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10 Things You Must Know About Creating Epic Course Videos

How to Create Online Video Course

If you're anything like me, you learn best visually by having an example or video which you can refer to or replay over and over. After all, repetition aids learning.

Am I right, or am I right?

Did you see the repetition there? Sorry...just had to say it.

However, there are times when I've taken online courses which include video content that either 1) makes me want to fall asleep or 2) fails to keep my attention, sending my mind spinning off in other directions. 

I'm well aware that I may be a little ADD, but the reality is...

If your online course videos don't grab your student's attention, they will tune you out.

So in this article, I'd like to share 10 of my favorite tips to help improve the quality of your course videos. This is a thorough article and it's probably best to save a PDF version of it using the link above in the Article Resources section so that you'll have it handy when you begin producing video content.

Unfortunately, the only thing this guide can't help you with is making you a more interesting teacher!  

1. How to create video with good resolution and proper audio quality

Video - Video quality is important, especially when you have textual content in your video which you expect the viewer to read. There are many things we can talk about when it comes to video quality, however, I want to focus on a few important points. These are simply guidelines and you're welcome to experiment, however, these are some great starting points to begin the process with.

Resolution - There has been a lot of hype over the last couple of years around HD video production. The lower end of high definition (HD) resolution is 1280 pixels by 720 pixels also known as 720P. This is actually the size I use for all of our video tutorials here at Fly Plugins. Since most of our tutorial videos include on-screen details related to our software interfaces, it's important for the video to be clear. The higher the resolution you choose, the larger your video file size will become. This can sometimes have a drastic effect on playback performance. For 1080P, you'll want to  use a 1920 pixel by 1080 pixel resolution.

H.264 Encoding - This is also known as MPEG-4 AVC encoding. It's the most common method used for video compression and we highly recommend it. There are other encoding methods, however, H.264 is compatible with all mainstream browsers like Chrome, FireFox, IE, and Safari (including mobile browsers for iOS and Android). For example, WEBM is compressed with a different video codec, but does not play in all browsers so we don't recommend using it.

Online Course Video Export Settings
These are sample export settings that I use in Screenflow, a software program that we'll discuss later.

Video Variable Bitrate - Since your video file is composed of bits and bytes, the bitrate is simply the rate of bits processed in a unit of time, typically in seconds. Since I use 720P for my resolution, I will export with a bitrate of anywhere between 2,500 and 5,000. When doing a video tutorial with a screen capture, I will use the lower rate and I'll use the higher rate of up to around 5,000 when I'm recording photographic video (for example, myself speaking to the camera).

This setting is probably one of the most important settings. If you set the bitrate too high your video file size will not only be massive and take a long time to export, but the video may not play very smooth across the internet because of the amount of data being transferred will be unsustainable. On the other hand, setting this value too low will result in poor quality. Just experiment with it for your unique recording and editing setup.

FPS or frames per second - As the phrase implies, this is simply the number of images that the recording device or software program will display consecutive each second. If you're using an external camera and you are going to import the video to an application like ScreenFlow or Camtasia (which we'll discuss shortly), I recommend using 30FPS.

When exporting your video, you can use anywhere from 24FPS to 30FPS. My rule of thumb is if I am only doing a screen capture I will use 24FPS, but if I include myself in the video I will use 30FPS. But again, use caution here...the higher the FPS, the larger your video size will be which we need to remember affects export times, storage requirements, and playback performance.

Audio - We've written about this too many times to count, but for online courses you really want to ensure that you have great audio quality. Almost 70% of your students will access your course at some point from a mobile device and the quickest way to ruin that experience is with low-quality audio.

We highly recommend investing in a good quality USB condenser microphone like a Blue Snowball or Yeti. When it comes to sound quality, a purchase like this will pay off.

ACC compression for audio - ACC or Advanced Audio Coding compresses audio at a similar bitrate to MP3, but tends to produce better results in most cases and is the preferred compression for the audio tracks in your videos.

Audio Bitrate - We typically recommend an audio bitrate of 384 kbps which is the equivalent of "stereo".

2. Keep your videos short and sweet

It's a well known fact that everyone has a very short virtual attention span these days. In a world full of interruptions and busy schedules, it's important to create content which is interesting but gets to the point. Most people who want to learn a new skill don't have time to spend watching an endless stream of long video clips.

Put yourself in the shoes of your potential students. Perhaps your students are people who have regular day jobs, get off work, pick the kids up, take the kids to tee ball practice, make dinner, do the homework thing (because homework is really for parents!), and your course may be the only thing standing between them and that fancy new mattress they just purchased!

The last thing they want to do is flip open their laptop only to watch a monotone, droning 45 minute presentation covering the equivalent of 5 chapters from a textbook.

Keep your video under 10 minutes if possible and only cover 1 or 2 key learning concepts. At the end of the video, provide a quick summary and some actionable steps if applicable. This will make your content easier to consume and your students will not only appreciate it, but it will be more effective for learning retention.

