Larry Jordan’s Thoughts on Teaching – The “TV Matters” Interview

Posted on by Larry

Last week, Misha Tenenbaum, host of “TV Matters,” interviewed me about my teaching practices, philosophy and thoughts on what makes a successful teacher. Misha and I worked together as teachers many years ago at Video Symphony, in Burbank, CA.

NOTE: Here’s the link to the podcast on EditMentor and here it is on Apple Podcasts.

I really enjoyed the depth of his questions and the chance to reflect on what I’ve learned during my career. With Misha’s permission, I’m sharing a transcript of our conversation with you here. Your comments are always welcome.

NOTE: I lightly edited this transcript for clarity.

Larry (voice over): Students are always afraid. They’re afraid they can’t learn. They’re afraid they’re not smart enough. They’re afraid they can’t keep up. They’re afraid their peers are going to judge them. They’re afraid the professor is going to judge them. My biggest challenge as a teacher is the absolute number one thing I have to overcome first is fear. Fear of not being able to learn. But once you get past that fear, then suddenly the heavens open up.

Misha: Welcome to TV Matters, where I connect with the educational professionals who are shaping the future of video classrooms in our schools. Our guests include exceptional high school video teachers, leading college professors, the influential administrators who help build our programs, and you’ll hear from people who are adjacent to video education.

I’m your host, Misha Tenenbaum, CEO of Edit Mentor and Edit Stock. Edit Mentor and Edit Stock believe that video is a universal language through which learners, irrespective of their age, gender, wealth, ethnicity, or geography, can grasp how to profoundly impact a global audience to start a business, create art, or perhaps even change the world. Now, onto the show.

Misha: If you’ve Googled video editing followed by “Tutorial” in the last few decades, then the name of my next guest is likely already familiar to you.

Larry Jordan, simply put, is a legend in video education. Larry has written 11 books on media and software, thousands of technical tutorials, and created hundreds of hours of video training for almost every major training site, including his own His two latest books are Final Cut Pro Power Tips and Techniques of Visual Persuasion.

He’s a member of the Directors Guild of America and the Producers Guild of America. He’s received national awards as a media industry innovator and a top corporate media producer in America. He was an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles from 2011 to 2020.

Welcome to the show, the one and only, Larry Jordan.

Larry: Misha, thank you so very much. I wish I resembled those remarks. It’s very kind of you.

Misha: So I know this episode is about you, but I wanted to start with a story.

When I moved to LA, it was to learn AVID because I thought I already knew Final Cut Pro. Then I took your class. In five days, I had written 35 pages of handwritten notes and became a certified user. That was more than what I accomplished in four years of college. It was so important a learning experience that I called my college and told them, if you’re not offering this class, you’re basically wasting everyone’s time and money.

Larry: The story continues in that you and I co-taught at Video Symphony in Burbank for several years. I enjoyed watching you work with the students and I enjoyed watching you learn along with them. Plus, I enjoyed the fact that you are a marvelous co-worker. So the praise goes in both directions.

Misha: Thank you very much. I truly appreciate that. I learned a lot about teaching from you and we’re going to talk about that. But first, when you look back on such a long career, how do you feel about what you’ve accomplished?

Larry: I haven’t done enough. If you want the honest answer, that’s it. I haven’t done enough.

Misha: Can you just put some more meat on the bones of that answer?

Larry: You know, there’s always more that we can do. There’s always more students we can teach. The challenge that I always confront is what more can I do to make this more effective or reach more people or help them overcome their fears of technology.

As I look at my career, I say, you know, I’ve done a lot, but at the time it didn’t seem like very much. So what is the Spider-Man quote, which is actually biblical in origin, is it “to whom great power is given great things are expected.” I always felt that I should be doing more.

Misha: I think you know, or learned at some point fairly early on that you’re a really good teacher?

Larry: Well, I don’t believe it, but I will accept the praise.

Misha: Thank you. So when was it that you knew you had to be a teacher?

Larry: I didn’t have to be a teacher. It just so happens that I like being a teacher. What I really love in my heart of hearts is I love video production. I love being part of a team. I love working with a group of creative individuals and creating something out of an idea and bringing it to the world.

I remember about seven decades before you were born, I was directing for PBS and it was a Christmas special in a Gothic cathedral in downtown Baltimore. We had seven choirs, we had 1,500 people in the audience. I had a production crew of about 75 people. And I remember standing in the back of the church. I mean, this is the 70’s back when nothing was wireless and the power cables were the size of a ship’s hawser. I mean, they were gigantic.

I’m standing on this rat’s nest of wires watching people climbing all over this church, hanging lights and positioning cameras. I said to myself: “All this came from a single idea that I had.” Our crew was taking that idea and making it real. How can you do better than that?

