3 Principles for Creating Impactful Learning Videos

by Carole Bower | Posted | Learning

3 Principles for Creating Impactful Learning Videos

Video is the number one preferred approach for delivering learning according to two recent surveys I ran with our Saba customers. I know this is not a massive revelation, video learning is topping the leader boards this year. The 2019 L&D tech barometer research report reveals that video learning is one of the "top three technologies being used by L&D professionals today". In fact, it's top of the list as "the most widely adopted L&D tool with 64% of respondents using it already". Additionally, Fosway's Digital Learning Realities research 2019 reveals that 74% identify video as a top area of growth in digital learning.

The Saba customer surveys revealed that video was the preferred approach for both user-generated video and for custom creations. So, what makes for impactful video learning and what can you do to ensure the message engages people enough to learn something?

Tapping into behavioural science and neuroscience is a good start. My colleague Charlotte Hills who is currently doing her PhD in psychology and neuroscience at Warwick University has shared many insights with us on how behavioural science and neuroscience can help us to engage learners and to create digital experiences with a memorable and lasting impact.

Based on Charlotte's guidance, there are 3 principles we have been focusing on when creating video: using emotion, using stories and tapping into social norms. Adopting these principles can help us to ensure video is an effective learning tool.

Principle 1: Using emotion

Using emotion in learning is a good principle to follow as emotions help us remember things. For one of our customer solutions covering digital transformation, we worked with a brilliant music video director to get the right soundtrack, theme and footage that would invoke emotion. So why use emotion in what was essentially a change programme? Well, in this case, we wanted to create a call to action. We chose to tap into the feeling of anxiety/fear about the speed of transformation and the impact of those changes. The video uses stirring music with a heartbeat track and the pace accelerates as the messages play out. The call to action focused the audience on the next part of the learning – a solution that would continue to guide and inspire them and give them the confidence to "talk digital".

Using emotion is a good technique for a teaser/trailer. Tapping into the "so-what" or "WIFM" has proven to be extremely impactful in the digital transformation project with a tenfold increase in the number of people opting in to the learning experience. Don't be afraid to use negative emotions like fear or sadness as they have a lot of impact, but they do need to be authentic (not sensationalist). Sustained fear and stress can hinder learning and people can switch off if you go too far. Therefore, it is important for people to feel comfortable with the message even if you are provoking a negative emotion. Psychological safety at work is important. For example, people need to feel that they are not being singled out, labelled or criticised but rather respected to acknowledge the message and to act on it. In our example, the trailer that grabs their attention with 'fear' ends with a clear signpost to the learning that would support their growth.

Why are emotions powerful and why should we use them in our video learning productions? Charlotte Hills, who worked on the digital transformation programme, talks about the effectiveness of using emotion to help retention.

"We are constantly bombarded with information and we can't retain it all, so our brains need to work out what to screen out, and what to remember. ​When we experience an event that triggers a strong emotion like fear, our emotional centres (or limbic system) are activated. ​That event becomes marked as an important one and is allowed to pass into our long-term memory. ​In short, neuroscience shows us that we remember stuff which makes us feel something... and sometimes that emotional memory stays with us forever." - Charlotte Hills, PhD Researcher and Learning Consultant, Saba Studio


In the example I mentioned previously, our aim was to invoke a core emotion - fear, and to focus attention on the learning that followed ("how do I survive this"?). In fact, Fear appeared as a character in the Disney Pixar film 'Inside Out', alongside four other characters representing core emotions (Joy, Anger, Disgust and Sadness.) These emotions were selected in consultation with psychologists at Berkeley. In fact, the film characters give us a good memory aide to remember some of the emotions we can use!

Tapping into emotions often relies on telling stories. That gives me a good link to the next principle.

Principle 2: Using stories

A good story is powerful and memorable. Real stories from real people can be even more memorable and have huge impact. For example, the real stories we collected and used for one of our video learning solutions for our client Sodexo. So how did we create these stories with a film crew and actors and still maintain authenticity?

  1. We captured the stories from feedback logs that show great examples of care from Sodexo staff who were working in a healthcare environment
  2. We used a documentary film maker to preserve authenticity even though we used actors
  3. We didn't use dialogue, avoiding the need to translate into different languages. In my own opinion, this added to the impact and authenticity by allowing the viewer to watch and interpret these simple acts of everyday kindness (and the inclusion of a stirring music track certainly plays a part in evoking the right emotions too)

We knew we had to keep the videos real to ensure the audience would relate to them. By using real stories from real people, we are tapping into social norms – the third principle.

Principle 3: Tapping into social norms

As social creatures, human beings are constantly asking themselves two questions:

  1. How will this make me look?
  2. What are other people doing?

Stories harness this natural drive. We find personal stories about other people irresistible.

"We all have a strong predisposition to be influenced by the "social norm". We look to see what those around us are doing, and if the group is doing it, we infer that it must be a valuable thing to do as its "normal". However, people are MOST influenced by specific groups they are a part of or want to be a part of. We are wired to be social.​ Our brains have a large neocortex – the top layer which gives us our 'human intelligence'. This area helps us to engage in complex social interactions. So, from a neuroscience perspective, stories are really powerful." - Charlotte Hills, PhD Researcher and Learning Consultant, Saba Studio


Social stories are powerful. We like to learn from our peers. Whether we are watching 'selfie' videos or creating learning videos, it is important to recognise the need to identify with the individual (not just the message). If a professional camera crew is too costly, nicely edited selfie videos can work well, as long as the audio quality is good. If you are creating or curating video to deliver specific messaging, it is important to seek out the influencers in the business - the people who represent or inspire the audience - in other words, the "in crowd". This "in crowd" is personal to each viewer and isn't simply the most senior individuals.

Social channels where peers can interact can be effective for video distribution. We seek out people like us or people who we admire to learn from. Social learning taps into our innate interest in what other people, like us, are really doing and saying and contributors are becoming increasingly comfortable with the video format for sharing.

According to a report from the Brandon Hall Group, 73% of surveyed organizations expect to increase their focus on social learning over the next year. ​

In summary, the three principles for creating impactful video are using emotion, telling stories and tapping into social norms. And these principles are often interrelated for maximum impact. We are not suggesting you put the frighteners on people or make people cry. It's about understanding what would motivate people to change behaviors. We are all different. After all, learning is personal.

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