[BONUS TIP] - Provide an action guide in a PDF download that helps students perform the actionable items you've spoken about in the video. You can download the templates we use in the Article Resources section at the top of this guide.

3. Host your video on a fast platform

Online Course Video Hosting Platforms

There are several places to host your video, but choosing one all depends on your unique project requirements and budget. The only hard and fast rule here is this...

Never host your course videos on the same server that your course website will be hosted on.

Most of our WP Courseware users opt for inexpensive shared hosting plans which are affordable because your site is hosted on the same server as 200 others. Storing video there also will result on an extremely frustrating video playback experience for your students.

If you need a fast service but don't care about protecting your video content, you can simply use YouTube and set your videos to Unlisted or Private. If you want more control over the protection of your video you can use Vimeo, Amazon S3, or Wistia. You will pay a premium for that security, but in the end it's less expensive than the course sales you will lose from users sharing your content with their friends, family, or colleagues. I'll talk a little more about security shortly.

  • YouTube - YouTube is free and you can upload a video with a time length up to 15 minutes (unless you verify your account). It's possible to increase the time limit with YouTube (click here for details).
  • Vimeo - With Vimeo Basic you get an upload limit of 500MB per week and up to 25GB free per year. You can upgrade your plan if you need additional space.
  • Amazon S3 - AWS S3 is very cost-effective and we've hosted all of our courses there since 2010. Currently it costs $0.03 per GB up to 1TB then pricing goes up a little bit. Check out the pricing details here.
  • Wistia - You can host up to 5 free videos with Wistia Branding and then you'll have to upgrade to host additional videos without the Wistia branding. Pricing details can be found here.

4. Best practices for embedding your video

In WordPress, there are multiple ways to embed video. Just as a side note, the video player that is native to WordPress is MediaElements.js, which is the best HTML5 video player with Flash "fall forward".

If you are embedding YouTube, Vimeo, or any MP4 file, you can simply place the URL into a page or post and the editor will automatically embed the video. However, if you want more control over the video frame size you will need to use the embed shortcode...

For more info on the embed shortcode, check out the WordPress codex on embeds.

For YouTube and Vimeo, you can also use the embed code snippet that's provided in the "share" section of the video.

For video hosted on Amazon S3 or any other cloud storage platform, you can use the video shortcode...

[video src="http://domain.com/videos/video.mp4" ]

For more info on the video shortcode as well as other parameters you can use, check out the WordPress codex.

For Wistia videos, you will need a special embed code from Wistia.

5. Use fluid video size

Fluid video or responsive video is critical to ensure that your course's students can access video content from any browser or device. Most WordPress themes on the market today have taken into consideration the desire for responsive video and have implemented a CSS solution.

However, some themes simply haven't followed suit. Without getting too technical with CSS, here is a great reference guide from W3Schools on using CSS to make your video responsive in case your theme doesn't support responsive video capabilities.

6. Use good video screen capture software

Creating a video of your computer screen while you demonstrate using software, some sort of application, or how to fix something is a great way to train people online. However, to do so you will need to invest in the right software.

There are several products available that do screen capture recording, but the two best in my opinion are ScreenFlow by Telestream (Mac) and Camtasia by TechSmith (Windows).

Online Course Video Capture Software

We've used Screenflow to produce all of our video content for several years. I actually also use ScreenFlow to edit regular photographic video that I shoot with my Canon T3i. It works really well for editing any type of video or even audio for podcasting.

[BONUS TIP] - One thing that you can do as well is record your KeyNote or PowerPoint presentation. This is a great method for teaching because you can record yourself instructing as you display the slides. This is great for evergreen content.

7. Brand your videos

Part of making your video appear professional is branding your video. There are various ways to brand your video.

  • Create an intro/outro for your video to display your company name and logo. You can do this by using a service like Intro Maker or Vipid. Be sure to use a good high resolution logo image and make sure it doesn't clash with the video background. Some of these videos come with background music, but I typically purchase music and use it for background music...which brings me to my next point!
  • Use some cool background music for your intro/outro video. Audio Jungle and Pond5 are great options for music. If you are doing an instructional video, I don't recommend using background music through the entire video. I would only recommend using audio for your video's intro and outro segments. Make sure the music is appropriate for your brand and potential students.
  • If you are using a  slide deck, be sure to brand your slides with your logo, website, and social media handles. Typically, I will modify the master slide in KeyNote or PowerPoint and include my logo, website, and Twitter handle.

8. Protect your video assets

There are some instances where you may want to protect your video from internet piracy (being shared with non-paying viewers). But first I want to make it clear that there is no method available on planet Earth to guarantee that your video will not be stolen if you make it available online. With screen capture software and recording devices available (i.e. mobile phones), any video can be stolen.

However, one of the simplest ways to protect your video is to simply brand your video. Why would anyone want to steal a video that has been branded by someone else? And if they do, there's a good chance the end viewer will return to you eventually as the authority on the subject.

Another way you can add a security measure is to place your video behind a "membership wall" using membership plugins like WishList Member, MemberPress, or Paid Memberships Pro.