For reasons that are still murky, I got out of live television, although it proved to be at the right time, because shortly thereafter automation came in and staffing scaled back. But that was back in the days of large crews. And I shifted into computers for a while because I love technology and love computers. And then the world decided to give me a blessing and computers and video converged into digital video. And suddenly I knew video, I knew production, I knew post, I knew computers. And so I could take everything that my whole career had been built on and combine it into explaining this new technology to people that were struggling with converting from film to video or from analog video to digital or didn’t understand computers.

I happened just coincidentally to be at the nexus. There I discovered that there’s not a lot of people that explain that level of technology as deeply as somebody working in video needed to have it explained. And that for some reason I had a gift of being able to take complex subjects and explain them simply.

So I created my own company and have been writing about and training in and still doing production for the last 25 years.

But have I ever thought that I’m good at it? No, but I keep getting better.

Misha: Was the first time you ever taught a class scary? A lot of teachers describe it as scary.

Larry: No, I was way too stupid to really be scared.

I have never applied to a school to teach. Schools have always contacted me and asked me to teach for them. This includes USC, which I’ll get to in a minute.

But I got a phone call one day from LA Valley College, which is a community college in Los Angeles. They said, would you like to teach a Final Cut course? Because Apple Final Cut Pro was brand new in those days. It was probably around 2001, 2002. I’d just become certified to be a Final Cut instructor. And I said, sure, why not?

I walked into a classroom and the students didn’t know any more about being students than I knew about being a teacher. So the blind were leading the blind. I had a great time in essentially teaching a Final Cut Pro course to these 20 kids, three of whom are still professionally involved in media and the rest, blessedly, don’t talk to me.

So I taught there for two years, getting more and more experience. And then I taught at the UCLA Extension for two years and then USC called and asked me to teach part-time and at USC I taught for 10 years. It was supposed to be a part-time job, but for three semesters I was teaching five courses a semester in two different departments, the Iovine-Young Academy and Viterbi School of Engineering.

Those were all teaching visual literacy and visual persuasion. So I was teaching them the power that visuals provide, which a filmmaker could tell you before they woke up in the morning, but an engineer would have trouble understanding. They were wonderful courses.

The kids were involved and we’ll talk more about that. I had a great time. It lasted for 10 years and then COVID hit and things sort of slowed down. Now I sit reminiscing on the career that I had that could have been better with people like you and looking for another class to teach.

Misha: A lot of our audience are professional teachers in their day-to-day life. It might be a high school teacher or a college professor, but you have been largely freelance and teaching through your own company most of your life, unless I’m mistaken in that.

Larry: No, that’s not true. But go ahead.

Misha: Okay. I was going to say, why did you choose that path? And I’ll second that with why is that not true?

Larry: Clearly when I teach at USC or UCLA or LA Valley College or the other schools that I’ve taught, Emerson College, I’m part of an educational bureaucracy. I need to follow the rules and regulations of the school and deliver the curriculum necessary for the students to get credit for the course. So that’s a teaching job. And while I was hired, never full-time, I was still teaching anywhere from one to three courses a semester.

That would be just like any other teaching job. I have given lectures at high school but never taught high school, but my most memorable teaching experience, which I know you’re going to ask me about because it’s question 17 on that sheet of paper….

Misha: Yes, it is. Taking notes.

Larry: My most memorable teaching was when I was a substitute teacher in a junior high school, and I was substituting for band. And I realized at the end of that day that substitute teaching is a contact sport and students keep score. There was six classes that day. The students won four. We tied on one, and I won one.

I felt very virtuous that the last class at that day was the youngest band. I was just the substitute. You go in, play a movie, keep the kids from fighting, and then go home at the end of the day.

But I love music, and I’ve always wanted to conduct a band. So I said, I should conduct the band. The students came in, and I said, get your instruments out. And they said, well, we left our instruments at home. To show you how naive I was, I believed them.

So I started to play the movie, but the movie jammed. And I said, “Gosh, we can’t play the movie because the VHS player jammed.” And one of the young girls said, “Well, we could practice.” I said, “Well, you’ve left your instruments at home.” And she said, “Yes, but they were lying.”

I got really upset. I said, “What do you mean you’re lying? Get your instruments out!”

So they all looked sheepish and got their instruments out. We sat around, as a band does, they sit in a half circle. I’m standing up at the front conducting with great aplomb and absolutely no talent.

I said, “Everybody play middle C.” Well, what I didn’t know, because I was stupid, is that instruments are tuned differently and middle C on one instrument is not the same as middle C on another instrument. It was cacophonous. It was awful. It was horrific!

I’m standing there thinking, “Now what do I do?” I said, “All right, let’s try something. Grab your first piece of music.” (This was intro band. These kids could barely blow a note.) But I said, “Let’s just run through the first piece.” The kids got into it and we started to have a good time.

By the end of the class, we had run through every piece in their repertoire, twice. The music got better each time and the kids were sounding great, really great. As the bell rang at the end, I said, “You know, I’ve taught six classes today, six classes, and you absolutely sounded the best of all the classes I taught.”

One of the students surprised and said, “But we’re just the beginners.” I said, “It doesn’t matter. Even as a beginner, you can sound great.”

