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Production Strategies for Filming Engaging Online Course Videos

Online courses have become increasingly popular over the last decade. With the rise of online education platforms like Udemy, Coursera and edX, anyone can create and sell an online course on any topic imaginable.

However, creating compelling and professional online course videos takes more than just filming yourself talking in front of a webcam. Careful planning and execution is required to produce high-quality and engaging video content that will captivate your audience and help them retain the material you’re teaching.

In this article, we’ll explore several key strategies and best practices for filming and producing online course videos that students will love watching and learning from.

Choosing the Right Video Style for Your Course

The first decision to make is what overall video style you want to use for your online course. There are a few main options to choose from:

Screencast Videos

Screencast videos involve recording your computer screen while you narrate and walk through processes, applications, websites and more. This style works very well for teaching technical skills like coding, design, and software usage.

The benefits of screencast videos are that students can follow along and see exactly what you’re clicking and typing on the screen. This helps cement concepts and allows for easy replication. Some drawbacks are that long sections of just screen recording can be visually boring.

Slide Presentation Videos

Another common format is recording yourself delivering a slide presentation, similar to corporate training videos. This allows you to highlight key bullet points and diagrams while supplementing with your oral explanation.

Presentation videos are great for clearly organizing information and allowing students to absorb conceptual and theoretical material. However, having an instructor just standing next to slides can come across dry if not done skillfully. Look for ways to get creative with visuals and camerawork to keep engagement high.

Talking Head Videos

These are videos focused on you as the instructor directly addressing the camera and audience. There are no visual aids or effects, just you conversing almost as if in person.

Talking head videos have a personal feel that allows your personality to shine through. It mimics the intimacy of one-on-one tutoring. However, extended sections of just a monologue to the camera can risk being monotonous. Use occasional cutaways and visuals to spice it up.

Mixed Format

Many online courses work best by mixing up all the aforementioned video styles. For example, you could start with a talking head welcome, transition into a screencast demonstration, then wrap up with a presentation summary.

Mixing things up keeps each video segment fresh and engaging. Find the right blend of formats that supports the educational goals for that particular lesson.

Optimizing Your Filming Location

One of the most important decisions is selecting the right location to film your online course videos. This will have a major impact on the overall video quality and production value. Here are some best practices:

Recording in a Dedicated Studio

Ideally you should have access to a professional recording studio specifically designed for high-quality video production. This provides optimal lighting, microphones, backgrounds and sufficient space.

However, most online course creators don’t have a dedicated studio available. In that case, you’ll need to find the next best filming location available to you.

Using a Home Office or Workspace

A tidy home office or other private workspace can serve as an effective makeshift studio for online course videos. Look for a room with ample lighting, a visually appealing background, and minimal background noise.

Position yourself facing a window for flattering natural lighting. Add artificial lighting as needed, such as a softbox or ring light. Clear the space behind you of any distracting objects and decoration.

Public Recording Spaces

Other options include renting spaces at shared co-working facilities, reserved rooms at libraries, community centers, or college campuses if available to you.

These public spaces often have private rooms you can book by the hour which are specifically designed for video recording, interviews, and presentations. Take advantage of the professional setups they offer.

Green Screens

If you don’t have an acceptable real background available, consider using a DIY green screen setup. This allows you to easily add any digital background you want in post-production with editing software.

Green screens require careful lighting balance and editing to look realistic but can give you unlimited virtual background options to choose from.

Camera and Audio Equipment

To achieve professional online course videos, you’ll need the proper camera and audio equipment. Invest in the best equipment you can reasonably afford and learn to use it skillfully.

