time they’ll start treating your course as a chore and won’t engage as thoroughly with your content.

3. You need to be front and center

People want to see their teacher. Being visually present in your instructional video is vital for building trust with your students. Also body language. It is a thing and can help you communicate complex problems to your students even if you don’t know it's doing it. 

If you’re camera shy that’s cool too, taking an audio-only approach to your videos will work. Just take a little extra time to make your images, animations and slides super vibrant and engaging.

4. Make a roadmap to success. Reference it often

A road map full of pins marking locations

Let your students know the journey you’re taking them on. When does it start. Where will they end? Where are they now? It can be easy, when making a big online course, to lose sight of the end goal you’re trying to achieve. You’ll start reeling off lessons that lose their context to your course as a whole. 

By referencing the stage your student should be at at the beginning of your lesson, mentioning what you’ll cover and how that will help them achieve their ultimate goal will give your videos a sense of progression.

5. Relate to their stresses

Learning anything new is tough. As a teacher, it can be easy to forget how difficult you found your subject when you first started. By empathizing with your student when you're communicating a difficult principle you’re showing them you understand their frustrations and give them the confidence to continue learning.

6. Tell a story

A collection of books on a shelf

Humans love to listen to stories they’re great ways to impart knowledge and make your lessons relatable, understandable, and interesting. 

Not every instructional video you record needs to be story-based but punctuating your lessons with a personal tale will captivate your students and show them real-world examples of how your teaching can positively change their lives. 

Hot tip - Starting a lesson with a personal story is a great way to make an engaging video. If the story relates to the lesson you're teaching and you can explain via a story how this lesson improved your life then you’ll have an audience salivating to watch the rest of your video.

 

7. Think in images

Nobody wants to read pages and pages of text on a slide show. By and large people are visual learners. They like to see things. Make sure your instructional video isn’t just slides of text you’re reading out loud. 

Create a script, yes! But while you read that maybe show images related to your lesson or go over a demonstration while you’re speaking. 

You’re producing a visual medium remember so make it visually engaging.

8. Diagrams are your friends

To add to my last point diagrams are great. The Venn diagram is my personal favorite but I’m sure you’ll have your own. All joking aside, diagrams are great for presenting complex visual concepts in an easy-to-understand way. 

Use them whenever they’re relevant. They’re a great way to keep your viewers engaged.

9. Keep the on-screen text to a minimum

Thinking in images is only one-half of the puzzle. You also need to keep your on-screen text to a minimum. Avoid reading off your slides and writing large blocks of text. 

People can read faster than you speak. You don’t want to have people reading your lesson than listening to you reading the same thing aloud. Boring!

Make sure any text you do use is hyper-relevant to what you’re teaching and doesn’t say the same thing you’re narrating.

10. Don’t be boring be funny

A clown looking a bit fed up

Easier said than done Liam. I know, being funny is tough. The point I want to get across here is you need to be engaging, animated, and full of energy. 

‘Funny’ might not be appropriate for your instructional video but that doesn’t mean it can be dull. You’re passionate about the topic you're teaching, so make sure that comes across. Smile, move around your stage, intonate your voice. All these can help you project confidence and passion over video. 

A happy teacher is a good teacher. 

11. Stand up and animate

Stand up when you’re recording your instructional video. Being seated relaxes you, you slouch naturally and it gives your body signals to relax. 

Standing up on the other hand promotes movement, you’re more animated and driven. You’ll be blown away by how much more energy you get when you’re stood up. Standing gives your diaphragm more space and energizes you more. 

A man speaking on stage

Incorporate hand gestures and body language into your lesson. You’ll find you start doing this naturally when you’re speaking about a topic you really like. 

Make sure you’re not holding a script of anything that will distract you. It sounds difficult at first but once you have the confidence to stand up and look straight into the camera you’ll realize your presenting technique has improved tenfold.

12. Consider the paths your student wants to take [advanced tip]

One instructional video could potentially have 100 different lessons after it. There isn’t one clear path to teaching a subject. Your students are all individuals and all interested in learning slightly different things or learning in slightly different ways. 

By considering the multiple different learning avenues a lesson throws out you can build different lessons for different types of students. You might have a fast-track course or supplementary lessons that go over a difficult subject. Building these into your instructional videos can help students of all abilities. 

This is an advanced tip because you’ll need to create a basic course first before you start adding this level of abstraction.  

13. Use visual metaphors or props to explain complex principles?

Trying to explain a difficult concept. Adding props and demonstrations to your lessons can really help your students visualize difficult principles. Russell Brunson’s ‘kinda like bridge’ is a verbal way of using this tip. 

If you can use cutouts, props, or models to make a difficult subject easy to understand you’ll keep your students attention for longer.

14. Is your content screen heavy? Consider breaking it up.

Screen heavy? What do I mean by that? This tip is mainly for the coding teachers out there. If your instructional videos are 10 - 15 minutes of you writing lines of code that can really overwhelm your students. 

Yes, you need to get the coding in there but try to break up your lessons with a few more visuals to reduce the amount of time a student is looking at a screen, through a screen.

A screen full of code

This is a great opportunity to draw on some other tips in this guide. If you’re a javascript coach explaining functions maybe, a quick face-to-face demonstration of how they work with props will help your student. 

Even just a few shots of you speaking to the camera will break up the lesson and stop your students' eyes from glazing over.

15. Bring out the whiteboard

The grand-daddy of visuals learning devices. If you’ve got the space and more colored pens than you could shake a stick at then the whiteboard is a great prop to energize and excite yourself and your students. 

