Navigating the New World of Video Learning

Video has become an important part of the learning landscape. James Cross writes about the impact of video, and why we built Workday Learning to support video learning from the very start.

James Cross August 30, 2016
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Online video is one of the most transformative technologies of the past decade. It’s changing not only how we’re entertained, but how we communicate, share, and learn.

Video is personal; it can have a human face and voice. The moving image has the power to transport us to distant places, and it empowers us to share our lives, knowledge, and experiences with the world in new ways. Generations of people learned the alphabet by watching Sesame Street, and could share in the incredible emotion of the moment as they watched historical events like the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Fast forward to today. With high-speed internet, cloud computing, and smartphones, video has quickly gone from being unattainably complicated and expensive to frictionless and universally accessible.

We learn from other people—this is what makes video such a transformational medium for learning.

Video is also becoming an increasingly important part of the learning landscape, and great learning hinges on human connection. We learn from other people—this is what makes video such a transformational medium for learning, and why so many people use it every day to gain, or teach, new skills. From teenagers demonstrating how to do new skateboard tricks, to the Khan Academy helping people across the globe master complex math concepts, video has turned the world into a massive, always-on classroom.

Which learning experience is more likely to engage and transform you: A PDF handbook describing a procedure with pages of bullet points or a three-minute video of a trusted colleague explaining those same concepts directly to you on your smartphone? There’s no contest. Video wins every time, amplifying the reach of the over-the-shoulder social learning that happens naturally in every workplace, every day, and resulting in greater knowledge retention.

Taming the Complexity of Video Learning Deployments

But, while video is easy to consume, it demands a complex delivery system. While our customers have told us that they’re incredibly excited about the power of video-based learning, many of them have previously been held back from harnessing its power because of the technical challenges surrounding its use.

There are thousands of video file types and codecs (the “coding” and “decoding” part of video compression), and video files are growing in size each year as camera technologies improve. On the latest breed of iPhones, for example, a 10-minute video recorded on the default quality setting would need over a gigabyte of storage.

Users have increasingly high expectations around how video should be delivered.

On the other side of the equation, employees now have a wider variety of devices—from desktop to mobile to tablet—for consuming content. And an increasingly global workforce adds to the complexity, as content must be streamed to all corners of the world, including more remote locations.

Users also have increasingly high expectations around how video should be delivered. They expect instant, high-definition playback across any device, browser, and connection, wherever they are in the world. Some recent research found that when video fails to play, or pauses during playback, users actually experience physiological stress—with the heart rate rising 38 percent upon encountering a playback delay on mobile, and stress levels rising to a similar level as watching a horror movie or completing a math equation. Employees aren’t leaving these expectations at the door when they come into work—to truly engage the workforce by harnessing video for learning, organizations must provide an experience that meets these expectations.

Video Technologies Powering the Web

The unprecedented rise of online video, and the video experience, has been largely enabled by advances in cloud technology. So let’s explore three of the key technologies that are powering video learning:

Video transcoding is the process of converting video from its original format (of which there are thousands) to a format that’s suitable for streaming to a particular device. It’s more of an art than a science, with thousands of variables, and it requires an incredible amount of processing horsepower. In other words, it’s a task that is uniquely suited to the scalable nature of the cloud. To deliver a modern content experience to any device, browser, and connection, videos must be transcoded multiple times, and these encodings must then be securely stored, ready for the most appropriate version to be streamed to the user.

Smart video players automatically detect the user’s circumstances, and intelligently stream the right video version to give the best experience. It’s essential that a video player “just works,” regardless of browser or device. Modern streaming technologies like HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) automatically step the quality of playback up and down dynamically, depending on the bandwidth available—ensuring that the video experience scales from a large screen at home to a small screen on the move.

Content delivery networks make sure that employees can access content wherever they are—the office, on the move, or a thousand miles from home. Content delivery networks work by mirroring video content on thousands of servers across the world. So, when a user hits play, their video is delivered from a server that’s geographically close to her location, ensuring a seamless playback experience. With a global workforce, this technology becomes crucial in ensuring content accessibility and the quality viewing.

Our Investment in Delivering Online Video

Of course, the average person watching a how-to video online doesn’t think about codecs or content delivery networks. And, if they do, something has gone wrong. This is why we’ve built Workday Learning to support video from the very start—we knew we had to invest in the cloud infrastructure required to deliver frictionless video learning.

We’ve built our own player, which gives us great control over the video experience and allows us to support intelligent streaming standards like HLS, and also gives us the ability to evolve in the future with nascent and emerging video standards like 4K, 360-degree, virtual reality, and interactive video.

We’ve gone to great lengths to create a user interface that provides an engaging, immersive, and personal learning experience.

We’ve also built a highly-tuned cloud infrastructure that encodes, stores, and streams video via a top-tier global content delivery network—taking the complexity out of video so that our customers can focus on creating and sharing great content rather than worrying about the technology.

And with Workday Learning itself, we’ve gone to great lengths to create a user interface that provides an engaging, immersive, and personal learning experience, built upon Workday’s technology foundation and live data model.

This is just the start of an exciting journey—as video continues to change how the world learns, giving billions of people the ability to share their knowledge and to learn from each other like never before, we’ll continue to bring that innovation to our customers. Tune in for our next installment of our Learning series, on how user-generated video can drive business value and transformation, and be sure to read our previous post in the series, “Workday Learning: Putting the Person in Persona.”

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