If there is anything the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it is that the ability to adapt is key. In education, that has largely looked like online learning. The concept of distance learning, however, is not new. As early as the 1840s, Isaac Pitman taught correspondence courses, communicating to his students through the mail (Talent LMS). With the creation of computers and the internet, it only became easier for educational institutions to support distance learning. But in March 2020, for perhaps the first time in history, distance learning became the norm for over a year. School buildings were no longer filled with students, and most students only ever saw their instructor through a screen.
This “new normal” had many instructors floundering with how to adjust lesson plans from in-person to on-screen learning. Educators and parents alike have turned to YouTube to help fill that gap. YouTube’s robust video library hosts more hours of content than anyone could watch in a lifetime (in 2019 alone, 500 hours of content was uploaded every minute [Statista]). As of March 2020, the average daily views of videos with “homeschool” or “home school” in the title had increased over 120% globally (Wiers).
But why should instructors use YouTube? It all goes back to multimodal learning. Multimodal learning is teaching a concept through a combination of visual, auditory, reading, writing, and kinesthetic methods. This means including many different techniques to teach the same concept. This is one area where online learning can excel.
Let’s look at three ways YouTube can help you engage students: supporting and deepening class concepts, amplifying real-world connections, and reimagining assessments.
1. Supporting and Deepening Class Concepts
Imagine trying to teach someone how to fold a paper crane. There are a few ways you could go about it. You could hand the person a written set of instructions, record yourself explaining the steps, or lead a demonstration and have the person follow along. An online learning platform allows instructors the freedom and the ability to provide all of these and more.
This is not to say that instructors have to provide these things themselves for every single concept. YouTube is a great way to outsource the work of content creation. With so many videos on the platform, the odds are in your favor that someone has created content that you can use. There are channels out there that focus on machine learning, writing, marketing, and so much more. You can create playlists that aggregate content from many sources. Why not create a playlist of videos for students who might want to learn more about a topic than you have time to go over? Or a playlist of videos that go over what you covered but approach it differently? The internet has given us the gift of multiple perspectives. Maybe the student needs to have some animations thrown in or funny voices to make the concept stick. There’s (most likely) a video for that already on YouTube.
2. Amplifying Real-World Connections
YouTube also gives us a chance to explore more than we ever could expect from the standard field trip. Through YouTube and other media uploaded to the internet, we can explore the depths of the oceans and the vastness of space, get up close and personal to animals in their native habitats, observe cell division, and watch interviews with high-profile businesspeople. Having real-world examples to give context to content can go a long way toward engaging students and making concepts click.
You can even create these real-world connections yourself. In their resource Enterprise Creation, authors Mike and Jay Glauser collected dozens of interviews from business owners and entrepreneurs and created an amazing resource. These videos show real people implementing the concepts in the book.
Entrepreneurs of Fisherman’s Wharf
3. Reimagining Assessments
Another way to use YouTube is to create! And not just instructors, but students too. June Ahn, Ph.D., a member of the Connected Learning Lab at the University of California, Irvine, said, “We have decades of education research that shows us that content is not the sole factor for promoting learning. That’s why we just don’t hand kids textbooks and leave it at that. We need to find ways to help students engage, inquire, and connect to new information.” Having students create a short video (either alone or in groups) can offer an engaging and fun way for students to get involved in their education. It gives students a reason to look at concepts in-depth and an opportunity for them to then teach that concept in a fun and creative way.
Whether you are looking for a way to add depth or variety to your lesson or trying to get students more involved, YouTube is a great way to do it.
Schaffhauser, Dian. “YouTube Rises above All Else in Student Learning at Home.” THE Journal, June 15, 2020.
Ceci, L. “Youtube: Hours of Video Uploaded Every Minute 2020.” Statista, February 23, 2022.
TalentLMS. “The Evolution and History of Elearning.” TalentLMS, January 7, 2019.
Weirs, Ashley. “How People Use YouTube to Learn at Home – Think with Google.” Google. Google, May 13, 2021.