They walked out of there feeling like they’d been given a gold star and two pats on the back. That taught me a lesson and the lesson was: Students are always afraid. They’re afraid they can’t learn. They’re afraid they’re not smart enough. They’re afraid they can’t keep up. They’re afraid their peers are going to judge them. They’re afraid the professor’s going to judge them. My biggest challenge as a teacher, whether I’m teaching junior high school kids or high school or college and especially adults, is the absolute number one thing I have to overcome first is fear. Fear of not being able to learn.

Once you get past that fear, then suddenly the heavens open up and you can accomplish miracles. But until you get past that fear, nobody learns anything.

I can hear your next question. “Larry, you say, how are you going to get past that fear?” Well, I’m glad you asked because that is the absolute number one thing I’ve learned as a teacher.

The absolute number one thing I’ve learned as a teacher, beside the fact that students are afraid, is that the very first thing you should have them create should be unalterable garbage.
Something so irredeemably awful that there is nothing you can do that will make it any worse than what we’re about to create. So, if you know that this first effort is going to be awful, anything you actually create is a success.

Therefore, the very first thing I have my classes create when they’re doing visual design or creating art or creating a video is something that is so egregiously bad that they look at it and say, hey, I can do better than that. In the very next project they do, in the next project they do better than that. But if you set a high standard and you say the very first thing you have to do has to be precise, it’s got to be glorious, it’s got to be perfect, nobody can do that. This sets them up to fail. So instead, I set them up to succeed.

By setting them up to succeed, they suddenly say, “Hey, I can do this. I don’t have to be afraid. I can learn this. This could be fun.” All of a sudden, their own rockets light, and they take off from there.
I call it “Creating garbage.” (You may use that phrase with my pleasure.)

Misha: That is some gold teaching advice. I noticed when I took your class, that the class felt like you were really teaching me a production class that happened to be using Final Cut Pro, or some other piece of software.

I particularly remember, and this stuck with me a long time, when you were teaching us audio mixing and you were saying, you know, the music needs to live around -30 dB and then your sound effects, you want them in a slightly louder range, but maybe you leave a little bit of head room for your big explosions or gunshots and then you drew the audio meters on the board and we were talking about what lives at what level and whatever. Okay, now let’s stick some music in the timeline.

I felt like the focus of the lesson was production, not software. Intentional, not intentional.

Larry: That’s an interesting interpretation. Intentional, but not in a way you expect. The hardest people to teach, without question, are the students that are new to a subject. And it’s not that they’re stupid. It’s not that they don’t want to learn, but, as a teacher, you learned this subject so long ago, it’s so ingrained in you, that it’s really, really hard for you as a teacher to take a step back to teach the fundamentals. Really hard.

My father loved the idea of learning how to use a computer, but could never figure out how to learn how to use a computer. He finally figured out the mouse, got that down pretty well, but you know, he’d still be much happier with a typewriter.

To me, picking up a mouse, there’s nothing to it. You pick it up, you move the mouse, you do what you need to do. He could not get his mind grasped around. How do I hold it? He really had a basic problem with the fundamentals.

What I was really doing in that example is I was teaching the fundamentals of audio mixing. I was teaching the concept of audio levels which determine the volume of audio which is essential to understanding what’s in the foreground, what’s in the background, what’s in the middle. You can’t just simply say, make the sound softer.

What’s softer? How do you measure softer? It’s a squishy term. So if I say, put your music at -24 dB, okay, now people say, -24 dB, I can do that. It’s right there on the meters. I can find it. I can successfully do that. I may or may not be able to make it softer, but can I hit -24 dB? Yeah, sure, I can do that. Oh, and I need to have my sound effects a little bit louder than that, say around -12 dB. Okay, looking at the meters, I can. Cool! I’m automatically becoming successful, but what I’m really doing is something much more important – which is teaching the fundamentals.

What is audio? What is video? What is frame rate? What is technology? What is a codec? Well, this is all stuff that you and I bandy about because we are technical geeks and learned this stuff at the beginning of time. But students don’t.

So where do we start? Do we start with saying, “Well, of course you may prefer the HEVC codec – H.264, of course, is old school and nobody uses ProRes except professionals.…” Suddenly we’re way over their heads, they have no clue what language we’re talking.

But if I take the time to say, okay, a codec describes how we manage to get video squeezed onto a hard disk and the codec we use, which stands for compressor/decompressor, the codec we use determines image quality and file size and what kind of computers can edit it and what plays it back. A codec is the definition of what a piece of digital video is.

Once I explain that first, then when I talk about codecs, everybody’s with me.

But, as instructors, we always want to skip the fundamentals, want to skip the definitions, want to get to the sexy stuff. “Do you realize if I do motion tracking on this thing and I flip this switch the motion tracking inverts and all of a sudden I’m tracking the background, not the foreground, and look at this…”

Oh. My. Goodness…. there you go, waxing eloquent and they’re falling asleep in their chairs because they have no idea what you’re talking about.

