What I learnt about learning from a flight safety video

I’ve just spent 3 weeks travelling in the UK and Turkey with my husband, Garren. We flew Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, and after spending a few days there, we flew to Nevshehir Airport in Cappadocia (the photo on the left shows some of the amazing cave dwellings in Cappadocia).

Now this blog started when I watched the flight safety video on Turkish Airlines. The “wow-factor” of the Turkish Airlines flight safety video is that it features a few of the stars of the Manchester United football team. After watching the video four times, I have to admit that I found myself drifting off, but it got me thinking about learning, particularly how we approach e-learning. Some specific insights include: how we think about the purpose of learning; the balance between “substance” and “sizzle”; how we use humour; and how we deal with information that needs to be presented in two or more languages.

You can watch the video here, but let me give you the gist. The passengers are welcomed on board and then the Manchester United stars are introduced. Next, passengers get a piece of safety information in English, with an on-screen demonstration of what is being said. Cut to the Man-U boys in a studio, who interpret the instruction incorrectly – for a bit of mild comedy. On our flight, each English instruction was repeated in Turkish, which meant that the premier leaguers repeated their skit each time too.


According to Turkish Airlines, the thinking behind this video is “that this unique approach will encourage passengers to pay close attention to the video and highlight the importance of inflight safety.” So there’re two purposes of this “learning intervention” – to get passengers to pay attention, and to make sure that passengers behave in a safe manner. Although Turkish Airlines has done something different with this video, and it’s nice that they’ve taken a more light-hearted approach, the video didn’t hold my attention and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Why?

That sizzle’s got to have some substance

There’s a lot of “sizzle” in the video: enlisting the Man-U guys was a clever move on many levels; there’s a cute little family discovering a real aircraft; and the video makes use of a funky soundtrack and some well-chosen multimedia effects. This certainly captures peoples’ attention, but it doesn’t hold it.

I felt that the video took too long to get to the morsels of substance. The English-only video is 5 and a half minutes long; when the Turkish instructions are included, the length of the video increases to over ten minutes. So in my opinion the “sizzle” had the effect of drawing out the video and belabouring points that, let's be honest, are fairly well-known.

How can this knowledge help me as an e-learning designer? It’s reminded me to keep focussed on the purpose of the course and to add “sizzle” only where it helps to fulfil a learning objective. I’ve learnt to look out for situations where the “sizzle” becomes gimmicky or annoying and reconsider its place in the course.

Timing is essential to humour

There comes a point where Wayne Rooney doing forward rolls on an escape slide in a studio is no longer funny.

The skits with the soccer players are supposed to keep passengers interested by using humour, but in my opinion the humour fails. I’m no comedian, but I think the timing was off. The soccer players are in a studio, not in an airplane, and so their antics seem staged and de-contextualised. And given that most people flying will be on a return flight in the near future, I think the attempt at humour is just going to be irritating after the first time.

I’ve seen humour put to better use on Kulula, a low-cost airline in South Africa. Here, the chief flight attendant goes through the safety information over the address system and throws in a few jokes. I’ve been on many Kulula flights and I’ve only heard the odd joke repeated. Some even bring current affairs into the mix. It’s sincere and the timing works – I think this is a better context in which to use humour.

So what does this teach us about e-learning? If you’re going to use humour, make sure it is contextualised, well-timed, and of course, unoffensive. If your learners are going to need to refer to the course or job aid more than once, then carefully consider the way in which you use humour. You don’t want your learners to feel like they’re watching reruns of sitcoms that were mediocre in the first place.

Lost in translation

As a citizen of a country with 11 official languages, I am aware of the challenges that come with multi-lingual instruction. The Turkish Airlines video gave each instruction in English and then in Turkish. Of course, I realise the necessity for giving the information in two languages, but I think this was another reason why I found myself drifting off, and why (at over 10 minutes), the video seemed painfully long.

I think that in this instance, two separate videos (one for each language) would have been preferable. Translating each instruction meant that passengers had to watch each set of visuals twice – and watch the Man-U skit a second time! It quickly became tedious.

From an e-learning perspective, we need to think carefully about the way we group learners, whether it’s by language group, or by other groupings. We need to guard against throwing all the information in the direction of all the learners and hoping it will stick. In many cases (and particularly when dealing with different languages), it’s appropriate to establish different tracks for different groups of learners. I also think that it’s important for learners to be able to pull information that they need to take a certain action, rather than pushing all the information towards them.

Have you learnt anything from customer education videos that has taught you something about the way we design e-learning? If so, please leave a comment.

I’m going to be writing another blog post on the OR Tambo International Airport orientation video that we were made to watch on our South African Airways flight back home. It reminded me of many knowledge dump e-learning interventions, and of how a job aid would have been a much better option.