Using video to sell the big idea.

Martin Addison with Clive Shepherd
CEO of Video Arts

40 years of laughter and proven learning

Learning is often designed to fill learners with facts and information. This is great if you want to increase their understanding of a subject, but what if what you actually need to do is change their behavior? This challenge struck us, whilst we were producing our Essentials Series over the summer. I was fortunate to be able to discuss this with our series curator, Clive Shepherd, and hear his thoughts on ‘Selling the Big Idea’.

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From Clive’s perspective, there are essentially three types of learning:

There is knowledge, which is about what we tell people to remember. With knowledge, we can use simple exposition by passing it on and testing with a quiz.
  2. There are skills, which are often things that you want people to practice so they will be able to do them easily and competently. With skills we can use an instructional approach, by demonstrating the skill and getting people to practice it. We can then give feedback and build skills through coaching

Then there is the category that addresses attitudes and behaviors. However this last category is often the one that’s not handled best by learning professionals particularly with self-study materials. Often these kind of learning interventions are about big ideas—you can’t just ask people to change their behavior—be to successful, they have to believe in it. But the ‘big idea’ needs a different strategy and the one that seems to work best in getting ‘buy in’ is the idea of GUIDED DISCOVERY.

guided discovery


With this approach, we present the learner with a SITUATION, which provokes a RESPONSE. There is then a CONSEQUENCE to that response and we hope that they will REFLECT on the consequence to that response and that might give them an insight that they can apply the next time they meet a situation like that. That reflective process is absolutely vital. As the designer and online learning commentator Stephen Downes says “10,000 hours of practice may produce expertise, but 10,000 hours of unreflective practice produces nothing but sore shoulders.”

reflection cycle


The first three elements—situation, response and consequence—could be personal experiences, where you are placed in a situation in real life or a group and learn from the insights. However we are also able to reflect and learn from observing the experiences of others. Watching others gives us clues as to what would happen if we do the same thing. So guided discovery can be heavily influenced by vicarious experiences and that’s where story based video becomes such a powerful medium. Video can allow us to sit in and observe a situation and to gain insight as events unfold.

For this to work well, first the learner needs to care about the consequences—because it’s highly relevant to your goals and problems. Relevance drives out reluctance to learning. Secondly, learners need to identify with the characters and what happens to them. For that to happen, the characters need to be credible, so they care about them and they become engaged in the story emotionally.

It may only take a two or three minute video story to trigger the process of reflection. This isn’t because people can’t concentrate in the ‘YouTube’ era however. We can sustain attention for much longer—for example when we are confronted by a problem solving challenge, as gamers will know or if we are engrossed in a story or the latest box set. When we are creating learning blends, the inputs may be quite small, as learners can’t take on huge amounts of new information all at once. But the process that goes beyond that initial trigger video could be quite considerable.

Video triggers can be used in a classroom or in an informal learning environment to prompt reflection. That might take hours, days, weeks or years of trying out ideas and testing them in the real world. Video can trigger the process of guided discovery by feeding insights.

Rather than feel that someone is actively trying to change their behavior, this approach allows learners to actually change it themselves. The results are worth it in terms of more engaged and satisfied employees.