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YouTube: A digital revolution in the classroom

Gero Schließ eg
June 4, 2019

Teachers and parents might not have noticed, but students don't only use YouTube for fun. According to a new study, about half of them watch videos to learn things as well. How does this affect the educational program?

Videostill Youtube Wozu Geschichte lernen?
Image: Youtube/MrWissen2go Geschichte

YouTube was long seen by many as a hotspot for music videos and a playground for beauty vloggers and fitness freaks. However, the video by YouTuber Rezo, titled The Destruction of the CDU, made one thing clear in Germany: The streaming platform offers more than entertainment. His viral video released shortly before the EU election made the country's governing party and other established parties realize that they should actually fear YouTube as a powerful tool of political influence.

Now, a new study, conducted among 800 German students aged 12-19, found that 50% of them also use the platform for its educational videos. "YouTube has become the youth's leading medium and digital cultural hub," stated the Council for Cultural Education, who commissioned the study.

YouTube as inspiration

Thomas Krüger
Thomas Krüger says parents and teachers underestimate YouTube as a learning toolImage: Imago Images/C. Grube

At the presentation of the study, titled Youth/YouTube/Cultural Education. Horizon 2019, Thomas Krüger, President of the Federal Agency for Civic Education, pointed out that this educational aspect in teens' media consumption had not yet been fully recognized. With students watching such clips on their own, the growing trend has been strongly underestimated by parents and teachers.

According to the study, students use YouTube to review material they didn't properly understand at school. They also find informative videos to help them prepare their homework and exams. YouTube videos giving music, art and drama lessons are also a source of inspiration.

The authors of the study point out that these changing learning habits should lead teachers to adapt their approach. It's not just about keeping teachers up-to-date about YouTube and other social media; they should also incorporate more self-learning in their lessons. Experts at the Council for Cultural Education predict that with the growing trend towards self-learning, teachers will increasingly take on the role of educational coaches.

A man doing a calculation on a white board
After-school learning: This YouTube series explains mathImage: Youtube/Mathe by Daniel Jung

Teachers should, for instance, help students learn to evaluate the content of web videos. As in political news, it is not always easy to determine the quality of educational videos. Students also need to be sensitized to the fact that YouTubers and influencers may base their business models on promoting commercial products.

Overall, the experts clearly see the benefits of using YouTube videos, since they offer new approaches complementing traditional teaching. This could even benefit Germany's school system, which has ranked poorly in international education evaluations.

Digital tools in schools

The experts also view cultural videos very positively, as they can stimulate youths to discover and adopt new forms of cultural participation. 

Just like YouTubers took German politicians by surprise in the recent European elections, there is also a disconnect between students and their parents and teachers as to their understanding of YouTube, said Thomas Krüger from the Federal Agency for Civic Education. "You can see parallels," he pointed out. "There is a certain lack of connection between the school curriculum, the teachers and the lives of the students." However, as Kruger pointed out, schools already have digital training tutorials, which at least contribute to connecting generations.

Deutschland YouTuber Rezo
He had a strong impact on the EU vote in Germany: YouTuber RezoImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Privat

YouTuber Rezo also knows that schools aren't as disconnected from the platform as some politicians appeared to be in reaction to his video: "In the last few days, I have received so many messages from teachers and students who are watching the video together at school and discussing it," he wrote on Twitter. The digital revolution in the classroom is already underway.