5 Reasons Why Making Educational Videos is Different

I like the term “paradigm shift”. It speaks of a complete change, a totally new way of seeing and doing things, an exhortation to change the way one deals with the world.

I joined UpGrad 2 years ago, after 19 years of making content for television, film and digital media. I worked in genres ranging from fiction to news, sports to ad films, reality to talent shows, documentaries to comedy sketches, and a lot of other content; and what I faced was the most shifted paradigm I’d ever come across.

Making content for academic purposes, for a company that purveys education, is about as close to what I used to do earlier – as an albatross is to a penguin. Purportedly, they involve the same process — ideate, visualise, script, shoot, edit and animate, output. But IRL (“in real life” — I’m trying to be more millennial nowadays; hooray! another paradigm shift!), it’s very different.

“How is that so?”

I hear you whispering to each other,

“Aren’t penguins and albatrosses both birds? Isn’t content, just, like, content?”

Let me break it down for you.

People are scared to face the camera

Wherever I have worked earlier, I’ve always met consummate professionals who were very comfortable in front of the camera. Actors and models, anchors and presenters, all used to earn their bread by the way they performed on camera. Far from being afraid, they’d be transformed when the camera turned towards them.

On the other hand, at UpGrad, everyone seems to be afraid of facing the camera. Perfectly reasonable, outgoing people will find a shell and occupy it, refusing to come out even for God and country. We’ve had professors with thousands of hours of teaching under their belt, foundering and prospective anchors being completely at sea the moment they face the camera. It takes a lot of confidence building and hand-holding to get them comfortable, and even that has to be followed by constant monitoring for any regression to the aforementioned shell.

The sun doesn’t revolve around you anymore

Whenever I used to work on making entertainment content — or news or documentaries, for that matter — the whole process and everyone involved with it used to work around that. The videos themselves would be the be-all and end-all, the one overweening raison d’être of the whole enterprise. The video department would walk around like the lords and masters of all they survey.

With education, though, the video department is a support function. We don’t sell what the video department makes, we sell what the academic content department makes. A video is essentially packaging for the content, making sure that content is presented neatly and clearly. In education, the video is at the same level as Sales and Marketing, Admin and Tech. We help ourselves help others.

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Too much entertainment is too much

Earlier, I used to employ various techniques and cinematic devices to make the content we create more entertaining. A lot of gimmickry and creativity used to go into making every video different, appealing, eye-catching and memorable. The drama was inevitable and very desirable.

In education, though, all of this gimmickry is pointless; it distracts the student from the basic content and overwhelms the content itself at many places. Basic things like moving backgrounds, motion shots, over-animated graphics, quick cuts, are all unnecessary when it comes to academic content, and defeat the purpose of creating the content itself. Drama, of course, is a no-no.

We need to make videos that put the professor or the subject matter expert front-and-center. The spoken content is reinforced with graphics that detail the same thing. It’s not entertaining, for the most part, but it is effective teaching.

We’re at the far end of the process

In my previous projects in entertainment content, the videos would be made first, and then everything else around it would kick into gear. Marketing and sales would happen alongside or after the video had been created.

At UpGrad, the videos are made at the end of the process. First, the marketing team needs to start marketing the program; then the Sales team gets the students on-board. While this is happening, the academic team needs to figure out the content in consultation with professors and subject-matter experts. After many rounds of back-and-forth, the scripts are written and the shoots start. Only once all this is done and all footage is sent to the post-production team, the edit and graphics process starts.

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Shoots and edits are simple

What I mean is that all shoots involve a subject matter expert speaking directly to the camera. There is generally only one angle used (for technical reasons) and the most that is done to it, is to change the magnification on the post (cut the video, zoom in, continue) at any cut to avoid a visual jerk. Even while editing, the only thing that needs be done is to cut the videos at the appropriate places as specified in the post-production script. It’s like how one edits an interview.

This is a far cry from how things are done in entertainment videos. Shoots are horribly complex and take a long time to get done. And anything not done would be “fixed in post”, which meant that the editing team would need to sort out everything the shooting team didn’t. None of that happens here at UpGrad.

Well, there you have it. The paradigm shift, explained in simple, easily undressed points. This too, is a legacy from UpGrad. Where earlier I might have rambled on incessantly about why this is so, I have now learnt the power of succinctness and minimalism. Rah UpGrad!

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