How to Record An Online Class: Audio and Video Quality Guide

You've already decided that you want to use video for one of your course content types, but you don't know where to start. This guide will help you add video lessons to your online courses.

How to Record An Online Class: Audio and Video Quality Guide

You've already decided that you want to use video for one of your course content types, but you don't know where to start. This guide will help you add video lessons to your online courses.

How do you make an online course video?

Although there are many different types of online course videos, we'll limit the discussion to two main types for this article: live video and screen recording, as well as mentioning some key points about both.

Recording live video for culinary vlog

Live video is what you probably think of first: it's a video where something is being demonstrated live in front of a camera.

Screen recording is using screen capture software to record video from the screen on your computer. This is helpful if you are demonstrating how to use software or are showing a slide presentation using Powerpoint or other software in your online course.

How do you create video content for online courses?

To record live video, you will need:

  • a digital camera
  • a microphone video editing software (optional)

To record screen video, you will need:

  • screen capture software
  • a microphone (optional)

How to record live video

If you want to use live video for your online courses, the first step is to set up your camera.

You'll want to make sure that the camera is at a good angle and that there is enough light. If you are recording in a dark room, you may need to use a lamp to add light.

The next step is to connect your microphone to the camera. This will help improve the audio quality of your video.

Once you have your camera and microphone set up, you're ready to start recording for your online course. Make sure that you are in a quiet place where you won't be disturbed, and press the record button on your camera. You'll want to speak into the microphone while you're recording so that your students can hear you clearly.

When you're finished recording, stop the video and save it to your computer.

My Recording Environment

My desk

Here's a picture of my recording environment. You can actually see a lot of the products I mention below. Don't be intimated, though. You don't need everything you see to record videos and produce quality education.

I've purchased the equipment you see over about a decade so I didn't have to come up with the money to buy it all at once. I purchased the items as I needed them.

You can technically record videos and start teaching with just what's included in your laptop, but we have some better recommendations below.

Camera recommendations

There are many different types of cameras you can use to record online courses. You will need to choose one that fits your budget and the quality of videos you want to produce.

Laptop camera

Online communication cheerful black female

Although built-in laptop cameras usually do great for video conferencing, they usually don't shoot professional-looking videos so we don't recommend them for recording online course videos. Your students will have a much better online learning experience if you choose another option.

Think about all of the video conferencing and Zoom calls that you've been on. Some of the participants probably had great video quality while others didn't. And sometimes the presenter's video looks a lot better than anybody else's.

That's probably because most of the participants were using the cameras built into their computers or mobile devices and the presenter was probably using a webcam or DSLR camera. Which do you want to look like in your online classes?

If you're just starting out or in a financial pinch then you could probably get by with the camera built into your device or laptop but you'll probably want to upgrade it soon as you start generating income and can invest back into your business. The money you make from your first online course can fund better equipment to record online classes in the future.

Webcam

Webcam on school desk

External webcams usually have better quality than the ones that come built-in to laptops and other devices. They are usually a lot cheaper than DSLR cameras or other professional level options and they are a good first upgrade to increase the quality of your online learning video production.

These cameras can just plug right into your computer and are a lot easier to integrate with video conferencing software than the video camera and DSLR camera options listed below.

I recommend (and own) the Logitech C920 as a relatively inexpensive webcam upgrade.

Video camera

A man shoots in nature with a video camera

Although I don't usually recommend using this type of video camera for your online course videos, you might already have one if you've purchased one for family movies or other purposes. If you have, then you will not have to invest in other options to record online classes for a while.

To make sure your home movies look great, make sure your camera records video at 1080p high definition and can easily export movies to your computer for editing later.

We don't recommend any specific video camera since our recommendation is to only use one if you already own one.

DSLR

Canon DSLR camera

A digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) is a digital camera that combines the optics and the mechanisms of a single-lens reflex camera with a digital imaging sensor, as opposed to photographic film.

It's the traditional-looking photographer's camera and most can record high-quality videos for online classes. The bonus with these is that you could add lenses to add even more quality to your videos.