Create garbage. Teach the fundamentals. Reduce fear. Those are my three precepts.

Misha: Again, amazing advice. I’m learning so much from you still. I’m so glad we are having this conversation. Maybe you’re just this kind of guy. But one thing I’ve noticed from being involved in your classes more than once is that you tend to use a lot of humor. You have some charm to you. Not sure if people have told you that before.

Larry: Never actually, to be truthful, but go ahead.

Misha: Now I’m blushing. Okay. In any part of your personality, do you put on a teacher hat and then that turns into a smile and a joke, but you’re different in your private life? Or are you just always yourself exactly as you are?

Larry: No, I’m definitely not. There’s definitely a teacher persona. Definitely. Humor is a great way to teach something technical without making it seem threatening.

When I’m not teaching, I’m quite happy being by myself. Now, I don’t run around with a black cloud hanging over my head with tears coming out of my eyes, it’s not that. But I have never been the life of a party, ever. Not once. I tend to be standing against the wall at any party, unless… unless I’m in charge.

If I’m in charge, then it’s my job to make that party, whatever that party happens to be, it’s my job to make that party as entertaining for everybody as I can. The switch goes on when I’m in charge.

For instance, I’m flying to LA next week to MC choir concert. We’ll have 800 people in the theater and my job is to get on stage and introduce the songs and keep everybody in the audience happy. I’ll tell jokes, I’ll tell stories, I love that, I love it, but it’s not “me.” That’s my “performer me.”

When I’m in the classroom, I could stand up in the front of the room and talk in a boring voice and put everyone to sleep, including myself. But, students are paying, they don’t realize it, but they’re paying a fortune to attend that class, of which I get a small tithe.

There is a huge amount of money changing hands for that one hour of time we’re together. The least I can do is make it worthwhile and entertaining and informative and, as best as possible, life-changing. While I can’t change everybody’s life all the time, I will confess that the student ratings of my classes at USC have been through the roof. In four consecutive classes, several students wrote that my class was the best class they ever had at USC. That’s high praise.

Misha: That is high praise.

Larry: I can’t be an actor because I can’t cry on cue. I can’t dance. You don’t even want to watch me try. I can’t paint, or draw, or do magic tricks.

But I can give an engaging presentation. I know how to use my voice. I know how to present. I know how to capture the eyes of an audience. My job as a teacher is to capture their attention and drive home a critically important learning point for that day. The best way to do it is to have them have a good time, not lose control. I’ve always got control of the class. But have a good time. Tell a few jokes so they know that this is important, but it is not the end of the world.

My goal is to enable them to learn it, make sure that they learn it, and then let them leave feeling good about them having spent an hour with me. That’s what I want. If they’re engaged and they’re tuned in, then we’re all going to have a good time.

The other thing is I don’t let students nap in the class. By that I mean I don’t wait for them to ask questions. I ask questions of them. So I look around to see who’s tuning out or talking to their friend or reading the phone, and I’ll call on them and ask them a question.

I’ll ask, you know, what’s the definition of a codec? (Seeing as we’re focusing on codecs today.) What’s the definition of a codec? And they’ll give me a deer-in-the-headlights look that says they clearly have not been paying attention; which I knew before I called on them, because you don’t call on the people that are tuned in, you’re calling on people that are tuned out.

I say, so that’s okay. It’s all right. I’ll give you a lifeline. You can ask any friend in the room to give you a hand. In every case, they pick on a friend that they most want to abuse. Now I’ve got two people that were tuned out, tuned back in.

Since neither of those first two can answer the question, I’ll ask, “All right, who wants to help?” I’ll look around and I’ll pick some other unwilling volunteer to come up with the answer. Suddenly I’ve got four or five people who are scrambling to remember the last five minutes of the lecture. But after that happens a few times, students don’t go to sleep in the class.

It’s engagement. It is capturing their attention. Now that’s college kids. High school, I’m sure, is similar to college, except high school kids work harder. Adults are different. Adults really, really, really are in the class because they have to be. The fear quotient is through the roof.

“I have to learn this or I lose my job.” “I have to learn this or I can’t feed my family.” Teaching adults is all about reassurance and encouragement. Teaching college kids is all about engagement.

Misha: Wow. I’m so glad we’re having this discussion. Let’s talk about the students. Do you find that adults are less willing to take a 40-hour, week-long, eight-hours-per-day class than they used to be, say, 10 years ago?

Larry: Yeah, we live in an ADD world where if anything goes for more than two and a half minutes, it’s too long. Absolutely.

Really, in-class training died with the 2008 financial collapse. I currently teach four three-hour online seminars for O ‘Reilly. There’s a course on visual literacy and persuasion, one on Photoshop, one on PowerPoint, and one on how to be a better speaker, which is really cool.

But those are all three-hour courses. They’re all online. The undergraduate and graduate courses that I taught for USC were 1-2 hours. Learning is hard work. We’re in an environment today where people may be willing to work hard. I don’t doubt that. But students today have a very, very hard time concentrating for six or eight hours.

