5 great video formats to inform and enlighten

Here’s how to use these instructional pieces to offer guidance to your staff and other audiences.

Whether you want to demonstrate a technical process for an online class or teach Grandma how to use email, a video can help do the job.

The key is choosing and making the right type of video for the task. To help you, let’s walk through five common types of instructional videos and when to use them:


What is it: Micro-videos are short (under a minute) instructional videos that focus on teaching a single, narrow topic. They appeal to today’s media consumers, who have notoriously short attention spans.

When to use it: It’s the go-to format anytime you want to teach a simple concept in a few steps. You might make a one-off piece that teaches a new software feature. For more complex concepts, create a series splitting a topic into logical chunks. As instructors shy away from long-form video, this approach covers the topic and raises audience engagement. It modulates the pace of learning and makes the content easier to consume.

Tutorial video

What is it: A tutorial video is the go-to method for teaching a process or walking through a given task. Usually two to 10 minutes long, these videos employ multiple methods: direct instruction, follow-along guidance, and quizzes and other interactive elements. The best of these “how-to” videos are carefully planned and have high production quality.

When to use it: Tutorials can teach just about anything. No hard-and-fast rules exist for when to use them, but a few key factors can help you decide:

  • Is the topic or process best taught through video? Must it be communicated visually, or could a written tutorial accomplish the same goal. If you can’t confidently say yes to video, a quick written tutorial might be a more affordable option.
  • Are there content expectations that require video as the instructional method—for example, to explain new software features?
  • Do you have the time, money and knowhow to create and maintain the tutorials?

Example: Here’s a tutorial on how to shoot better video.

Training video

What is it: Training videos are intended to improve workplace skills. They commonly cover interpersonal topics, such as compliance and harassment training, or job-related topics, such as hardware and software training. Similar to tutorials, training videos use multiple techniques, such as direct instruction, follow-along type guidance, quizzing and interactive elements. However, unlike tutorials, training videos often use footage of real people to help connect the trainer and trainee(s).

When to use it: These can teach just about any process and are used in situations that lend themselves to live video, where the interpersonal connection will improve content retention.

Example: This fun training video from Air New Zealand focuses on teaching people how to be safe in their airplanes. It plays heavily on the “Lord of the Rings” movies to connect with the audience.


What is it: This format is composed primarily of screen recordings designed to teach someone how to perform a task or share particular knowledge.

When to use it: Screencasts are great for quick, informal instruction. When the audience is small and the stakes are low, they communicate an idea, answer a question or solve a specific problem. Production values needn’t be high, as these are often “disposable” segments.

Example: This casual and concise video demonstrates changing the user interface theme of Snagit from light to dark.

Presentation and lecture capture

What is it: A recording of a live event for later review or consumption, it could be as simple as recording just the audio for a presentation, or as advanced as recording PowerPoint slides, a webcam and a separate microphone all at once. This format tends to be longer than a tutorial video and covers the entire class or presentation. It requires a higher level of audience investment.

When to use it: You can make a presentation or lesson available for review or for audiences that couldn’t attend live.

Example: This TED talk given by Sir Ken Robinson is a prime example of a presentation intended for a expanded audience.

A version of this post first appeared on the TechSmith blog.

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