As someone whom frequently watches a lot of Video tutorials from all walks of life, I often sit in front of the screen cursing at the author’s ability to waffle on in areas that are irrelevant or tap into my time.

The objective of a video tutorial is to give you immediate salvation in and around learning a particular topic. In that, the objective is to put the end user at ease, this is not hard, look how easy it is, let’s get started and now its your turn, go!.

Here’s some notes I've made over time on the Do’s and Don'ts of video tutorials.

Do’s.

Short burst’s of goodness.


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Focus on one work unit at a time,  and set the time limit to maximum of 5 mins per unit. If you’re showing someone how to do say LINQ to SQL, instead of devoting an entire movie to Create, Read, Update & Delete. Do 5mins on Create. Do 5mins on Update and so on. The 5min threshold is not exact, but the point is I want in and out access.

Understand Extraneous Cognitive Load.


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Provide visual queues on what just happened. If you’re going to mention a hard topic, do the explanation but pad it out with a visual that represents what you are saying.

If you verbally describe a shape that has 1 line at the top, bottom, left and right whilst also being filled in with the color blue. You’re basically describing a square. It’s much easier on my concentration if you just show me a blue square visually.

It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

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One of my pet hates is when a site full of tutorials is all over the map, it’s hard to understand the context of where life began and ends. Digital-Tutors.com does an excellent job of showing you an entire project from end to end. You learn to build a character from the ground up, you then learn to skin him, animate him and finally you then move onto making a scene for him to live in.

At any given point, I can jump ahead or rewind to parts I think I need to know but at the same time all fit within the one learning track.

Keep your promises.
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If you say you’re going to get to that later, then be sure to get to that later. Otherwise I’m even more lost and in turn can lead me to question your credibility – “..I don’t think this guy has it all figured out, who else has a tutorial..”

Your credibility is important, as you’re the teacher. I want to trust you.

Tell me what I just learnt last time.

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In case I zoned out, make sure in the next chapter you also remind me of what I learnt last time. See DigitalTutors.com for an example of this.

Context is important.

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I’m an end user and I'm multi-skilled in all walks of life. Provide me context in terms of skill level, If I'm a seasoned veteran of Java for 20 years and am starting out with .NET, I’m mostly looking for mapping from my existing to the new. Make it relevant to me as if you were my best friend and helping me learn from the old to the new.

I want to graduate.

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Reward me often. I want to learn this technology you are teaching me, but I want a sense of accomplishment. Ensure you remind me of how I'm doing with skill level upgrades.  Make sure your tutorials are split into levels (e.g. Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Rockstar).

Make it feel like fun.

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Be a smart ass where it makes sense, don’t over do the comedy but make it feel like this is a fun thing to do. Nothing worse than me sitting in front of a computer for 3 hours learning extremely difficult topic and it feeling like I’m sitting through a lecture on cats.

Spice it up, ensure I don’t zone out by changing gears often.

Remember your favorite teacher in School? the one that you enjoyed listening to. Be him/her.

Relevant analogies are more digestible.

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Be careful but at times, tell me an anlogy on a given point, if it’s funny even better. 

It’s important to note, that I’m having a hard time learning, I want you to help me remember. Use a story or analogy to convey a point.

”e.g.. User Experience is important, example - Starbucks. No matter what store you go into world wide, the menu and interior usually is the same. This is important as you feel confident in placing an order for your favorite beverage. If each store was unique, your trust in them making the said beverage would diminish”.

That being said make it a short riff, don’t spend a 10mins with the introduction to the analogy.

Use realistic examples.

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If i see one more shopping cart, I’ll scream. I want to know how that big brand did x. That’s more relevant than a basic example.

Best tutorial i once learnt was how to make my own tamagotchi. I felt empowered and it was unique.

Autodesk Maya books do things like this. “Learn how to make the PIXAR cartoon character Wall-E” would be an example here. It’s like a dare that I can’t pass up.

