Perhaps you’ve had this experience: You want to learn something, so you go to YouTube. You find a likely video and start watching. However, it’s just a guy standing in front of a blackboard, talking. Boring! In about three seconds, you stop watching. Or you keep watching, but you don’t really retain much. While these people are well-intentioned, they could really do with some learning themselves — on the topic of teaching theory.

If you want your audience to watch your whole presentation and perhaps others, you might want to construct your video with some principles of design theory. This will not only create interest and engagement; it will also help ensure learning takes place.

What is instructional design?

While teaching takes two basic forms, lecture or demonstration, instructional design theory goes deeper and analyzes how our brains function in learning mode. It could be argued they’re always in this mode, but a classroom full of bored, daydreaming students belies this. Teaching must start with some basics, such as your target audience (you decide this), their information goal and why they want to learn. All this varies since people might just be curious, might need to pass a test, might want to make something or have some other goal. Your video needs to reflect this.

How do we learn?

Understanding the process of learning comes next. We’ll look at the three main theoretical models most often used in effective teaching and in what situations each works best. The first is perhaps the most well-known: Behavioral Learning. This theory says people learn by rote (memorization) and by practice. Basic math, spelling or music is often taught with this method. You memorize something and then practice it again and again. It works well for certain subjects and when learners bring specific goals with them, for example, learning to play a favorite song or needing to pass a math test. It doesn’t, however, consider subjects that require more thinking or higher order problem-solving.

Engage your learners by targeting their motivation for learning and/or providing a connection to something familiar.

Constructivism Theory goes a step further and says we actively build new knowledge. We’re not satisfied with simply taking what is already known: We want to add to the world’s understanding. This applies to any topic that involves invention or creation: science, medicine, engineering, art and so much more! Lectures filled with facts and data that need to be memorized don’t work well for many topics and many learners. Instead, open-ended questions or being provided with possible theories to choose from will be more engaging.

Andy Guitar clearly identifies his target learner in Guitar Lesson 1 — Absolute Beginner? Start Here!

Putting it in action

After you’ve decided which theory will work best for your topic, remember some basic tenants of teaching. First, engage your learners by targeting their motivation for learning and/or providing a connection to something they’re familiar with, such as a popular movie. So, if I wanted to inform my audience about velociraptors, I might ask a question about the accuracy of the original Jurassic Park’s representation of those creatures. Next, consider how to organize your material. You might even want to do an old-fashioned outline for a lecture. Also, most learning builds on prior knowledge. We don’t teach first graders trigonometry. What might your learners already know? What might they need to know? Are they, for example, familiar with the theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs? Or that some dinosaurs had feathers?

WatchMojo’s video, Top 10 Scientific Inaccuracies in Jurassic Park, uses popular media to engage audiences on the topic of dinosaurs.

While we’re focusing on content, let’s talk about what not to include. If your audience is made up mostly of adults, it’s better not to take a Sesame Street approach. That would be the fast music, shouting, explosions of colors and shapes, and silliness. Relevant images, animated illustrations and other communication tools will be effective when they reflect the subject and are especially important with lectures since they give learners more to do than just listen. Humor and charm are fine if the content is also substantive, but don’t resort to gimmicks as ways to “engage.” Respect your audience as intelligent people who already know things and are perfectly capable of learning more. Then find effective ways to build on that knowledge. Don’t forget to make it fun!

For additional ideas for your educational content, see A Different Approach to Getting Views for Your Educational YouTube Channel.