Learning with Video
One thing we have been thinking a lot about is how YouTube did away with the instruction manual. If you’ve needed to fix something in the last year, chances are you landed on a video of someone walking through it. What makes it so compelling (beyond YouTube’s deep linking in the video to get you to the specific portion you need) is that it shrinks the gap between learning and execution by putting the object at the center. Anyone who has ever built a piece of Ikea furniture can attest to the complications that come with trying to put together a three-dimensional object using only two-dimensional sketches. This is particularly powerful in mobile, where we can now have the videos sitting beside us as we do our work.
The data above is from a 2018 Pew Research study on YouTube. While people like to talk about the platform being about mindless entertainment, “figuring out how to do things they haven’t done before” was the top response for why people find the site important.
In case you thought this was unique to home improvement, go type in the name of any enterprise SaaS application and watch the screen recordings pour in with instructions on how to do anything. There is clearly a purpose and value for this kind of documentation. With that said, it does seem to fit a specific mold. Going back to something we shared in our 6 Types of Documentation post, it feels like video generally works best in the top-right tactical-doing box (though clearly there are examples across all).
What does this mean about documentation? I think there are a few takeaways:
- Context is key: the days of disembodied instruction manuals and documentation need to go away
- Use the right tool for the job: video can be very powerful for step-by-step instructions, particularly when people are away from their computers
- Personality can help: one of the things that seems to make How-To YouTube work is the personality, something that is frequently missing in plain-old text documentation
- There’s still a place for text: the challenge with video is it’s hard to update and generally not searchable (YouTube solves that with auto-transcriptions). If it’s a quick reference someone is after, text is often much more suitable.
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