Friday, April 12, 2013

Facilitated video as learning

I've been thinking about completely changing the learning processes that I get involved in, especially speaking and conferences. It started with a tweet that farmers could learn best on farm study tours, rather than conferences. So "tours as conferences" has been running around in my head.

Now I have this other idea, inspired by the post "Where YouTube Meets the Farm" By David Bornstein in the New York Times blogs.  The story profiles Rikin Gandhi, "a young American-born software engineer" and his efforts to change farm learning in rural India.

The best way to teach farmers to change their practices, it turns out, isn't to have the ag extension guy come around and tell them. It's to show short videos, featuring local farmers like them, demonstrating and discussing the practice, then show them with a facilitator who creates an active discussion. The controlled field trial in India showed this lead to much more adoption of the practices and it cost less money to accomplish. Jack Gibbons of Stanford was credited with the original teaching model, Tutored Video Instruction.

I think this holds some lessons we could apply in a much wider range of learning settings: conferences, workshops, churches, schools, tours, special events.
  1. Short videos (8 to 10 minutes)
  2. Featuring "people like me"
  3. From the field
  4. Showing and explaining practices
  5. Including mistakes
  6. Shown in small local groups
  7. Facilitating active discussion

1. Short videos
Who needs another hour long lecture? I don't. You don't. 8 to 10 minutes makes it possible to give enough detail, but not put everyone to sleep.

2. Featuring "people like me"
The project in India found that if they showed a farmer who looked too prosperous, the audience would quit listening. If they used only men, the women wouldn't listen. If the demonstration is given by someone with an accent that clearly isn't local, the audience discounted what they said. They listened and learned best with someone very much like them.
Imagine going to a local business, and shooting your video with the owner or manager, someone the business people in your audience can clearly relate to.
Rather than centrally-produced videos being shown all over, it's local videos shown across a small region. How local is local in this case? Well, I think it would depend on your subject. The goal is to get someone people in the audience can completely relate to. I'll listen more to another rural business owner than I will to a "big city" business owner any day. I'll listen to a small business person before a big corporate manager. The more local, the better seems to be the bottom line.

3. From the field
4. Showing and explaining practices 
Not another talking head video. Just a farmer in the field showing and telling from the real world. 

For your business video, let's get that owner or manager in the back room to talk about inventory management.
Throw away the PowerPoint slides. Just show me how it works!

5. Including mistakes
I don't mean mistakes in filming, I mean having the person demonstrating discuss mistakes or problems they encountered. This was included in the project in India, and it makes sense for all kinds of subjects. Tell people the pitfalls to avoid.

6. Shown in small local groups
7. Facilitating active discussion 
Stop making people come together in one central location to get the latest knowledge from on high. In India, a local person is trained to act as facilitator. "Typically, the group watches once through, then a second time, with the facilitator stopping and starting, reiterating concepts, soliciting questions, asking people to share experiences, announcing follow-up discussions."

Random Notes
What if one of the farmers forgot a detail or wants to review the video before trying out the practice? In India, they are planning to try making audio from the videos available by phone. (Many locals who have no electricity still have a cell phone.) In the U.S., we have the luxury of simply making the videos themselves available.

The technology is here. Your cell phone shoots better video than the first video camera I owned. Video setups today can be simple and inexpensive. So there is no excuse for not making a local video.

In some cases, the farmer in the video was assisted by an expert.

And showing videos on site today is no tougher than bringing and iPad or a pico projector.

What if we combined the study tour and the facilitated video? 


  1. Yes, that makes a lot of sense. Interesting because I am thinking a lot about better ways of (online) teaching myself. In my (copywriting) courses I use video's like that, coupled with exercises. It would indeed be awesome to include video's of people explaining how certain copywriting ticks work. Hard but may be it's feasible... Anyhow, with farming practices it makes a lot of sense.

    Pointing out mistakes also serves to make the farmers in the video's more credible and easier to identify with.

    1. Kitty, you make a great point about discussing failure not only providing valuable info, but also making the listener more likely to listen.