What Radio Can Teach Us About Modern Training

ATD Master Trainer Jonathan Halls is a learning expert, especially when it comes to tailoring training for specific modes such as video or audio.

Published on 13 June, 2016 | Last modified on 1 November, 2022

Jonathan Halls has an impressive resume. Over the course of his career, he has worked as a journalist, a trainer, and even a talk show host. He has trained the BBC on media production, delivered keynotes around the world, and now lectures at George Washington University in addition to running his own consultancy and authoring books for trainers. Getting him on the phone, you might expect him to be hurried and short.

Instead, he brings an Aussie charm to everything he does. He is eager to share his expertise and speaks passionately about helping trainers learn how to use video to improve their courses. Even better, his advice is peppered with stories from the BBC and pop-culture anecdotes.

Early Training

Jonathan got his start in Australia before he even finished school. In 1987 while working at a local radio station, he began running workshops for other broadcasters on how to put together radio programs. Looking back, he says it must run in the blood: his grandfather, AJ Halls, was a leader in radio education through Australia back in the 1940’s.

Like many teenagers, Jonathan was not keen on school. He outright refused to go to university in order to prove success didn’t require a college degree. Instead, he continued with his radio work. Taken under the wing of a radio trainer, Jonathan began to understand adult learning principles and taught workshops on topics such as broadcasting and interviewing. All was well and good until: “I woke up one day and realized I didn’t have any qualifications.”

So he went back to school, getting first a bachelor’s degree in adult learning and then a master’s.

In 1999, he relocated from Sydney to London to run the new media skills training department for the BBC. Over the span of 7 years, he introduced editorial training to the New Media Training Unit and oversaw L&D for TV, radio operation, and new media during a time of dramatic change in the industry as radio and television transitioned to digital production workflows. Not only did he teach how to produce good media: he also spent considerable time introducing learning methodologies into training programs.

Training Videos Gone Wild

Since his start in video, Jonathan has seen the gamut of awful training videos to outstanding. With digital cameras, editing software programs, and easy online publishing, more people are able to create and share videos than ever before. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the videos are better.

Jonathan points to a lack of focus on drama and directing as the source of bad video, not a lack of technical know-how or production budget. Referring to an original Dr. Who episode, Jonathan says, “You could literally see the set wobble when they sneezed, but the story was so engaging and original that you were sucked straight in.”

The real difference between good and bad video, he continues, is not the quality of production but the answer to two questions: Is there a compelling story? And, are the producers clear on the purpose of the video?

Still, Jonathan says more and more people with an innate sense of what makes good video are publishing films online. He is especially encouraged by the insurgence of short content, pointing to the Tripp and Tyler YouTube channel as an example. Since every minute of video should have 4-5 hours of preparation behind it, shorter videos increase the likelihood that the producers have given the film proper care.

Radio Resonances

Thinking back on his family history, Jonathan once googled his grandfather and discovered a pamphlet his grandfather had written on principles of radio education. The guidelines are remarkably similar to what Jonathan preaches today about video: be clear about your purpose and make it easy to understand.

In fact, Jonathan sees quite the potential in audio for learning and development. Audio allows the listener to imagine, Jonathan says, which in turn makes it the perfect medium for expanding the learner’s horizon. Because it is so powerful yet simple, he predicts that in the next few years, more and more L&D will be delivered via podcast.

Luckily, he’s got the know-how to produce those, too.

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