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How to Create an Instructional Video

Instructional videos are an ideal way to introduce topics, ideas, and skills. They’re also a handy tool for driving interest and enrollment in a new course. But if you don’t have access to an expensive video editor, creating videos may seem like a heavy lift.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be. In this blog, I’ll share our process for creating simple yet effective instructional videos using mostly open-source tools you can access for free. I recently used this process to create this teaser video for a banking compliance course in our portfolio:

The Tools

Here are the tools used to create the video:

The Process

Step 1: Create the video as a slide show in PowerPoint

Our portfolio sample is designed to introduce personal lenders to the requirements of U.S. fair lending laws. The teaser video for the course, then, had to capture learners’ attention and show why the topic matters to them. In this case, we wanted to illustrate the wide-ranging negative consequences of discriminatory lending and articulate what role lenders have in preventing it.

Illustrative charts, graphics, and compelling photos of real people in diverse neighborhoods seemed the best way to drive that message home. PowerPoint is an excellent tool for creating this kind of video because it makes image and text editing quite easy.

The trick here is making the finished slide deck look like a movie, not a PowerPoint presentation. Here are some tips for making it work:

  • Make sure something is happening onscreen every 10-30 seconds.

  • Stay away from bullet points, the calling card of boring slide decks everywhere.

  • Use subtle animations to make the text and images move dynamically. Animations like fade in/fade out and float in/float out are an ideal choice for more serious topics.

  • Be mindful of pacing. Make sure viewers have enough time to read the onscreen text before the slide changes or the next text block fades in.

You can also achieve some interesting effects by layering two copies of an image on top of each other and applying a visual effect to the topmost copy. Then, apply a fade-in animation on the topmost copy to make it look like the picture changes.

In our video, we used this effect to make picture of a stressed young woman fade to gray.

A screenshot of a video frame in PowerPoint. The Color Saturation menu is open to show how the image onscreen was changed to grayscale.
Step 1: Desaturate the image color to gray.

A screenshot of a video frame in PowerPoint. The Color Saturation menu is open to show how the gray-scaled image was softened to make it appear more blurry..
Step 2: Soften the desaturated image to make it appear out of focus.

When you’re finished designing the deck, set the slide show to play autonomously. Here’s how:

  • Make sure each animation is triggered to start with previous or after previous, depending on when you want it to appear in relation to the previous animation. Make sure none of the animations are triggered on mouse click. Otherwise, they won’t play automatically.

  • In the Transitions menu, make each slide advance after a pre-established time frame (for example, 12 seconds), not on a mouse click.

When you’re finished, preview the deck in slide show mode to ensure the show plays autonomously and that all the timings are correct. If so, you can move to the next step.

Step 2: Record the slide show

Although PowerPoint allows you to export a slide deck as a video, this method has been known to cause a significant color shift for some users. We recommend against using this feature unless you can verify that the colors in the exported video exactly match those in the PowerPoint file.

If you want to avoid the headache, consider recording the slide show with a screen recording tool. We use OBS Studio, a free, open-source screen recording tool with a straightforward interface. There are only a few items you need to set up before you record:

  • Make sure display capture is set as your source. If you’re using multiple displays, click the Properties button to choose which display to record.

  • Click the Settings button in the Controls panel, then go to the output tab in the settings dialog box to choose where you wish to save the screen recording. You can also access the most recent screen recordings by clicking the File menu and selecting Show Recordings.

Screenshot of the Sources panel in OBS Studio. The Display Capture source is selected, and the Display drop-down is expanded to show which monitor the program is capturing during a screen recording
Step 1: Make sure the Source is set to Display Capture and choose which monitor to record.

After that, hit the Start Recording button and play the slide deck in presentation mode on the appropriate monitor. When the presentation is finished, just click Stop Recording.

Step 3: Apply finishing touches in a video editor

Since you applied most of the transitions and animations in PowerPoint, any remaining edits will be minimal. I like to use ShotCut to apply a few finishing touches, like cropping the video and applying a fade in/fade out effect at the beginning and end.

ShotCut is a free, open-source alternative to Adobe Premier Plus. As someone with limited experience in video design, I found the tool pretty easy to learn.

Here are some quick tips for doing a few final edits on your video:

  • After importing your video to ShotCut, click and drag it into the timeline.

  • Press the spacebar to start playing the video from the play head. When you come to a part of the video you want to crop out, hit the spacebar again to pause, then enter S for split. Repeat at the other end of the undesired clip, then select the undesired section and tap X to remove it.

  • Hover over the beginning of the video track until a pulsating black dot appears. Click and drag the dot to apply a fade-in effect at the beginning of the video.

A screenshot from ShotCut showing a video in the timeline editor. The pulsating gray dot is visible at the beginning of the track.

You can also use ShotCut to add a music track to your video. (For our video, I sourced royalty-free music from Bensound.) Once you import the track to ShotCut, right-click on the timeline, click Track Operations, and choose Add Audio Track from the context menu. From there, just drag the audio file into the audio track and trim as needed.

Once you’re finished editing the video, simply use the Export menu to export it as an MP4. (ShotCut gives you multiple export presets, but I’ve found that the Default preset usually does the trick.) From there, the video is ready to share.

Your Turn

What’s your process for developing quick instructional videos? Drop it in the comments. Help us decide what to write about next by responding to the poll below. And if this post was helpful, please give it a like. We appreciate it!

Be excellent, and thanks for reading.

What should we write about next?

  • Using open-source tools for eLearning development

  • Creating instructional videos in PowerPoint

  • Designing compliance training

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