Let me interact with others.

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I get you don’t want to be contacted as then you become a private tutor. Allow me to interact with others post-viewing and within context. Setup a comment or forum per video chapter, as then I can ask a question or answer other peoples questions. You may have missed a vital clue, let others be your savior.

Measure your success.

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Just because you made the tutorial, doesn’t mean it was successful. Ensure you measure what success looks like, focus on viewing times and entry points. If you break the chapters up into small segments, isolate and measure where people seem to gravitate the most.

Ensure the related video links / chapters are measured as well. Identify where your viewers go next, and what areas of interest they seem to gravitate towards.

You should have a full understanding each month what skill level your viewers are at and how fast they are graduating through the lessons. If they keep stumbling around in the dark at the Novice areas, you’ve got to spend a great deal more time helping them out of this. More tutorials or optimize the existing ones are required.

If you have time, break the tutorials down into verticals.

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I’m in Finance, I need to figure out tutorials that are relevant to my sector as sure I think animating a square is great, but is it relevant to my sector or the intended project I’m about to work on?

Reporting / Charting is etc. Point is, ensure you remember people are coming to the said tutorial with a painful expression and they want contextual relevance.

Use a consistent Introduction.

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10-20seconds of opening sequence isn’t bad. It builds trust that you’re professional, you’ve taken a lot of time to make this an important episode of learning. Music can break the fatigue at the start and can build energy.

Avoid midi-like music though. 10-20sec of mainstream music is possible (forget the legal implications here, but sampling music is allowed i think in a short burst – check with lawyer first though).

Don’ts.

Tell me your Life story.

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I don’t know you, I don’t care. You’re just a voice in my speakers right now helping me learn. If you introduce a historical moment in your life, it better be on context.

Soapboxes are for Politicians.

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If you’re theory is accepted by 2/3rd majority, be sure to give me the in’s and out’s of why that theory is important for me to remember. Don’t project your theories onto me, I may disagree with you – i.e. “I’m not a fan of patterns because..” stop. You may not be a fan, but I may? it’s a red flag and you can end up alienating me from the said topic.

Don’t Stray from the current point.

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You have a lot to say, I know, but for now walk me through the important bits. Finish that off, and then go back and provide a bit more layered amount of information. As at least then I have a baseline to draw from.

i.e.. “Look, I created the basic hello world in 2 lines, but let me tell you about composition and the difference of IS-A vs HAS-A ..blah blah blah”.

Instead, show me the tutorial in 2 lines, let me understand the basics. Then once that’s finished, go back and expand on the alternative approach etc.

Don’t become an Infomercial. They are for suckers.

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Whom ever said that two people “casually talking” is a way of teaching lied to the world. It’s not, it’s essentially two over-skilled guys patronizing you about the basics. I know you know the answers to the questions your throwing to the other guy, you’re only dummying it down for me to appear to be “learning as well”.

The best casual conversations are the ones that are natural and you can tell immediately that the two ore more persons in the room are expanding their own minds. You’re not that good of an actor.

Don’t swap mic levels half-way.

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Ensure your audio levels are kept at a quality that’s even. I know when you’ve stopped the tutorial as at times your audio levels increase or decrease – that or the background noise changes.

This is distracting. Ensure you use the same settings for the given unit of work or per project.

Don’t bore me with your voice.

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If you are going through the motions and use the same monotone dreary voice to convey a point, I’ll eventually fade off and start thinking about “did I pay that bill yesterday..damn it I should of..” prevent me from zoning out.

Don’t Let your tutorials live past their expiry.

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If the technology shifts radically, don’t keep this tutorial alive. Kill it, bury it and move on. If you don’t, all you do is add to the confusion out there.  Remove it once it’s served its purpose.

Don’t Send me off to another site.

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Why do you make me re-orientate myself to a new site. I just got comfortable using yours, and now I'm off in some other site that is different.

If you want me to learn, stick it out with me and let’s do this together!