Selecting the Right Camera

Look for a camera that can record crisp, high-definition video at 1080p or 4K resolution. Using the camera on your smartphone or built-in webcam is not ideal. Consider one of the following options:

  • DSLR Camera – Popular choices include Canon, Sony, Nikon, among others. These offer great image quality and lens options.
  • Mirrorless Camera – Comparable image quality to a DSLR but in a more compact and portable form factor. Brands like Sony, Fujifilm and Canon have excellent mirrorless models.
  • Camcorder – Designed specifically for comfortable video recording. They have features like flip-out viewfinders, XLR inputs and extended battery life. GoPro cameras are also in this category.
  • Premium Webcam – If your budget is tight, look for an HD webcam rated for streaming like the Logitech C920 or Razer Kiyo. Much better image quality than built-in laptop webcams.

External Microphone

Audio quality is just as crucial as video. You want to ensure students can clearly hear and understand you. The mic built into your camera is usually subpar. Consider attaching an external microphone such as:

  • Clip-on Lavalier Mic – Affordable and clips right onto your shirt for crystal clear audio.
  • Handheld Mic – Gives you the flexibility to move around and point it exactly where needed.
  • Shotgun Mic – Directional mic that attaches on top of the camera and isolates audio from the subject while minimizing background noise.
  • External Recorder – For maximum quality, record professional audio on a portable field recorder like the Zoom H1n then sync it to video in post.

Other Essentials

Round out your equipment with essential accessories like spare batteries or AC power adapter so you don’t run out of juice mid-shoot. Make sure you have ample storage space available on SD cards or your computer hard drive to record long videos.

Lighting Setup

Proper lighting can make the difference between drab, shadowy footage and beautiful, professional looking video. Follow these tips to light yourself and your set effectively:

Quality of Light

Focus first on the kind and direction of light, rather than quantity. The best quality light is soft, even and diffused. This creates smooth attractive shadows and highlights on your face.

Hard harsh lighting from a bare bulb creates dark shadows that are unflattering. Diffuse any artificial light through a lampshade, sheet, filter or bounce it off walls and ceilings.

Position lights slightly off to the sides and front rather than directly above or behind. This mimics natural outdoor lighting. Never have a window or bright light source directly behind you, causing backlighting.

Three-Point Lighting

A classic technique is three-point lighting which uses a key, fill and back light. The bright key light illuminates the front of your face. The softer fill light balances out harsh shadows. The back light separates you from the background.

This three light setup creates dimension and depth for professional results. But you can achieve decent lighting with just the key and fill lights if needed.

Lighting Tools

Use continuous lighting gear like LED or fluorescent light panels that don’t flicker or pop. Reflectors and diffusers also help shape the light. Invest in lighting kits designed specifically for video, available at various price points to fit your budget.

For a low-budget DIY approach, you can use desk lamps, shop lights and natural window light augmented with reflectors. There are also many portable and mountable LED light options.

Camera Placement and Angles

Where you position the camera relative to your eye line, body position and background makes a big difference in how engaging your on-screen presence is. Follow these guidelines:

Eye Line

Make sure the camera is positioned at your eye level or slightly above it. Having the camera aimed up at you from too low of an angle is not flattering to the face and neck.

But having the camera positioned too high above your eye line can also create an awkward disconnected feeling. Eye level or slightly above is ideal.

Framing

Don’t cut off parts of your head or body. Leave a reasonable amount of headroom above your head but include your body down to at least the mid chest area if seated.

Position yourself close enough to the camera to appear an intimate but not uncomfortable distance. Crop out cluttered backgrounds that could be distracting.

Camera Angle Variety

Occasional changes in camera position keep things visually interesting. Shoot some segments at eye level, some slightly angled up or down, and some wider shots showing more of your torso and background.

Cutting between these perspectives engages viewer attention better than locking the camera in place for the whole video.

Movement, Gestures and Body Language

Being aware of how you hold yourself and move on camera is just as important as what you say. Use natural motions and energy levels appropriate for each scene.

Relaxed and Conversational

When directly addressing the audience, adopt a relaxed but authoritative posture. Keep your shoulders down and gestures calm and measured. Imagine having a conversation with a student sitting across from you.

Avoid stiff or formal body language. This can come across as intimidating or anxious on camera. Make it feel casual and natural as if speaking to a friend.