Check out the kings of the Whiteboard, Moz.com. Their whiteboard Fridays are a brilliant example of how you can create engaging, visual, lessons with just a pen and a board.

16. Keep your videos simple - no sensory overload

It can be tempting, when recording a video, to cram in as much knowledge, diagrams, and animations as possible. After reading all these tips you’ll probably want to dive into your next video and add as many of them as you can to your course. 

But you don’t want to overwhelm your students. Knowledge hitting them too fast is one thing to be aware of. Also, if you’re using some props in a video, maybe bringing in a whiteboard and a short cartoon is a bit much. 

If you’re jumping around in a video with different learning aids it can be confusing for students. They won’t know what to focus on. Stick with one or two learning strategies per video, that way your teaching will be front and center.

17. Speak to your students in a language they understand

This tip will become less important once your students have watched a few of your instructional videos and progress deeper into your course.

But when they start it make sure the technical jargon is at a minimum. You can explain the language and in-depth terms you use throughout your course but when you start it keep it simple, friendly, and understandable.

You could even record a few lessons specifically on the jargon and get your students up to speed all in one go.

18. Is it worth hiring an animator

If you’d like your instructional videos to be fully animated you’ll need to hire an animator. What can a really good animator do? Check out the Ted-ed videos to see the power of an amazing animation.

Are they cheap? No. Does your video need an animation, probably not? But if you want to go down this route make sure you do your research and hire a professional.

19. Write a script

Winging it sounds easy. But when you actually start recording a video you’ll find all your information leaves your brain. And when you can recall what you’re teaching it’ll leave your mouth a jumbled mess. 

Properly preparing a lesson before recording it is the best way to avoid this happening. A script can be your entire lesson written down or just the highlight. Something to refer back to if you get lost. 

Bonus tip - Investing in a mobile phone teleprompter can really help you nail that buttery smooth delivery professional online teachers make look so easy.

20. Lighting is lovely

A pair of studio lights

Lights, camera, action. Funny that the thing mentioned first in that saying is the one online course creators think of last when producing a video. 

Average lighting isn’t going to ruin your instructional video, but a good lighting rig will separate your course from the more average offerings in your niche. 

Lighting doesn’t need to cost a fortune either. A simple ring light for your phone is very reasonable and you can experiment with household lamps until you find the budget for some studio-quality lighting.

21. Add some interactivity

Getting your students actively engaging with your course material will improve their learning experience and help them retain more information. Quizzes, exercises, and projects are a great way to test your students' knowledge. 

How this will work depends on the platform you’re using to host your instructional videos. Different platforms allow for differing levels of interaction. Passion.io for example has partnered with Typeform. We let our users add interactive forms to all the lessons they upload. 

Interactivity increases engagement gives students a sense of completion and increases the amount of knowledge retained in a lesson.  

22. Feedback is your friend

While we’re on the subject of interactivity it's worth mentioning feedback. You should be constantly asking your students for feedback. What worked, what didn’t, did they understand everything. 

Your instructional videos should never be set in stone.  They should always be a work in progress. 

As your niche shifts, and new knowledge becomes available what you teach could change. You constantly want to be ahead of that curve and listening to your students' feedback is a great way to do that.

Why mention this now? Our last tip covered interactivity. This is another way you can interact with your students. Use a form, ask for comments. Teach what they want to learn and you’ll always have a successful course.

23. The power of the Thumbnail

A collection of thumbnails from the From passion to Profession video podcast

If you’re hosting your instructional videos on Youtube the thumbnail is likely the first thing potential students see. It needs to catch their attention instantly otherwise you’ll be lost in a sea of cat videos and conspiracy theories. Check this article for Youtube thumbnail best practices.

24. Don’t try and cover your whole course in one lesson

Pretty simple this one but many people forget it. Keep your videos short and sweet (a bit like this tip). Cover one key principle and don’t be tempted to overload your viewer with knowledge.

25. Cycle your lesson format - keep it fresh!

Lecture after lecture after lecture is no one's idea of a good time. Break up your content with different lesson formats to keep your students engaged. Try a mini-lecture followed by a practical demonstration, followed up with an interactive assignment, then another lecture. 

If you can work in group sessions in your course that’s amazing but probably the subject of another blog!

Keeping things fresh, fun, and different. 

26. Double angles double threat [advanced tip]

A woman holding a video camera

This is a tip for all the budding videographers out there. If you have access to multiple cameras use them! Switching up your shots when you’re recording a video keeps your viewer's eyes fresh and their concentration. 

Don’t have two cameras? You can record a lesson twice from different angles and stitch the results together but that can be a bit technical for beginners.

27. Shout out to your current members [advanced tip]

Do you know who’s currently doing your course? Do you produce videos regularly? If so make sure you’re name-dropping your students. Let them know you hear them, you know who they are. 

Engaging with your students this way motivates them and lets them know you’ve got their best interests at heart.

28. Host your video in the right place

Where do your students hang out? What online platforms do they like? Facebook, Youtube, Tik Tok? Where they are is where you need to be. 

And the best way to get there is by using a platform that speaks to your audience. Unsure where to host your online instructional videos? Check out our offering: Passion.io

29. Offer community as part of your course 

Your course should exist outside of your videos. Your content is a vital part of your teaching but it is just one part. Creating a community, whether on Facebook, Discord, Twitter, or any other social media platform is really important for engaging with your students. 

Also, the community keeps them accountable, and offers your students support when you could be unavailable.  

30. Have fun!

Creating your videos should be fun. Let loose and have a good time with them. Let your personality come across. They shouldn’t be dry, they should be punchy, engaging, and fun for you and your students.  

After all, if you ain’t having fun why are you doing this in the first place.

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