Really in an eight hour class, like when you and I were teaching at Video Symphony, a company that’s no longer with us I’m afraid to say, at the end of six hours, you could see that the lights were out. Students were there physically, but their brains were full. So the last two hours of the class was really just stuff that they, if they didn’t remember it, nobody was going to worry. It was lighthearted. It was fun. It was sort of filling the time with interesting stuff, but nothing that they were required to remember. The heavy lifting was all the first four hours.

I’m going to Florida in July to deliver an eight-hour day of training on video editing. It has to be eight hours because people are only there for a day. They can’t afford longer hotel stays. They are forced to get all that learning done in a day. But where possible, I would have training be two or three hours to allow people to absorb all that information rather than be bludgeoned by it.

Misha: How much preparation do you do before teaching a class that’s three plus hours long or any class, I guess?

Larry: Well, it depends. Am I doing it for the first time or have I done it before?

Misha: That’s a very good point. I would say for the first time.

Larry: Two or three months.

Misha: Two or three months. Do you mind taking me through some of your preparation process?

Larry: Yeah, the very first thing I do is I look at the course coming up in two or three months and say, “There’s no way I could teach this, not a prayer at all. I am completely out of my depth.” So that’s where I start from.

I spend about, oh, I don’t know, a week spinning in a small circle saying, “Woe is me, woe is me. My life is over.” That’s the first week. Next I outline it and list all the stuff that I need to learn in order to teach the class to my satisfaction. I define my research. Then the third step is to start to put the course together.

The hardest part of any course, especially for technology, is putting the demos together. Demos are the soul of all technology. For instance, I want to show what depth of field is. Depth of field defines focus, where my face is in focus here and the background is out of focus. Well, what’s the best way to illustrate that? I’ve got to find an image which has got the foreground in focus and the background out of focus. This image has to be really clear and really easy to see and not have a lot of other distractions.

Finding the right image or video to demo is really hard. Another example is showing how to do a video edit where the video edits at one time while the audio edits at a different time. This is called a split edit. If you had the right video clips, people get it in a nanosecond. If you have the wrong clips, they give you this blank look saying, I don’t see what you’re seeing. Why is that so important?

Easily half my time, half my time on any course is finding the right material for the demos.

Then once I’ve got a sense of what I want to say and I’ve got the demos roughly in line, then we have to organize it. What do I want to cover in each class or each part of a class? I generally break a class down into 15 minute sections. In this 15 minutes, I’m going to cover these bullet points.

Next, I should say that I clearly rehearse before the class starts. I should say that, but I don’t. While I do study the outline, I never rehearse what I’m going to say, mostly because I know that I’m a good speaker and the right words will come. I run it through in my head and carefully rehearse all the demos to make sure the demos work.

But I never work from a script. I never know exactly what I’m going to say, but I do know the content points I want to get across. All right, maybe I can get the prep done in a month, but if it’s online training, because I’ve got to get rights clearances and content approvals and all that stuff, it takes two months.

Misha: You’ve also written a lot of books. You’ve written a lot of articles. You’ve made video tutorials. Do you prefer a particular medium for teaching?

Larry: I love teaching in front of a class. I love the performance aspect of that. But I’m perhaps a shade over 50, and it’s hard to find a job as a teacher at the moment.

Back up a step.

Here’s another really important thing about teaching for me. Teaching is a one-on-one communication between me and the student. Now, there may be 10 students or 100 students or 1 ,000 students in the room but it’s a one-on-one communication. Because as you and I are talking now, imagine that you had three people sitting next to you, but you’d only be hearing me with your ears. You’d only be seeing me with your eyes. So from your perspective, the fact that there’s other people in a room is irrelevant. Which means that when I’m teaching, even if I’m looking at a class filled with students, it’s a one-on-one conversation between me and each student.

So I use words like “you” and “me.” I use inclusive words. I use words that imply that it’s just the two of us, because really, the only person in the classroom that’s important is you. Everybody else is just sort of the crowd. It’s you. You’re the one that’s important, and you’re the one that I’m trying to reach. You know, when you try this, or look at how this works, or isn’t this really cool? Look at, watch, watch this right here, and I move the mouse…. Oh, look at that, it’s so cool, is that?

And… And it’s you and it’s me celebrating this moment of triumph as we do something that we haven’t been able to do before. That’s just as true if I’m talking to a thousand people. The biggest crowd I ever talked to was 6 ,000 people in Stockholm. (Actually, Amsterdam…)

Misha: Oh my God.

Larry: It was a one-on-one conversation between me and each individual in that room. So I don’t use words like “all you guys” and “all of us.” No, it’s a one-on-one conversation. One pair of eyes, one pair of ears and me. That’s it. Everybody else doesn’t count. They just happened to be sitting in the same room.

What my goal is, is to get that one-on-one conversation going. Then everybody just sort of follows along.

Misha: You’ve taught at USC, obviously one of the most famous film schools in the United States and the world.

