Psychology of Video Pt. 1 – If You Want to Teach Something New, Relate it to Something Old

Learning is a constructive process. Like any form of construction, it relies on a solid foundation – new learning must be built on previous knowledge that has already been committed to long-term memory.

We used to think we could bring people in to a room and they’d learn what we teach them, and that they would learn even better if we rewarded them. Research by Jean Piaget (a Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher) and separate theories and observations by Lev Vygotsky (a Russian psychologist) revealed something different.

What actually happens is that we each create our own unique representation of whatever information is presented to us. Whatever we store away is put in terms of what we already know.

What does your audience already know?

“Know your audience” is pretty common marketing advice these days, but in terms of the psychology of learning, that phrase takes on even more importance.

If you’d like the viewers of your animated explainer video to remember what YOU want them to take away from your video, you have to help them connect it to something they already know.

We’re not talking about any kind of emotional manipulation here, we’re talking about pure biology – the science of learning. Yes, you do want to make an honest emotional connection with your viewer, and you need them to like and trust you if they’re even going to start watching your video.

But it’s by knowing your audience that you can really help them learn what you’re trying to teach.


Enter the metaphor. A metaphor is a figure of speech you use to describe one thing in terms of another. We use them all the time, probably without realizing it. We call a guy who parties a lot an “animal” (but he’s really not – he’s a man). We call a woman who likes lavish things a “princess” (but she’s really not royalty, she’s just a peasant like the rest of us).

A metaphor is one of the most effective ways to help your audience connect your new ideas to something like they already know. For example, in this Loggly video, the animators portray computer log files – one of the inner workings of our computer systems that few of us can relate to – as actual logs, to demonstrate how their service helps users manage those “logs” (files).

Using a metaphor is different than using memory aids such as mnemonics. Because in this case, you’re embedding the memory aid right into your video, it’s not something the other person is consciously aware of.

The key is to make sure that whatever description you’re using is something your audience can relate to. The more meaningful the metaphor, the more you’re helping your viewer make sense out of the information that you’re presenting in your video.

There are other ways to use the psychology of learning to help your viewer to learn, understand and remember the information in your animated explainer video; for example, try to keep the video as simple as possible, and pace it so the viewer has time to integrate each piece of new information before another one comes along.

Take a look at part two in our psych series on Marketing and the Mind covering learning and remembering more in video.

Piaget, J. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. In M. Cook, trans. New York:
International Universities Press

Piaget , J. (1973a). The child and reality: Problems of genetic psychology. New York: Grossman.

Piaget, J. (1973b). The language and thought of the child. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Piaget, J. (1977). The grasp of consciousness. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Piaget, J. (1978). Success and understanding. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1962) Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978) Mind in society: The development of the higher psychological processes.
Cambridge, MA: The Harvard University Press.

Psychology of Video Pt. 1 – If You Want to Teach Something New, Relate it to Something Old was last modified: by

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