Although not technically DSLR cameras, mirrorless cameras are becoming very popular and offer many of the same features as DSLR cameras at a more affordable price and a smaller footprint. These also can use interchangeable lenses that help you shoot different types of videos for your online classes.

Personally, I use a Canon EOS M6 Mark ii mirrorless camera to shoot most of my videos. I use this camera because I had one of the original EOS M cameras and had already invested in a number of lenses so I continued with the Canon EOS M line so I don't have to purchase new lenses for a different camera system.

Lenses I own and what I use them for:

Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN Lens for Canon EF-M: It's entirely overkill for the purpose, but I used this lens for my video screencasts and web conferencing to give a shallow depth of field and blur the background.

Canon EF-M 22mm Lens: This kit lens (the lens that comes with a camera when you buy it) used to be my go-to lens for video screencasts and web conferencing until I bought the lens above.

Canon EF-M 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 Lens: This was the kit lens that came with my original EOS M. I use it primarily when I don't know if I'll need to zoom in or have wider shots and want a bit of versatility. It has a fairly high aperture, though, so you can't do much blurring of the background at some zoom levels.

Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3: This is the kit lens that came with my M6 and is Canon's replacement for the 18-55 lens above. Even though most people seem to prefer this lens to the prior version, I personally tend to choose the 15-55 before I choose this one. An advantage of this lens is the slightly larger angle at 15mm, but I already have the wide-angle lens below for that.

Canon EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 STM Lens: This is a wide-angle lens that allows me to take in the beauty of landscapes when I record online classes outside and lets me shoot more of the room for indoor video content like in a video tutorial about real estate home staging.

Canon EF-S 55-250mm F4-5.6: This zoom lens has high magnification and is great for shooting subjects that are far away, such as in recording videos for a sporting event demonstration. It needs an adapter to fit the EOS M series of cameras, but I purchased it before Canon offered high magnification zoom lenses specifically for the M series. Although the adapter opens up the M series to all of Canon's EF and EF-S lenses I've only ever used it for this lens so if I were buying today I'd probably skip the adapter and go with one of the newer lenses that don't need it like the Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 or the Canon EF-M 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3

However, if I wasn't already invested and we're purchasing a new camera today I'd probably choose a micro 4/3 camera like the Panasonic LUMIX G100 because they cost less and have a lot more lens options available.

USB HDMI Capture Card

If you wanted to use your DSLR mirrorless or another video camera as a webcam for your computer or as a direct input when you do live conferencing or other live streams, then you probably need a USB HDMI capture card.

These cards allow you to connect the HDMI out from your camera to a USB port that connects to your computer so that it can be used with the software.

This is one of the reasons why using DSLR or mirrorless cameras is a much higher investment than starting with a webcam to shoot your online course videos. Not only do you need to invest in the camera itself, but you probably also need to buy an upgraded lens, add a USB HDMI capture card.

I started off using an Elgato Cam Link 4K, but I started experiencing issues with it so while I was contacting their technical support I bought a Magewell USB Capture HDMI Gen2 shipped overnight, which immediately solved my problem.

As it turned out, though, the problem wasn't with the Cam Link at all. My CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 Dock was acting up and caused other issues before I pinpointed the cause. CalDigit replaced it for free and my Cam Link worked again. Elgato technical support never agreed to replace my Cam Link because their tests said it was good so I still had the original.

I prefer the Magewell since I own both, but would probably have been happy with the Cam Link if that's all I ever purchased.

Microphone recommendations

Pro streamer talking into professional microphone

Although your camera already has a built-in microphone, we recommend using an external microphone for the best sound quality. External microphones usually do a lot better at eliminating background noise and making your voice sound a lot fuller.

People can tolerate video that's not the best but usually can't tolerate poor audio. External microphones record much better audio than the one in your webcam, DSLR, or smartphone and provide your students with the best lecture recording possible.

Over the past few years, we've seen an explosion of videos made by people at home. We've all watched a lot of video on social media, YouTube, or even on the news that was made by non-professionals. We've all heard the telltale signs of audio recorded with the microphones built into cameras: it's echoey, full of static, and just doesn't sound professional.