Larry: No, hold it, hold it, hold it, hold it. I taught at USC, but not the film school. I taught at the Viterbi School of Engineering and the Iovine Young Academy. I taught engineers. I didn’t teach filmmakers. I taught the teachers that teach the filmmakers, but I didn’t teach the filmmakers themselves.

Misha: Okay. In any case, you’ve taught at some prestigious schools and some less prestigious schools. Let’s just describe it like that. Do you change anything about your approach based on who the student body is?
Larry: No. And the reason is students are students. No, I try to teach everybody the same. And one of the things I found is that, well, even kids at less prestigious schools, are still really hungry to learn and still really eager to learn something and sometimes maybe more so.

I had one student come in in USC, put his head on the keyboard, slept the entire class, got up and left at the end of the class. He did that the entire semester and was stunned when he failed the class. He felt that I had been unfair to him. So there may be a level of entitlement, but most of the time I’m an elective. I’m not a required course.

People take my course because they want to. There’s something in there that caught their attention. The least I can do is give them a reason to attend, and that’s true of every school, not just USC.

Misha: What do you do for a student who is paying attention really passionate, but just not getting it?

Larry: You need to figure out why they’re not getting it. I have very, very few exceptions, very few examples of where that happens. Most of the time they get it. Not always. I’ve never had anybody do poorly at the class that did the work. I’ve had people do poorly at the class that don’t do the work, because they feel that they shouldn’t have to or they’re too good.

All right, well, that’s true of the world at large. There are some people that feel they don’t need to do the work. But I’ve never had a student do poorly in the class that really wanted to do a good job but couldn’t figure out how. There, I’m happy to meet with them after class. And most of the time, it’s just that that light hasn’t switched on. They haven’t figured out that trick. They don’t understand how the software works.

An example, I took a course, gosh, it was 14 years ago because I was doing some homework before this interview. I took a course on motion tracking from a product that was published by BorisFX called Mocha. It was brand new at the time and it did a lovely job of being able to put one object on top of another object and move them together. (Just nod your head. It’s really cool if you understand how it works.)

Well, I took the class and the instructor started in the middle. They said, look at this, it’s really cool. And they went whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop, and then suddenly this thing is just going across the screen, tracking beautifully. And I was really impressed. I had no idea how they got it done. And then the class was over.

This made me realize that they started in the middle. Most of the time where students get lost is when the instructor starts in the middle. The instructor didn’t explain how to start the software, didn’t explain how to create a new project, didn’t explain how to save a project, didn’t explain how to export a project and didn’t explain what to do once that project has been exported. Well, that is the core of how you get anything into and out of the program.

They went right to the cool, sexy part. They confused a demo with training. A demo is all speed and polish, all flash and glitter, designed to say, “Whoa, that’s really sexy, I love that.” But that’s not teaching. Training is teaching.

It’s slow, it’s repetitive, it’s step-by-step, it’s reassuring, it is reinforcing, and it reminds the students this is where you start, this is where you go next, then you do as much magic as you want and have fun with that. But then you save it this way, you export it, and you do something with it.

It gets back to that beginning comment about the fundamentals. If we don’t explain the fundamentals, all we’re doing is just doing a demo and the students won’t learn. But by explaining the fundamentals, when the magic comes, people are having a great time with magic because they understand how to start a new project and how to save it and how to export it.

It’s true of every piece of technology. How do you start? How do you save? How do you end? And it’s amazing how many times that does not get explained.

Misha: I think you make a very good point about the difference between a demo and teaching. And I feel like many newer teachers in particular, feel like they need to show something really impressive to the students to bolster themselves as the teacher, to say like, I’m qualified to teach you because I can do this thing. But the best teachers feel confident in themselves and in their abilities and don’t feel the need to describe how good they are to the students before getting started.

Larry: There’s a middle ground. I think when somebody comes in, remember when the student comes in, unless they’re required to be there, most of the time, students have the chance of opting out of a class.

So the very first part of a class needs to have a little bit of a sales approach to it. So wouldn’t it be cool if students come in and say, here’s where we’re going. Boom, kazam, whoosh, whoosh, and we got all this great, beautiful stuff on screen. And the instructor says, this is where we’re going, and we’re going to get there in six weeks. And this is why you want to attend the class. OK, that’s a demo. That’s a pitch in why the student needs to care.

Then, when the class gets real, okay, then you go back to the foundation. I have no problem with somebody getting on stage and say, this is the greatest thing since the invention of toast. Wait till you see this. Then all singing, all dancing breaks out on the screen, but that’s not teaching. That’s just hooking their attention. And believe me, hooking their attention is a big deal. Get their attention, get them committed, get them caring, then they’re willing to listen.

If you start by saying, okay, ladies and gentlemen, turn to page 751 in the book, go to menu choice number 63, click this button… there’s no incentive to do that. There’s no excitement. There’s nothing that says this is where I’m going. Give them a goal to shoot for and then back up and take them through the steps to get there.

