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Review: Pay-as-you-go training

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First mobile phones, now it's training! Clive Shepperd gives his run down of the latest offering from Video Arts.
Video Arts is one of the world's most successful vendors of training films, famous for their 'see how not to do it, then learn how it should be done' videos featuring a host of well-known comedy stars and actors. Video Arts was formed in 1972 by a number of colleagues at the BBC, including Anthony Jay and John Cleese, who, dismayed at the poor quality of the training films that the BBC were showing them, realised there was an opportunity to do a better job themselves.
My own involvement began in the late 1970s, when I became a Video Arts customer, using their films to liven up and add some variety to soft skills classroom courses. They were very successful at doing this job, evidenced by the fact that many people I know can still clearly recall a host of scenes from the films they saw many decades ago. Although there was a comedy angle to the films, the content was based on sound research and was capable of making a serious impact. As for me, I mainly remember the hassle involved in having to set them up on a 16mm projector. Luckily VHS came on the scene soon after, which simplified the process no end and helped to trigger the late 70s boom in corporate video. And of course quality and convenience have improved still further in recent years with the move to DVD.
Technology never stands still for a moment and now the classroom trainer has another way to access the Video Arts library, using their new Pay-as-you-go facility. This is how it works:
  • When you subscribe to the service, you receive a small USB hard drive packed with more than a thousand clips from the Video Arts library. At the same time you receive a number of credits, depending on how much you have decided to put into the kitty. Each credit costs £1.
  • Using Video Arts' online Digital Content Library website you can preview any of the clips and select the ones you want to use for a particular course, presentation or coaching session (what they call a 'project'). When you're happy with the clips you have created, you can download the list (in Windows Media playlist format) to your local computer. You can use this list any time you run that course, presentation or coaching session in the future.
  • When you know the dates on which you are going to be using these clips, you can download a DRM (Digital Rights Management) license to cover these dates. Credits are then removed from your account to pay for the facility. Generally speaking, a clip will cost you 10 credits a day.
  • There are then two ways to play the clips: you can either click directly on the playlist file and play the clips in Windows Media Player, or you can embed the playlist in a PowerPoint slide (go to the slide / Insert Movies or Sound / Play Move from File / select the playlist).

So, why would you want to do this in preference to using DVDs? Well, here are some ideas for starters:

  • If you're a freelance trainer, you may not be able to afford to buy all the DVDs you need. And even if you work for a large organisation, you may make only occasional use of video and couldn't justify your own DVD collection.
  • You don't always want a whole film - you may just be after a particular clip. In this case, it will be much cheaper to pick the clips that you want from the library.
  • If you need a series of clips from different films, this would involve you shuffling a number of different DVDs in and out of the drive, whereas with this system the transition between clips is seamless.
  • You would need a suitcase to carry all the DVDs in the Video Arts library, whereas the Pay-as-you-go library is contained on a single, small, lightweight drive.
If the benefits listed above apply to you and the Video Arts films are relevant to the training, presentations or coaching that you do (and they may well be, particularly if your speciality is soft skills), then I would seriously consider Pay-as-you-go. Soft skills trainers are not typically technophiles, so you may find the process of organising playlists and downloading licenses a bit tricky at first (although Video Arts will provide you with training and support) but you will soon get into a routine. And if you're new to using video clips in the classroom, you'll soon discover just how engaging a medium it can be.
Clive Shepperd is the chair of the elearning Network and also hosts TrainingZone's 'Engaging with elearning' group.

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