If you're recording video on your computer through a webcam or screen recording then we recommend purchasing a USB microphone that easily hooks up to your computer. Then all you have to do is to set up your recording software to use that microphone as your audio source when you record videos. External webcam video is usually pretty good, but webcam audio isn't.

Desktop microphone

Woman with mic recording a podcast

A desktop microphone is a type of microphone that is designed to be used with a desktop computer. It typically connects to the computer through a USB port, and its design allows it to be positioned close to the user's mouth for optimal sound quality. Desktop microphones are probably the most used microphone to record online classes.

I use an earlier version of the SAMSON C01U Pro that's no longer for sale. The main difference with mine is that it doesn't have the audio output. I also have the shock mount and the boom arm. I found the microphone in the clearance section at Target 15 years or so ago so I bought it and it's worked great since.

I've also heard good things about the Blue Yeti, but I've never used one.

Shotgun microphone

DSLR on a tripod with a shotgun microphone

A shotgun microphone is a type of microphone that is commonly used in filmmaking and television production. It is so named because of its cylindrical shape, which allows it to be pointed directly at the sound source while remaining out of the frame.

There are two types of shotgun microphones - large and small. The large shotgun microphone can be held on a boom stand above the person speaking. The small shotgun microphone can be attached directly to the camera. This will give the camera a better source of audio than the built-in microphone.

Female sound recordist holding shotgun microphone on boom

My larger shotgun microphone is an Audio-Technica ATR-6550 that I bought 12 years ago that's no longer available. I bought it before smaller shotgun microphones that more easily mount on cameras became available.

For my smaller shotgun microphone, I opted for the Movo VXR10+ Smartphone Video Rig with Mini Tripod, Phone Grip, and Video Microphone. They have versions without the mobile device mounting adapters, but I think they are great to have as an option even if you're initially only planning on using it with a DSLR. I actually bought it to live stream a live event from my phone in a situation where I couldn't mic up the presenters, but now it's sitting on top of the Canon EOS M6 as part of the recording setup that I'm using to record my screencasts.

Lavalier microphone

Male adjusting lavalier microphone

A lavalier microphone, also known as a lav mic, is a type of microphone that is typically used in live theatre, television, and film. It is so named because it is worn around the neck of the user.

Lavalier microphones are typically used to get close to the speaker in videos. These microphones are small and it doesn't matter if they are seen in the video.

The first lavalier microphone I ever bought was the Audio-Technica ATR3350, which isn't available anymore, but I still use it in cases where I need a super-long cord with a 3.5mm input.

I also own a Movo PM10 Lavalier Microphone that I used to use as my primary way of recording audio with my iPhone. I bought it back when iPhones had headphone jacks, but now you need an Apple Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter.

But the one I use the most is my Samson LM5 Lavalier Microphone with P3 Connector. This isn't a USB or 3.5mm microphone like everything else on the list. It's an XLR microphone and, although I'm going to specifically not recommend XLR microphones later in this article, I like it because it connects to my Samson XPD1 Headset USB Digital Wireless System, which gives me the ability to have wireless lavalier or headset mics connected to a USB port on my computer. So, yes, it's a USB mic after all!

Headset Microphone

Businesswoman with headset talking at office

If you're looking for a simple and affordable way to record online classes, then this is the solution for you. All you need is a USB headset with a microphone and you're good to go. This method is ideal if you're only recording audio, but it can also be used to record video. Headsets come with a built-in microphone, which makes them perfect for recording online classes. Simply connect the headset to your computer and start recording! This is a great option if you want to keep your hands free while you're teaching, but don't look that great in your final video.

I'd also go with a stereo headset because they allow you to better hear the audio when you're editing your videos.

I own a discontinued Plantronics headset that I used to record an audio-only course before I bought my other microphones and still use today to edit my videos, but if I were buying one today I'd go with the Logitech H570e

Headworn Microphone

Public speaker at marketing conference

A head-worn microphone, also known as a head mic, is a type of microphone that is typically used by public speakers, broadcasters, and singers. It is attached to a band that goes around the back of the user's head, and the microphone is positioned in front of the user's mouth.