Aside from that, it is possible to take some additional security measures to help protect your video. One method for securing your video is "domain level protection". This basically means that your video can and will only play on a specified domain. Vimeo Pro/Plus and Wistia both provide this type of protection.

With YouTube, you can also set videos to Private, however, that simply means that you must grant individual access to the videos. You can't embed private videos on your site or your students won't be able to watch them.

YouTube does allow you to leave your video as Unlisted. This just means the video will not appear in YouTube search or channel listings, however, you can still embed that video on your site. But with Unlisted videos, anyone can get the URL to the video and share it.

S3MMLogo

At Fly Plugins we do have an alternative solution that will allow you to secure course videos and let students play them back on your WordPress site.

S3 Media Maestro is a great solution for protecting video hosted on Amazon S3 and it can also play video from just about any video hosting solution.

Why Amazon S3? Amazon S3 is a very inexpensive method for storing any digital file, including video. It also includes the ability to add a measure of protection with expiring URLs.  S3 Media Maestro uses the AWS API to create unique, encrypted, and expiring URLs.

What does that mean?

Basically, it means that you can host your video on Amazon S3 and display it on your site, but deliver the video with an expiring URL which is rendered useless after a specified amount of time. If someone inspects your webpage source code and gets the URL, the URL will only function until the expiry time is up. Once the time is up, the URL will never work again.

Once the page with the video is reloaded, a new unique, expiring URL is generated and your students can watch the video again. If you'd like to see it in action, feel free to check out our video demo of S3 Media Maestro.

9. Add a poster image to your video

Online Course Videos with Poster

Poster images are another great way to brand your course's video content. And adding a poster image with the video shortcode is super easy. You simply need to add the "poster" parameter to the video shortcode. For example:

[video src="http://domain.com/videos/video.mp4"

poster="http://domain.com/images/poster.png"]

With S3 Media Maestro, it's very similar. You just add the "splash" parameter...

[s3video s3url="myvideo.mp4" splash=

"http://domain.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/poster.png"]

The poster image will display on top of the video frame as soon as the page loads. As long as you are not using "autoplay", the poster image will display until the play button is clicked.

Be sure to use the space on the poster image wisely. Make sure to brand it, and make it interesting. Sometimes I will actually use a picture of myself rather than a huge logo. It just makes it more personal and people relate to people. They don't always relate to logos.

[BONUS TIP] - Make your poster image the same size as your video. For example, if your video is 1280px x 720px, make your splash image the same size.

10. Practical tips for recording and editing video

Here are a few more tips I'd like to leave you with. When it comes time to actually begin recording your course content, these can come in handy:

  • Most people don't feel comfortable in front of a camera so it will take some getting used to. I've recorded people who do public speaking for a living, however, when placed in front of a camera they got jammed up and experienced stage fright. The best thing to do is just do it often, which will allow you to get used to it. It will eventually become more comfortable.

 

  • Be prepared before hitting "record". If you are doing a presentation with KeyNote or PowerPoint, be sure to have some notes handy so that you don't freeze or lost track of your thoughts in the middle of your presentation. Sometimes doing a dry run prior to actually recording really helps.

 

  • Don't worry about editing out every single error. Sometimes it's a breath of fresh air to see things a little raw. For example, if you pronounce a word incorrectly and you catch it and correct it immediately while still recording without making a big deal of it, I would suggest leaving it in the video.

 

  • Don't edit out every deep breath or mouse click sound because it will take too much time to get it perfect. I used to have this terrible habit of smacking my lips while speaking on video and it would sound annoying to me when I would watch my recording. Then I would edit my audio to remove every lip smack and a 10 minute video would take me over an hour to edit. I got to the point where I would edit out a few of the loud lip smacks, but would leave a few less noticeable sounds in the video. As you record more video, you will learn to speak more clearly, become more conscious of what you are saying, and you'll begin to talk more fluidly without "um"s and the like.

 

  • Practice makes perfect! Yes, I know that is cliché, but the more you engage in video presentations the better you will become and the easier it will get. After a few days of recording, you'll get into a good rhythm. Every time we've started working on a new course, it has taken a week or so to get back in the groove and get used to the unique mindset that video recording requires. 

About Ben Arellano

Ben Arellano is one of the co-founders of Fly Plugins, creators of the first and most widely-implemented learning management system for WordPress, WP Courseware. Since 2012, he has helped thousands of entrepreneurs, corporate training departments, and higher education institutions develop and deploy online training courses from their WordPress websites.

6 Comments

  1. Richard on March 7, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Incredible article. A keeper for sure.

    • Ben Arellano on March 7, 2016 at 5:34 pm

      Thank you for your kind words Richard 🙂

  2. Alexandra on March 8, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    Bookmarked as a resource page to keep coming back to. Thanks!

    • Ben Arellano on March 8, 2016 at 7:09 pm

      Awesome! Thanks Alexandra!

  3. juinn on November 11, 2018 at 8:47 am

    In other words, there is no way to use parameters like showinfo=0 for embedding youtube videos in WP Courseware to prevent course users to share an unlisted youtube video?

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