What Makes A Great Animated Training Video?

Gregory Lewis 02.07.2017

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll probably daydream, steal glances at his smartphone, and try not to yawn while you explain the intricacies of tying an arbor knot to the reel.

The lesson: training people is hard. Even in the workplace—perhaps especially in the workplace—it’s difficult to walk someone through something totally new. It’s unfamiliar, discombobulating, and often a bit boring.

Fortunately, vivid animated videos can do more than explain your offerings to potential customers—they can also engage your staff and facilitate critical training exercises.

Developing Great Animated Training Videos

Viewed from afar, great animated training videos aren’t so different than great explainer animations: engrossing narratives strategically designed to deliver a message, inspired art direction to bring the script to life, and flawless production to bring it all together. But they do serve a distinct purpose: helping your team acquire new skills.

Naturally, then, one should start by asking, “what behavior do I need to encourage?” Whether you’re trying to teach more effective sales tactics, workplace safety precautions, or college-level calculus, zeroing in on your objective is the absolute first step.

Spinning an Instructive Yarn

With your clear aim in hand, we’re equipped to start constructing a narrative frame that carries, expresses, and encourages that goal.

But wait—this is a training video, right? People are probably required to watch it. This isn’t supposed to be entertainment—it’s work! Do we really need a strong narrative?

Yes. Yes. A million times, yes. Just because there’s a supervisor skulking over your shoulder doesn’t mean you’re going to be rapt with attention over the proper filing procedure for TPS reports. Just because you see, doesn’t mean you understand. That’s why stories are so essential.

Stories are how we humans make sense of the world and our place in it. From gossipy cocktail chatter to intimate diary entries, storytelling is the tool we use to understand our lives and our behavior.

By encasing training in a narrative scheme, we place it in the context of people’s emotional lives—we’re speaking the same language—and that leads to engagement, retention, and real behavioral change (i.e., your goal). This video that we made for Imperial Oil is a good example of how narrative can make dry material more palatable.

That’s why the script is the most important part of your training video. A dull, drab, just-the-facts story, even with drop-dead gorgeous art direction, won’t reap the emotional investment you need to seed retention.

That said, if you have a truly captive audience, you be more in-depth and instructive than a marketing video—you can dive deeper than surface-level stories, but the narrative still needs to be there to hook them in.

What Your Training Video Shouldn’t Try To Do: Everything

Now you know a training animation should be (a well-told tale), but it’s important to remember what your video shouldn’t try to be: everything.

Think about the one of the last slideshow presentations you’ve seen. The topic seemed promising enough, the speaker was friendly, and then they hit the third slide: packed the brim with small-font text, which the presenter then proceeded to recite verbatim like an 2nd grade reading exercise. Snooze…

Instead, powerful presentations feature a few sparse bullet points for the speaker to riff on and extemporaneously extrapolate from. The slideshow should be a tool, not the entire lesson.

Likewise, your training video shouldn’t try to compress overly complex lessons into a five-minute animation. Rather, your video can play a role in a larger context and conversation; it can excite the audience, align them towards your goals, and play out the emotional appeal, while you leave it to real live human helpers to dive into the nitty-gritty details.

There are some things that people are simply better at, like responding on the spot to live questions, addressing particular challenges, and walking participants hand-in-hand through the details.

But your training animations can go a long way towards priming the pump. They can communicate key concepts in an illustrative way that sticks in the imagination and stays stuck.

Calculating ROI on Training Animations

By this point, like any good upper-management figure, you’re probably wondering about the return on investment of these training videos: how do you measure if they really work?

Actually, calculating ROI on training initiatives can be far more concrete than traditional marketing efforts. One of our clients frequently tested trainees’ knowledge weeks after their original lessons. Using traditional training methods, average retention rates were a measly 10%. No bueno.

By actually capturing your team’s attention and crystalizing the why behind the training, animations can help boost retention. For a program given to thousands of employees, that translates into a massive impact. Better-trained staff can mean less snafus, more productivity, or a lack of settlements. Or it can mean more effective salespeople, more qualified leads, and massive business closed. Either way, it’s good news for your company’s revenue.

Looking Towards the Future of Video Training

There’s a thin line between training and education. One happens in the workplace, the other in a school—or at least, it used to. More and more, schools are teaching students virtually. Thanks to the advent of forward-thinking MOOCs (massive open online courses), professors from Harvard, MIT, and UMUC are able to instruct innumerable acolytes via—you guessed it—videos.

But as tech thought-leader and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen recently pointed out in New York Magazine, we’re still in the earliest stages of video education. “The production values are pretty low: You’ll film the professor in the classroom,” he says. “But let’s just project forward. In ten years, what if we had Math 101 online… and we knew that we were going to have a million students per semester… paying $100 [each]? […] You could literally hire James Cameron to make Math 101.”

Not only that, but online education makes possible tools that facilitate learning. Quizzes can not just provide feedback on how well the learner is learning; they can also provide feedback on how well the video is working. In the future, A/B testing will improve pedagogy in the same relentless way that today digital marketing is optimized.

And on-line video learning also allows the course of study to be adaptable; if someone is picking up something quickly, they can zoom ahead into further topics. If they are having difficulty, the subject matter can be explained in a slower, more basic way. Thus, everybody learns better.

Video learning and its associated tools could usher in a whole new golden age of education… stay tuned!

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