This type of microphone is popular in live stage events.

I'm kind of a germ freak so when I was invited to speak at a live event that used head-worn microphones I purchased my own.

I bought the Samson SE50 because it comes with a variety of adapters for a variety of wireless microphone packs, which means I can bring it to any event where I'm speaking live and know that it will be compatible with whatever system that is used by the venue.

I also can plug it into the Samson XPD1 Headset USB Digital Wireless System that I mentioned above. Granted, that system already comes with its own head-worn microphone that works great, but the SE50 is a much better quality microphone and is smaller so it's less noticeable when worn.

Handheld Microphone

Girl singing karaoke with handheld microphone

A handheld microphone is a type of microphone that is held in the hand of the user. It is typically used by public speakers, broadcasters, and singers. It is popular in live state events. We don't recommend this type of microphone for your course videos because it doesn't allow your hands to be free for your demonstrations.

I own a Samson Q2U USB/XLR Microphone with Podcasting Pack that I use when I interview a guest in my home studio. I like this microphone because I can plug it into a USB port when a computer is nearby, but it also has an XLR output that I can plug into my Samson XPD1 Headset USB Digital Wireless System using a Samson AX3 XLR Male to P3 Female Cable to go wireless. Granted, it's still wired to the belt pack transmitter, but I like the flexibility.

iPhone headphones or AirPods

Hand holding wireless headphones open case

If your computer has ports compatible with your iPhone headphones, then you can use them to record your audio. It's not the greatest sound, but it's better than your computer's built-in mic.

If you have AirPods or other Bluetooth headphones for your phone then they can be used as well. The quality still isn't the best and they can look odd in your ears in your videos, but it's another way to put off investing in better equipment until later.

I use both Airpods and Airpods Pro, mostly for video conferencing calls for privacy when I don't want to pump the audio through my computer speakers.

USB 3.5 adapter

If you're using a DSLR or mirrorless camera as your video source, and it doesn't have a USB port, you'll need this type of cable to connect the camera to your computer. This cable has both a USB 3.5mm plug on one end (which plugs into your microphone input on your computer) and a 3.5mm stereo audio jack on the other end (which plugs into the microphone input on your camera).

I use the one built into my CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 Dock, but the Sabrent USB External Stereo Sound Adapter is a good option if you don't have the CalDigit or similar device.

USB-C adapters

All of the USB devices on this list use USB-A connectors. If you have a newer computer or a Mac then it probably only has USB-C connectors. In that case you'll need an adapter. I use the Amazon Basics USB Type-C to USB 3.1 Gen1 Female Adapter.

Use USB devices on your iPhone

The Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter is technically meant to allow you to connect your DSLR camera to your phone to download pictures, but it can also be used to connect a USB microphone. And if you use something like the Samson XPD1 Headset USB Digital Wireless System that I use, then you can hook up a wireless lavalier or headworn microphone to use in your iPhone video or audio lecture recording.

XLR microphones

XLR cable

We recommend that you don't purchase XLR microphones until you know more about audio equipment. This is because getting XLR microphone input into the computer for editing requires special interface equipment, like mixers or audio boards, which can be a lot more technical for beginners to understand. They are definitely not plug-and-play like USB or 3.5 mm options. The one notable exception is the Samson XPD1 Headset USB Digital Wireless System, which allows you to easily turn XLR equipment into wireless USB devices.

Recording separate audio

If you want to take your studio-quality sound to the next level you might want to record your audio completely separate from your video and then combine your audio and video in your video editing software.

This gives the advantage of having two separate audio sources in case something goes wrong and the audio doesn't record. Imagine recording an entire interview with a guest who was difficult to schedule only to find out that your audio didn't record.

If you record from two sources you'll at least have the onboard camera audio. It might not be the best, but at least it's better than nothing. You can record external audio using the following methods.

External recording device

External recorder for a podcast

An external recording device is a device that is used to record audio separately from the video. This device can be a handheld recorder, a microphone, or a recorder that is connected to the computer.

Smartphone or iOS device

If you have a microphone that can be attached to your phone, like a Lavalier mic, then you can use a voice recording app to record your audio. You can also use apps designed specifically for recording audio. You can import the audio file when you record your video.

