Alternative to a lecture video: Text and images

Text and images

I’ve been thinking a lot about what might be better alternatives to video lectures. My first suggestion is the easiest to make, the most familiar to Internet users, and the most extensible. The simplest and most fundamental medium of the web: the web page.

I think web pages with text and images are a better alternative to videos for topics that require a lot of detail, step-by-step processes, or long discussions.

Some examples that are getting me thinking:

  • William J. Turkel: Installing Debian Linux in a Virtual Machine
    Text and screenshots are used to guide through a process, a somewhat long series of computer tasks. The medium is scrollable and easy for reference–sort of a long recipe. While we often jump to screencast videos for purposes like this, I think Turkel’s simpler approach is eminently more useful to the user/student who actually wants to do this task and not just watch it.
  • New York Times Magazine: Miscellaneous examples
    Journalism, particularly the (overly trendy) online “long-form” flavor, provides endless examples of creating engaging, instructive, long discussions of a topic. We can take lessons about the power of story as means of explaining and keeping students interested. (And think of how long and less engaging it would be to have a video of the reporter reading one of these stories into the camera or narrating it over PowerPoint.)

Multimedia principles

In a very real sense, these web pages are the basic flavor of multimedia learning: text (the basic medium) enhanced with images (adding the multi-). This format allows us to take advantage of some of the multimedia principles in a carefully controlled way—to present information free of clutter, positioned and formatted how we want it, with endless options for segmenting.

Technical considerations

I’d consider “the web” to be an instructional designer’s fundamental medium. Online learning platforms and elearning/tutorial tools are almost always some mix of HTML, CSS, and Javascript. We don’t need to be web developers, but I think it’s imperative to have some basic literacy in those!

Some resources I’ve found helpful (and a shameful reprint of material from a previous blog post):

  • Dash: An online learning platform with short lessons on HTML, CSS, and Javascript. It would only take a couple of hours to go through the lessons, and when you were done you’d know enough to be an HTML master in Carmen. (Seriously!)
  • “What Screens Want”: A visual essay on what it means to design natively for screens—for “digital canvases.”

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