Misha: You’ve been doing this a long time, as I keep mentioning, in case the audience forgot or you might not have noticed. You’ve been doing this a while. What about your instructional design has changed through the years in writing or in classroom or online?

Larry: My job is to hook the attention of the students and deliver information that they need to be able to be successful at the course. The only way they can do that is to get their hands dirty. If I just stand up on the front of the room and lecture, it’s going to be a great lecture. I mean, you’re going to have a great time.

But if, at the end of the lecture, you say, “Boy, he knows a lot!” to me that’s a failure. If at the end of this, you were attending my class, Misha, and at the end of the class you say, “Boy, Larry knows a lot,” then, okay, great, my ego feels great. But as a student, you’ve wasted your time.

What I want you to do instead is walk out of that class and say, “Wow, that is so cool. I can do something I’ve never been able to do before!” That, to me, is a success. Because the first statement simply makes me feel good. The second enables you to do something you could never do before.

So therefore, all of my teaching is based upon what can I do to make you successful? What can I do to get you excited? What can I do to get you wanting to learn more? What can I do to get you wanting to come back to class five minutes early so you can start working on the next project?

That’s project-oriented. That’s performance teaching. That’s setting clear goals. That’s explaining the fundamentals. It’s everything we’ve been talking about. But the focus is not on me. The focus is on getting the students engaged.

And I have no idea how instructional design fits into that.

Misha: And it’s a perfect answer.

Do you ever feel a tension between being a teacher and being a creator within the industry? Many teachers also have a side project that they’re producing or writing to kind of keep creative fire burning within them. How do you balance that?

Larry: It’s different now that I’m older than when I was younger. The driving force I had when I was your age was constantly wondering what do I want to be when I grow up? I’m still not sure I can answer that, which is why I’ve had such a checkered career. What do I want to be when I grow up?

I worked in broadcast television. I did freelance video work. I marketed computer software. I started two different companies, one of which I’m still running. I was teaching this and that. I had a lot of irons in the fire.

I cannot do nothing. Doing nothing is a punishment worse than death. But the problem is, is that it’s very easy to get distracted by your side projects. For instance, I love, I cannot tell you how much I love video production. It is, it’s core to what I am. And yet I left broadcasting to go be a salesman at a computer store, because that was my side gig and I thought that was more attractive.

So after 15 years in broadcast television working from local stations up to the networks and PBS, I left it and moved into sales. And still to this day, I’m not completely clear why I did it. I’m not exactly sure it was the right decision though, it’s kind of late to change now. I was so distracted by my side project that I forgot my main gig.

You run the risk of getting distracted. And that, I think, tripped me up. Fortunately, the world realized that I had made a mistake and it came around to my point of view and provided me an opportunity to teach both video and computers. But the world is not always that accommodating.

Misha: How do you sit down and write so much? I get your newsletter every week, and it says there are seven new articles by Larry Jordan this week, and I can’t make seven hamburgers in a week. I don’t know how you make seven articles.

Do you write all the time?

Larry: You were asking earlier, do I have to teach? No, I don’t have to teach, but I do love to write. But what I really like, this is going to sound immodest – I’ve got to figure out a way to say this. There’s not a lot of people like me. I’m independent. That is to say, I’m not part of a larger corporation like a Sony or a Canon. So I don’t have to toe a party line.

My family is well-fed, so if I don’t do something for a week, they’re not going to starve. I get to pick and choose my projects. So I’m an independent voice who understands video, who understands technology, who understands audio, and I can explain it clearly because I have a lot of experience both with technology and explaining it. If I have those skills and if I don’t have that pressure, why not write something?

Now, I write my newsletter on Sundays. The newsletter comes out 6 a.m. on Monday morning. And on more than one Sunday, many more than one Sunday, I will look at my wife and say, “I don’t have a single idea for an article this week. Not one, completely blank slate.” I’m looking at an empty newsletter. I think I’m just going to go hide in a corner. And by the end of the day, I’ve got two, three or four tutorials written.

Some articles are complex. It takes several days, like when I’m researching performance of storage systems to about what speeds you need for media editing. Those will take three or four days of heavy testing, so I’ll start writing that in the middle of the week. Sometimes an idea will come to me on a Wednesday, I’ll write an article, but most of the time I’m deadline driven. I’ve got a deadline. It’s got to be done Sunday night. Come up with an idea.

No one’s been able to explain where ideas come from. One moment, I have no clue. And then all of a sudden I have a clue. And two seconds later, it’s an article. It’s not written, but it went from nothing a concrete idea to a tutorial that I can write.
Now I can write fast, I’m good at explaining stuff. But it’s really miraculous, this idea that from nothing comes something. And that’s true of every creative process.

Misha: Amazing. What’s your favorite part of the job?

Larry: I’ll tell you another story. Last week was the largest trade show in our industry, it’s called the NAB Show, National Association of Broadcasters. It happens in Las Vegas in April every year.