The Movo PM10 Lavalier Microphone along with the Apple Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter mentioned previously are a great starter combination for iOS recording.

External devices

Personally, I've only ever used my iPhone when I needed external recording, but I've heard good things about the Zoom H1 that has its own microphones, but can also use an external 3.5mm one.

Lighting recommendations

You can have a great camera, but low light or improper lighting can ruin the image quality of your online lecture video. There are entire courses dedicated to proper lighting, but the easiest way to get started is to use natural light.

Woman on video call

The easiest natural light to use indoors is a window where the sun isn't shining in directly. Put your camera in front of the window, stand in front of the camera, and you're off to the races.

Or, if you decide to shoot outdoors it's best right at sunrise or sunset since this avoids sunlight that is too harsh.

Shot of woman shooting a video on her phone

And if you want to record indoors and a window isn't available then a two-point lighting system is the best.

A two-point lighting system is a basic lighting setup used in photography and videography. It uses two light sources to create a more balanced and natural-looking image.

Lighting for a demonstration video

One light is placed to the left of the camera and one light is placed to the right. You can use any type of light for this, but we recommend using a softbox or an LED panel to create soft light.

By using two lights you create shadows on the opposite side of where the light is coming from and this gives your image more depth and realism.

I have two Neewer Ultra-Slim LED Video Lights and two Elgato Master Mounts that I use for my two-point lighting setup on my desk.

If you're not ready to invest in a lighting system, then you can sometimes get by with a well-lit room, but keep in mind that you need a lot more light than you think in order to record quality video and it can be difficult to control annoying shadows without proper lighting equipment.

Some video creators use ring lights, which have grown in popularity among social media influencers. Our concern with these is that they create direct light so they can seem harsher than two-point lighting and really aren't that less expensive than a traditional lighting system.

Woman using ring light

Green screen

And finally, if you're really serious about your videos, you might want to consider purchasing a green screen. With a green screen, you can chroma key your footage and place yourself in any background you want. This is a great way to create more interesting and professional videos, but it's also a more expensive option.

Green Screen Studio

I have the Fancierstudio 2 in 1 Chromakey Green Screen Chromakey Blue Screen Collapsible Backdrop that I hang up with this light stand and these clips. I like this setup because it allows me to use different collapsable backgrounds in many colors or patterns. It's not a huge background, but it's big enough for one person standing or sitting in one place, which is the majority of the videos I create.

Screen capture software

Screen recording (also known as screen capture) is the process of capturing the activity that is displayed on a computer screen. This can be used to create video tutorials for your online courses, capture game footage, or record a video chat. This software lets you record PC screen actions, events, and applications. You can choose to record some of your screen or your entire screen.

If you're going to be recording screen video for your online course, the first step is to install screen recording software on your computer. The two most popular options for recording your screen for online learning are Camtasia and Screenflow.

Camtasia

Camtasia is a software program that is used to record the activity that is displayed on your computer screen. It can be used on both Windows and Mac computers and includes pretty good video editing features. Personally, I've never used Camtasia because when I got started in screencasting I had a Mac (still do), but Camtasia was only available for PCs so I bought Screenflow.

Screenflow

Screenflow is another program that allows you to record whatever appears on your computer screen but is only available for Mac computers. At one time it was the only one for Mac computers so that's why I bought it. It also includes pretty good video editing features. It's also been so great for what I use it for that I didn't buy Camtasia when it became available for Mac.

Free online screen recorder

Although there are many free options out there, they usually limit the video length or record at a lower quality because they depend on the speed of your network connection.

Video editing for online courses

You will definitely want to edit your course videos before you post them online. This can be done with video editing software, such as Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, or even Camtasia or Screenflow. These applications also include audio editing functionality in case you want to improve the audio quality of your recorded lectures.

Video hosting for online courses

If you're using an online course platform then it probably already includes hosting for your videos and the ability to create your own video library.

Some course creators use their own YouTube videos in their online courses or, for more security, use paid options like Vimeo or Wistia

Read more