Now Streaming: Gen Z Turns to YouTube to Learn

Now Streaming: Gen Z Turns to YouTube to Learn

Since 2005, YouTube has been a source of a wide range of content, from Keyboard Cats and “Rickrolls” to step-by-step DIY project guides and coverage of the latest presidential election. Like other forms of social media, the platform has continued to grow in recent years, with more than 400 hours of new content being uploaded to the site every minute. In light of that astounding figure, it's no wonder content creators—known as “YouTubers”—have amassed millions of subscribers to their channels and become celebrities in their own right, with Generation Z consuming the biggest piece of the video pie. In fact, according to a study by Visual Objects, “Gen Z is [the] only generation to use YouTube most,” favoring the platform over Facebook (the social platform of choice for all other generations), Snapchat, Instagram, and the like.

Given that the Visual Objects study found Gen Z spends an average of about 23 hours per week streaming video content (essentially 1 of every 7 days), it makes sense that in addition to seeking makeup tutorials and music videos, members of Gen Z would also turn to YouTube to help solve a specific problem or better grasp an educational concept. For the first “digital native” generation, information is expected to come easily and efficiently, with just a few strokes of the keyboard. It's no wonder learning on YouTube is so appealing to this group of students.

Putting the “social” in social media

Gone are the days of making friends solely through school, summer camp, and extracurriculars. Although writing letters, talking on the phone, and physically hanging out can still be fun, there's no need to engage in these pursuits to feel connected to others in this day and age. With social media, relationships can flourish between two individuals on disparate parts of the planet. 

That said, social media connections are not limited to directly engaging with another person. For instance, "co-studying" or watching a would-be peer explain a complex concept via a YouTube video can help students focus and feel less alone. For instance, although “Study With Me” videos—simple, no-flash pieces created by simply pointing a camera at someone studying, often for hours at a time—may not sound exciting, many such channels have thousands of subscribers, with some videos racking up millions of views. As one YouTuber who creates Study With Me videos phrased it, “When you're studying by yourself, you can feel alone. But [students] can reduce their loneliness by getting the sensation of studying with other people … by watching other people studying, they can also get motivated to study hard. And for myself, by studying with all of you, I can prevent myself from getting lazy and continue to focus with my study.” 

YouTube in the classroom

Rather than adapting to technological advances like their predecessors, members of Generation Z are digital natives who desire information that's easily accessible and quickly digestible. In this regard, YouTube is an ideal informational platform, as it's chock-full of quick tutorials and answers to a wide array of questions. With a world of knowledge quite literally at students’ fingertips, some school districts are embracing YouTube as part of their regular curricula, with the goal of enhancing lessons and further engaging pupils through next-level visual learning. 

Although video content can be a useful educational tool, it should not—and, indeed, cannot—be regarded as a replacement for teacher-driven guidance. Instead, it should be used in the classroom as a way to “complement the regular curricula and give students real-life connections about why they're learning something,” Brian Nagler, superintendent of New York's Mineola school district, told Education Week. Nagler’s district even has its own YouTube channel through which it publishes branded, teacher-created content to educate viewers on topics ranging from history and math to growth mindset.

Too much of a good thing?

As a free website and app, YouTube allows users and content producers to watch and upload whatever they wish, as often as they wish. Indeed, conducting searches on the site can populate thousands of results—and within the site's grand scope lies one of its downfalls. After all, with anyone able to upload at will, misleading information can easily be posted as fact without vetting. 

Moreover, the continually rising popularity of the platform and its big-name content creators means that advertising deals are frequently coming into play, and not all viewers of educational content are savvy enough to recognize blatant endorsements or product placements.

Watch next? A look ahead

Gen Z may be the first digital-native generation, but it isn't the last. With this in mind, educators may benefit from taking a deeper look through their students' eyes and heightening classroom engagement by incorporating digital learning into their lessons.

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