Animated and Dynamic

When you want to build excitement or emphasis, incorporate more energy and animated motions. Use your hands descriptively to illustrate concepts and lean forward intensely.

Pep up your voice tonality and speak louder to evoke emotion during impactful points. Just don’t overdo it to the point of seeming overly aggressive.

Movement With Purpose

Walk through set pieces or locations with intention, not aimlessly wandering. Point out specific aspects you want viewers to look at on screen.

Sit purposefully in locations that suit the scene. For example, sit at a desk when providing detailed information or demonstrating an activity.

Wardrobe and Styling

Consider your clothing, makeup and hairstyling as part of the overall production design and look of your online course videos.

Dress the Part

The clothes you wear on camera will influence how students perceive your authority and credibility as an instructor. Professional yet casual attire is recommended to establish you as both approachable and knowledgeable.

For example, combining a sport coat or blazer with a simple button down shirt, sweater or top visually conveys your qualifications in an approachable way. Stay away from ripped, suggestive or sloppy clothing.

Color Considerations

Avoid busy patterns or harsh colors that could distract or strobe on camera. Soft neutral and earthy tones generally look and film best. But having an accent color that complements your skin tone can help you stand out nicely against the background without being distracting.

If using a green screen, avoid green clothes or accessories that could get mistakenly replaced with background footage. Wear something distinctly different from your backdrop.

Hair and Makeup

Make sure your hair is clean, neat and away from your face. Use basic makeup to even out skin tone and remove shine if needed. Subtle techniques will look best on camera for a natural polished look.

Video Editing and Post-Production

After filming all your course footage, the post-production video editing process is where you can add final polish and enhancements. Here are some tips for expert editing:

Arranging Shots

Think carefully about how to order and transition between your shots to form a cohesive narrative that flows logically for students to follow along. Use establishing shots introducing topics and locations. Cut to closer angles and inserts for detailed information.

Removing Mistakes

Review footage and cleanly edit out any mistakes, long pauses, stumbles or tangents that don’t support the core instructional goals. Trim segments down to be concise and engaging.

Color Grading

Use color grading tools to adjust the tint, contrast, saturation and other color aspects. This helps create a consistent and professional look between shots in different settings.

Lower Thirds

Add eye-catching lower third graphics that briefly identify topics, learning objectives, locations or your own name and credentials. This polished touch enhances authority and production value.

Stock Media

Insert supplemental stock photos, videos and animations to visually illustrate concepts and enhance the educational experience. Just be mindful of copyrights.

Music and Sound

Add subtle background music to set the right tone and tempo. Boost quiet audio levels as needed. Insert sound effects for transitions. Ensure clear audibility throughout.

Promoting Learner Engagement

All the production strategies covered will go a long way in crafting professional and compelling online course videos. But fostering true learner engagement requires instilling your content with interactive elements to break up long stretches of passive video watching.

Frequent Comprehension Checks

Insert occasional short quizzes or prompts for students to actively demonstrate their understanding as the course progresses. This could include fill in the blank, multiple choice or discussions.

On-Screen Text Graphics

Displaying key takeaways, formulas and diagrams right on screen reinforces retention compared to just mentioning them verbally. Creatively present textual elements for visual learners.

Real-World Examples

Relate concepts to concrete real-world examples that feel applicable to the learner’s life. This grounds abstract ideas and makes their relevance clear. Share case studies and anecdotes.

Dedicated Review and Q&A

Schedule separate videos focused entirely on review and fielding student questions. This helps address confusion and gives a forum for two-way interaction. Consider hosting scheduled livestreams for real-time Q&A.

Comments and Forums

Enable comments on videos and set up online discussion forums for supplemental textual Q&A conversations to flow outside formal videos. Join and facilitate discussions.

Putting thought and effort into properly producing your online course videos will pay off with much higher student engagement, completion rates and overall effectiveness of the learning experience. Follow these best practices outlined to take your instructional videos from amateur to truly professional grade. The difference will be obvious and well worth the investment.

By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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