65 ,000 people. It’s the world’s largest media toy store for professionals. I mean, I almost bought a helicopter there. I really did. I saw it. It was sitting in a back lot. It had a $6 million price tag on it. I called my wife. I said, “Jane, here’s the helicopter I have to buy. I have to buy. It’s only $6 million. And it’s calling to me.” And she’s a very smart woman. She did not say no, because clearly I would have written a check on the spot. Instead she said, “Where are you going to park it?”

Well, that’s NAB.

NAB is everything from the itty-bitty to the monumentally large related to media. Last week, I had the opportunity to go and I was recording interviews with some of the leading companies, the Adobe’s and the Avid’s and the Atomos’s and the Sony’s and the Canon’s that were there. Huge companies, talking to their presidents and chief technology officers. I did 57 interviews in four days, then edited those 57 interviews in three days, and then I slept.

The purpose of the interview was not to say, “What is it?” The purpose of the interview was to say, “Why should we care? Why should I, as a customer, pay attention to this announcement?” Now, clearly, the company wants everyone to buy everything. I mean, that’s what companies do. But my job is not to sell the products of a Sony or a Canon or an Avid. My job is to help people like you decide what you need.

It’ll make your job easier, your life better, your work simpler. And I’m good at that. I think my current goal remains teaching, but it’s enabling you to make better decisions, enabling you to understand technology, enabling you to explore new ways of communicating with your students, with your coworkers, and with people you haven’t met yet. So I view myself as an enabler.

Misha: Why’d you move to Boston from California?

Larry: The short answer is we lived in Boston before we moved to California. I lived in California for 30 years. One of the problems of a freelance career, especially in media, is you get promoted by moving from city to city, from station to station, job to job, as we all know. In the early years, I was responsible for moving my family a lot. And as we got closer to retirement, my wife said, “You know, I want to pick the next place we live.”

I made a very smart decision at that point. I said, “All right, you decide where we’re going to live. And I’ll say yes.” Well, as soon as I gave her the decision, it bought me two years while she had to research every possible place that we could live. But at the end of the two years, she said, “I want to move back to Massachusetts.” So here we are. I’m having a great time. It’s a nice place to live.

Misha: What is the most far flung place you’ve ever taught a class?

Larry: Oh…. Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Paris, pick one.

Misha: That might be how I start the podcast with that question. Do you think AI is going to replace a lot of teachers?

Larry: I think AI is going to dramatically change white collar jobs, the way the Industrial Revolution changed blue collar jobs.

As teachers, we were isolated from the incredible turmoil of the Industrial Revolution. We’re not isolated from the impact of AI. I think AI gives the illusion that you can type a question into a computer and an answer comes back that the student can learn from. I think that’s the illusion, but I don’t think it’s the truth.

If teaching is simply standing up in front of a classroom and being the “sage on the stage, a voice of wisdom”,” you’ll be replaced by AI. If teaching instead is enabling students to achieve the best they can possibly be, AI can’t do that. AI can only copy. AI can only manufacture that which has already been created.

We are creative. Teaching is a creative enterprise. Teaching is a one-on-one connection between two people, not just at an intellectual, but at an emotional level, getting them to realize who they are as a person, getting them to realize what they can achieve as a person, getting them to become the best they can be. That can’t be AI.

The people that count the dollars could easily get confused by a prompt on a page and miss the human connection.

I don’t think teaching is going to go away. I don’t think AI is going to replace teaching, but I think AI is going to threaten teaching. Not from the teacher’s perspective, but from the administration’s perspective and the financial perspective.

Education is expensive – at every level. People don’t want to spend money for education once they’re out of school. They’ll spend money for their kids, but then once their kids have graduated, education costs too much. It’s too much for my taxes. I don’t want to spend the money.

So it’s a constant battle. It has been since before you and I were born, of finding the resources to be able to engage our students in a quality education. And that battle will continue long after both you and I are gone.

AI is really an excuse for saving money, not for better teaching.
These are challenging times, they’re scary times. There’s going to be disruption. And all of us are going to be affected. But I think long term, people are going to realize that teaching is not inculcating facts, but teaching students how to live and how to make the right decisions and how to become the best people they can be.

And if I had a goal in my life, that would be it.

Misha: Larry, this is poetry. I think you’ve added to your legacy by joining this podcast today and teaching us all how to be better teachers.

Larry: Well, the pleasure’s mine. Thank you for the invitation.

Misha: Thank you so much.
_ _ _ _ _

The TV Matters podcast is produced by and Upgrade your video education classroom with our interactive video lessons and downloadable editing practice projects. Sign up on for a 30 day free educational trial. Special thank you to our team in Yerevan, Armenia and Hollywood, California. Happy teaching.

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2 Responses to Larry Jordan’s Thoughts on Teaching – The “TV Matters” Interview

  1. Paul Hartel says:

    Great interview. Thank you, Misha and Larry.

  2. Joe Kania says:

    Fantastic read, thank you! I am considering adding teaching to my slate of offerings and reading this interview gave me so much to chew on. Thanks again, Larry.

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