Talking Head Video is Boring… or is it?

Blog reader Paul Colombo of webLearning wrote to let me know this Jakob Nielsen article was recently slashdotted.

Summary:
Eyetracking data show that users are easily distracted when watching video on websites, especially when the video shows a talking head and is optimized for broadcast rather than online viewing.

That quote is from Jakob Nielsen’s post. In email, Paul indicated that he notices business managers often want talking-head video with an executive message in compliance training. Yet, a still picture of the person and supporting text often works best– clear, less distracting and highly effective.

I certainly agree with Paul on that, given all the typical costs associated with video. However, I think I disagree with the interpretation of the esteemed Mr. Nielsen– talking head video isn’t boring, it is, however, something people are very good at processing and multi-tasking. I actually like having the talking head and being able to access additional information. If I hear something in the voice, I can jump back to look at the face. I think the talking head is particular effective if the content addresses the affective domain. To me at least, such video obviously has a place in learning. However, as Paul implies, a still image can be just as effective as conveying the source and significance of a message for instructional purposes– and often less distracting and more cost efficient.