3 Examples of Great Video Tutorials

3 Examples of Great Video Tutorials June 2nd, 2014, by Matthew Setter

Are you keen to learn how to make great video tutorials? Today's post shows 3 examples of the best and breaks down the key things they do.

In any pursuit in life, to get better, you have to find outstanding examples and role models to follow. You need to find people who inspire you, giving you standards of excellence to strive toward achieving. By learning from them, you can dramatically reduce the time required to learn and hone your craft. As the American motivational speaker, Tony Robbins, says:

Learn from the best and speed up time.

You can spend all day educating yourself by reading loads of blog posts, being involved in social media groups, and watching copious online videos; but if you don’t have a benchmark to guide your efforts, all that education is potentially worthless.

Why? Because you don’t have a laser-like focus, a clear goal on the horizon, something against which you can measure your growth, both in how far you’ve come and how far you’ve yet to go.

In this post, I share with you three of the best examples available today of video tutorials. These three continue to inspire me in my journey toward video tutorial mastery. So I wanted to share them with you, showing you why they’re so good, from which you can learn how to improve in less time.

Whilst each has a different style and approach, all of them share key characteristics. These are:

  1. The ability to teach technical concepts, which often times is considered as interesting as watching paint dry, in an engaging, compelling, and educational manner
  2. They engage with their audience, providing loads of information, yet without overloading them at the same time
  3. Like good authors, they make their topics come alive, in very practical, hands-on, ways
  4. Their productions are professional. Whether you’re listening only to the audio or watching the full video, it screams professional. What’s more, they make good use of presentation techniques, such as text overlays and presentation speed to find the right pace

So without any further ado, here they are.

Railscasts

railscasts screenshot

Railscasts, started by Ryan Bates, presents Ruby on Rails Screencasts. If you’re not familiar with it, Ruby on Rails is an open-source web framework built on top of the Ruby programming language, which allows for creating applications with relative ease.

For quite some time, Ryan presented a new screencast each month covering a specific technical topic. These ranged from creating forms, to database interaction and much much more. What stood out for me with Railscasts were several things. These include:

  • Ryan’s vocal style. It is engaging and lively, yet still instructive, making it easy to follow during the presentation
  • The vocal pace. Ryan speaks at a pace which is quick enough to cover a large amount of information, in a short period of time, yet not so fast that it’s difficult to follow
  • The quality of the recording. In the video above, the font and screen resolution used, makes the code easy to read. This is especially important, given that it’s a technical tutorial
  • References to related information. In addition to working through code examples, when he references external libraries and information, he covers them in sufficient depth so when you need to refer to them, you have ample information to do so
  • Excellent show notes. The show notes contain links to the referenced libraries and other information, source code, and the commands used in the presentation, plus a transcript of the presentation

If you want an excellent resource to model yourself on, I highly recommend Ryan.

Ruby Tapas

ruby tapas screenshot

Ruby Tapas, Short Screencasts of Gourmet Ruby, is one that I’ve only recently come across, after being referred there by a contact of mine. Developed and presented by Avdi Grimm, this is far and away one of the best examples of video tutorials that I’ve seen to date.

Here’s why:

  • It makes excellent use of metaphor, tapas, which immediately frames the information as being easy to consume, one bite at a time. The user is given a subtle reassurance that it really isn’t that hard. No matter if you’re new to Ruby or an old hand, it’s broken down barriers users may have erected in their minds against it.
  • The site design is clean, clear and effective. You know you’re in the right place. You can watch sample videos to know if it’s for you before being able to easily sign-up and continue your journey of discovery
  • The vocal style is clean, clear and engaging, presenting information with a steady pace
  • The video’s are clearly, professionally, made. Like Railscasts, the code windows are easy to read, no matter what device you’re viewing them on. Text overlays are used effectively to help introduce and reinforce information being taught. The timing of audio and video is well controlled, so users get what they need, without waiting too long
  • He’s using Wistia, a service I’ll rave about all day, any day.

VimCasts

vimcasts screenshot

VimCasts, produced and presented by Drew Neil, teaches users how to use the venerable UNIX editor, VIM. If you’re not familiar with VIM is based on the VI application, a text editor was born in the early days of development of the UNIX operating system, some 30+ years ago.

Unlike most text editors you’d likely be used to, such as TextMate, Notepad, Notepad++, UltraEdit and TextEdit, VIM is a command-line tool which doesn’t support mouse input.

However, once you look past the, potentially archaic, interface style, you quickly come to learn that it’s a very powerful program indeed. It’s extremely customizable, extremely fast, and allows you to be very efficient.

Given that, I was particularly intrigued to discover a site successfully providing screencasts about it. Different again to both Ryan and Avdi’s styles, Drew presents regular, concise, screencasts teaching all there is to know about VIM in an engaging and educational style.

Here’s what I like best about Drew’s video tutorials:

  • Each screencast is free to watch and download. That’s right – free. I believe Drew has a really good business model in place, where he provides copious content for free; but for those wanting to dive deep into the topic, he has a range of training options available for purchase, as well as a highly recommended reference – Practical Vim.
  • Each screencast is accompanied by show notes and a transcript, which cover the code used in the screencasts, as well as any additional information
  • The site itself is easy to navigate. You can quickly find the screencast you’re after, along with blog posts, categories, training and where to subscribe. It’s clearly laid out, easy to follow, easy to navigate
  • The vocal style is well paced, clearly explaining concepts in an easy to understand way, able to explain the topic at hand, yet without doing it too quickly
  • The video is professionally made. Whilst not a crisp as Ruby Tapas, the resolution which works across multiple devices, and uses a font size that maintains readability irrespective of device. The video also makes use of on-screen text to display key commands and keystrokes used; which given the nature of the subject, is a really helpful and practical thing to do

Wrapping Up

In summary these three presenters do an excellent job of creating video tutorials which educate users about advanced technical topics, in an informative and engaging manner.

Each combines professional quality audio and video with a comfortable pace and engaging vocal style, allowing information to be consumed and retained, without too much effort on the part of the user.

They all make good use of professional production techniques, such as:

  • Overlaid text, whether that’s summarizing what was or will be taught, showing keyboard keystrokes and commands
  • Good intros and outros which reinforce what is and was covered
  • Work through code examples at a pace which provides sufficient information, whilst skipping over parts which aren’t essential to the process
  • Each one has made effective use of branding and metaphor to make their productions memorable

Whilst I give a special mention to Avid’s Ruby Tapas, Drew and Ryan have done excellent jobs as well. I hope that you can see what separates the best from the rest and that you use these takeaways to improve your own screencasts. I know I am.


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