Curriculum

Why Generation Z Learners Prefer YouTube Lessons Over Printed Books

By Lauraine Genota — September 11, 2018 6 min read
Many students now turn to YouTube before books to grasp difficult concepts in math and science or to investigate topics for English and history classes.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Fifteen-year-old Jaimie Moreano is on YouTube all the time.

She can learn how to do anything she wants using the video-sharing platform. She uses it to watch hair and makeup tutorials and get-ready-with-me videos to see what’s cool to wear.

But makeup tutorials aren’t the only videos she watches on the popular video platform.

“When I’m doing my homework, I’ll look up how to solve a problem on YouTube,” said Moreano, a sophomore at Locust Valley High School outside New York City. “I like it because it’s really easy to follow. I can pause it, or I can rewind it if I have a question.”

She’s part of a majority of Generation Z kids who have a higher preference for learning from YouTube and videos, compared with printed books. That shifting preference is driving curricula and technological changes in some school districts, but also raising questions and concerns about the downsides of relying too much on video.

In a survey released last month of people ages 14 to 23—the so-called Generation Z group—YouTube ranked the highest as a preferred learning tool. Fifty-nine percent picked YouTube as a learning preference, 57 percent chose in-person group activities, 47 percent picked learning apps or games, and 47 percent chose printed books. The study—conducted by a global market research firm, The Harris Poll, on behalf of education company Pearson—examines the differences between Generation Z and Millennials—defined as ages 24-40—when it comes to their outlooks, values, and experiences in education and the use of technology.

The Generation Z age group has a “specific brand relationship” with YouTube, said Peter Broad, the director of global research and insights for the education company. “When younger learners are looking for answers, they’re going to the most straightforward, familiar force, and for them that’s YouTube.”

The Google-owned platform is “full of explainers and tutorials” and content that is “short and easily digestible,” he added.

‘Grasp the Concept’

Those Generation Z preferences are driving significant changes in some school districts.

In the Mineola school district outside New York City, Superintendent Michael Nagler has been encouraging teachers to use more video in the classroom. The district has a YouTube channel for educators and students, with videos covering topics from growth mindset to science and math lessons. Videos complement the regular curricula and give students real-life connections about why they’re learning something, Nagler said.

“If all the facts and figures are available on the internet, then students don’t need to sit and listen to you,” Nagler said. “But what’s the bigger connection? Videos can give them that bigger connection, engaging them in the content and lesson itself.”

Despite his enthusiasm for the power of video learning, Nagler emphasizes that teachers still need to be the ones guiding students through the content.

The members of Generation Z seem to agree. According to the Pearson study, 78 percent of respondents said that teachers are “very important to learning and development.”

For younger learners who have grown up with technology, it’s all about efficiency and using any resource they can get their hands on easily, Broad said.

“They want to learn as quickly as possible,” he said. “Their assumption is that [the answers they need] will be available to them.”

YouTube is a good source when Moreano has a test coming up, she said. She just types “crash course” on whatever subject the test is on and she’ll find YouTube videos of “people simplifying everything,” helping her to really “grasp the concept.”

Privacy and Content Concerns

Educators and researchers alike agree that young people’s tendency to gravitate toward YouTube has to do with the fact that they’ve grown up with this technology and expect it to always be available to them. The website launched in 2005, around the same time the Generation Z age group was growing up.

Andrew Biggs, a social studies teacher at New Technology High School in Napa, Calif., said that students like YouTube because “it’s on-demand content.”

For students, the strength of video is that you can play and pause it “as many times as you want, without having to feel like you’re inconveniencing someone,” Biggs said. It also makes sense to use it for learning because “a lot of students already use YouTube recreationally.”

The video-sharing website is widely popular among kids and young adults.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 85 percent of U.S. teenagers use YouTube, and 32 percent say they use the video-sharing platform more often than other social media platforms. Forty-seven percent spend three or more hours a day on YouTube, according to the Pearson study.

