Explainer Video

A Look At Skillshare’s Epic Explainer Videos

Shawn 03.27.2014

You know all those beautiful animations in our portfolio? I didn’t make a single one, because I’m not an illustrator or animator.

But thanks to the explainer videos on Skillshare – I’m learning.

For those that don’t know – Skillshare is a crowdsourced education portal where designers, bloggers, animators, designers, photographers, and marketers like Seth Godin – design a curriculum on the subject of their choice. Classes are available online and range from beginner to advanced, range from $0-$100, and range from a handful of niche creators to students in the thousands. The diversity of skills is incredible, but every class has one thing in common.

They all use explainer video.

My first exposure to Skillshare’s teaching videos happened about a year ago during a “creative upheaval” where I screamed at Photoshop and wore out my “cmnd+Z” buttons trying to make graphics for my freelance copywriting pieces. Every good idea I had was stymied by lack of … well … the skills to execute it. So it’s no coincidence that during one of my frequent Google searches to learn a keyboard shortcut in Adobe Illustrator, I stumbled on a class titled “Illustrate Your Day: an Intro to Symbol Design.”

It was free (hooray), and structured for beginners. I read the summary, checked out some student reviews and ratings, clicked the title, and watched the first video. After that video, I was hooked.

Edward Boatman, founder of the Noun Project, used a simple concept – illustrating my day through twenty unique symbols – to teach me the ins and outs of a ton of tools and techniques in Adobe Illustrator. He gave the class a narrative structure – through the use of explainer video –  to get the message across.

And it worked.

Each lesson was segmented into short, easy-to-understand videos, each explaining one concept – no more, no less. Once you you did the thing in one video – you moved on to the next. Simple, but oh, so effective.

The class helped me land more freelance work almost immediately. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was learning more than just Illustrator skills – I was re-learning how to take in information and apply it to my life through the power of explainer video.

Skillshare is video. Students watch them again and again, pausing and scrubbing the image to see a tool used just so, or hear that pertinent piece of advice repeated until it sinks in. Video is Skillshare’s lifeblood, and they do it well.

Teachers must submit an application to verify their skills and curriculum so, without fail, each teacher puts their best foot forward with clean, helpful video that embrace the Six Fundamentals of great explainer video. Namely:

  1. High Quality Production – Good lighting, framing, and B-Roll are hallmarks.
  2. Excellent Audio – These are not YouTube tutorials from a mouth breather.
  3. Brevity – They condense their message. Then they make it shorter.
  4. Compartmentalization – Every video segment teaches one thing.
  5. Narrative – You’re not learning Illustrator on YouTube – you’re learning it from Ed Boatman.
  6. Value – Every video provides real-world skills. If it doesn’t the class withers and dies.

Skillshare is one of the best reservoirs of explainer video online today. If you want to make an explainer video, or just learn a skill you’ve always wanted to master like – How to Make the Perfect Southern Fried Chicken and Biscuits – browse the class summaries and let the videos show you how it’s done.

Let us know what you learn!


Born in Southern California, Shawn grew up surfing, eating In-N-Out, and growing his hair long. After graduating with a Liberal Arts degree from CSU Long Beach in 2005 he left the crowded freeways behind and spent the better part of a decade traveling the world living for stretches in Rome, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and Brooklyn. He writes novels as well as copy, loves learning keyboard shortcuts, and plays his grandpa’s old lap steel guitar. You can hear his band at ponieswillbiteyou.com

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