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A national survey found that Generation Z students (defined as those born between 1995 and 2012) ranked YouTube as their favorite learning tool (Overland, 2018). Yet many instructors think to themselves, “There is no way I could create videos like the professionals.” The good news is you don’t need expensive equipment or extensive training. By using these six techniques, you can create engaging, professional-quality instructional videos.

Keep it human

Videos can effectively reinforce social presence in online learning environments. When instructors share information through videos, they create a welcoming environment and show their students that there is a real person behind the screen. Trying to be perfect in a video will only turn your viewers away. Just try to be human. If your cat will not leave your keyboard while you are filming, ask him to say hello to your students too. If you accidentally mispronounce a word, don’t redo the video; make light of the situation because everyone makes mistakes. Your students might actually find it funny.

Set the scene

Place the camera at eye level so you can make direct eye contact with viewers, just as you would in person. Nothing is more unflattering than making viewers stare up your nostrils. If you are using a laptop, place it on a stack of books for a better angle. Examples of effective camera placement can be seen in many of the famous YouTuber Doctor Mike’s videos, such as “The Truth About Swallowing Gum.

How is the lighting in your videos? Office or classroom settings often come with fluorescent overhead lights, which can give your videos a greyish appearance, making skin look dull, as well as cast shadows. It is best to add lights at different angles in front of you. Another option is to shoot outdoors.

Speak to the viewer

Think back to a video you have recently watched. Beyond the subject matter, what about the video held your attention? Was the creator of the video funny? Did they make direct eye contact with the camera to establish a connection with you? These are great video techniques that instructors tend to miss, whether by not looking into the camera, being too serious, or reading from a script. Speak as if the camera were the eyes of a real person sitting in front of you. You can look away occasionally, but reading from a script is distracting to the viewer. Speaking to the camera makes students feel that the video was created just for them. You will just need to remember what you want to say. A good method is to create videos in short segments to reduce how much you need to remember at one time and then stich the segments together at the end. A great example of this can be seen in vlogbrothers’ video “18 Great Books You Probably Haven’t Read.”

Pick a location

One of the biggest mistakes that instructors make when creating videos is the location where or background against which they film themselves. It’s easy to sit at your desk and record videos from your computer, but doing so can lead to either too many distracting elements in the background or a blank-wall mug shot look. Try taking your filming outside to a more interesting location, such as a park. Similarly, if you want a consistent background for your videos, then try setting up a space dedicated to filming. This could be a plain background or something related to your video subject. A great example of picking a location can be seen in a Teaching ESL Online video where the host tours his life as an online teacher to better connect with his students.

Keep it short

The biggest question instructors have is, “How do I keep my students engaged in my video?” For one, the length of the video makes a big difference in keeping viewer interest. An article in Inside Higher Ed suggested that “instructional videos should be 20 minutes or less to keep students engaged” (Rabidoux & Rottmann, 2017). But another study by the Pew Research Center suggests that your video should be no longer than three minutes (2019). Which do you choose? There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to video length; it all depends on the subject matter and your viewers. Test out both options in your course to see which one produces the best results.

Assess your motivations

Take a step back and assess your own motivations for creating video content. The content of your video should be focused and purposeful. Essentially, don’t create a video simply because you think that videos should be included in the learning environment. Think carefully about your video content and video length.

These six techniques can help you create engaging and useful instructional videos that your Gen Z students will appreciate. If you’re still overwhelmed, start small with one or two techniques. Doing so will reinforce your social presence in the online environment and your students will appreciate the variety to learn course content.


Overland, S. (2018, August 8). New research finds YouTube, video drives Generation Z learning preference. Retrieved from

Pew Research Center. (2012, July 6). Video length. Retrieved from

Rabidoux, S., & Rottmann, A. (2017, November 8). Creating effective instructional videos for online courses. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

Molly Barnett is a learning media coordinator and Linda A, PhD, is an instructional designer at Fort Hays State University.