YouTube, however, has recently been accused of targeting children with advertisements and violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, Education Week reported in April. More than 20 consumer advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, alleging that YouTube has been gathering data of children to target advertisements.

It has also been criticized for recommending inappropriate content to children, said Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, one of the advocacy groups that filed a complaint with the FTC. YouTube recommends videos that contain “extremist viewpoints, conspiracy theories, violent and adult content,” he said.

The platform is also “designed to keep you watching one video after another, exposing kids to risks,” Golin said. It’s something educators should think about before sending students to YouTube for educational purposes, he added.

Students also have concerns.

Eva Clark-Dupuy, a junior at New Technology High School, said she uses YouTube as a learning tool because it’s more accessible to her.

“It’s a free app,” she said. “It’s easy to look at. You get millions of results when you search something.”

But the downside of YouTube being a “free-for-all space,” she said, is that anyone can upload a low-quality or misleading video, and the videos could contain inappropriate content.

Other students are concerned that the video-sharing platform is becoming more commercialized.

“Even the YouTubers themselves are advertising products, and you don’t know whether to believe them or if they’re just getting paid to say that,” said Ben Danialian, a senior at Mineola High.

The Role of Visual Learning

The preference for YouTube and videos signals a shift in learning styles, Pearson’s director of global research and insights said. The role of video and visual learning is “essential in rising learners and the generation to come,” Broad said. Pearson has also found that there is growing interest in other video-based learning platforms like Khan Academy.

Some teens are turning to YouTube because they find that it’s easier to understand something when they watch someone explain it visually. It also helps that they can pause and rewind a video if they don’t understand it right away.

Watching a video can be more helpful than having someone lecture at her, Clark-Dupuy said.

“Sometimes learning from a textbook doesn’t help me,” she said. “Sometimes it’s much easier to watch a video on a topic. If I have a visual, it’s easier to grasp.”

The visual aspect of videos isn’t the only reason younger learners are turning to YouTube. They also find the videos more relatable than books.

Moreano said that YouTube is “almost more personal than reading a book, because you see them and what they’re actually doing, and not just what they’re writing.”

She also gets to follow people her age, which makes the video-sharing platform better than a book, she said, because “books feel old to me.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 12, 2018 edition of Education Week as Why ‘Generation Z’ Learners Prefer YouTube Lessons

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean
Curriculum Webinar Computer Science Education Movement Gathers Momentum. How Should Schools React?
Discover how schools can expand opportunities for students to study computer science education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum The Case for Curriculum: Why Some States Are Prioritizing It With COVID Relief Funds
States are helping districts select improved curriculum and integrate it into learning recovery strategies.
5 min read
Images shows a data trend line climbing high and going low.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Curriculum Many Adults Did Not Learn Media Literacy Skills in High School. What Schools Can Do Now
Eighty-four percent of adults say they are on board with requiring media literacy in schools, according to a survey by Media Literacy Now.
4 min read
Image of someone reading news on their phone.
oatawa/iStock/Getty
Curriculum Is Your School Facing a Book Challenge? These Online Resources May Help
Book challenges are popping up with more frequency. Here are supports for teachers fighting censorship.
5 min read
Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center, poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents in recent weeks on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City.
Amanda Darrow, the director of youth, family, and education programs at the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City, poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents in recent weeks.
Rick Bowmer/AP Photo
Curriculum Q&A These Teachers' Book List Was Going to Be Restricted. Their Students Fought Back
The Central York district planned to restrict use of some materials last year. Here's how teachers and their students turned the tide.
8 min read
Deb Lambert, director of collection management for the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library for the past three years, looks over the books at the Library Services Center on Sept. 25, 2015. When a flap occurs at the library, the matter becomes the responsibility of Lambert.
More districts are seeking to restrict access to some books or remove them from classrooms and libraries altogether.
Charlie Nye/The Indianapolis Star via AP