Is YouTube the Future of Training?
By David Creelman
If you want to learn how to prune an apple tree you could take out a book from the library, sign up for a course at your local college or spend a few minutes on YouTube watching how it is done. The first two learning methods—reading and instruction—have been with us for millennia; YouTube is new. There has been some use of video in learning, but it was expensive and hard to access. YouTube is universal.
Most of the ‘how to’ videos on YouTube are aimed at people’s personal life. Topics range from how to make a baked Alaska to how to apply mascara to how to check the transmission fluid in your car. But the range of topics is truly mindboggling and also includes management topics like negotiation skills, giving feedback, and business writing.
YouTube is free and fast, easy to use and easy to share. It’s available at your desk or on your smart phone. If employees can meet their training needs using YouTube, why do we need anything else?
What you won’t find on YouTube is a video of how to shelve packages for your warehouse on Victoria Street or how to fill in the XYZ expense form for your particular organization. But that could easily change. Since YouTube is so universal why not encourage employees to create their own training videos about the specific practices of your organization? They can shoot it on their mobile phone and just load it up. If they are ambitious they might ask their teenager to edit the clip on a home computer to improve the production values. In no time you could have hundreds of videos about how to do things at your organisation.
Many training managers and instructional design specialists will absolutely hate this idea. Instead of carefully crafted programs based on an analysis of training needs, definition of clear learning objectives and a scientifically based instruction methodology, you get some high school drop-out in the warehouse spending 15-minutes creating training on how to handle oversize packages.
The issue with YouTube, whether from the masses of videos produced by the world at large or those produced by employees in-house, is that there is little quality control. One might theorize that the lack of quality control would make the whole thing utterly unworkable. Luckily, there is no need to theorize, you can go online and see how bad the problem is; and the finding is that it is not bad at all. People tend to make videos about things they really do know how to do. Furthermore the videos are short and users soon get good at surfing through the available content and finding something that meets their needs.
Tim Seager, CEO of an LMS company called Xerceo, also points out that social media tools for rating and commenting on content already exist. In fact, this sort of thing is built into their own LMS called Feathercap. You do not need to have a department of experts rating and organizing the training videos as users do that themselves.
Another thing organizations will worry about is people creating content that is somehow inappropriate and could damage the reputation of the organization. However, this risk is similar to that which exists if you allow employees to write emails. And in some way the risk is less since people will put more thought into preparing and posting a training video than they would into an email.
Knowledge management guru Euan Semple is frankly a little contemptuous of how some organizations want to utterly control the flow of knowledge in a manner that would make Stalin proud. Semple’s view is that organizations are better off to let the knowledge flow and if embarrassing practices are revealed to fix them quickly.
Again the social media tools Seager talks about are the best way to protect the organization’s reputation. If someone posts a video that is in some way inappropriate other users can flag it or potentially even be given the power to take it offline immediately.
I have skipped over the technology question of whether you want to simply use the public YouTube service or create an in-house alternative behind your firewall. Clearly, there are pros and cons, but there is nothing in the technology issues that upsets the fundamental proposition that YouTube can be a great addition to how training is created and delivered.
YouTube Wins in the End
The advances we have seen in technology really are revolutionary. The fact that just about everyone is walking around with a video camera in their purse or pocket and already knows how to make their films universally available is stunning.
Training produced by learning specialists will still be important, but in many cases nothing produced by an expert will have as much credibility with employees as something done by a peer or senior manager in the organization.
The flood of employee-produced training material is coming; better to get ahead of the game and channel that energy in the most productive way rather than try to fight it.
David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research, providing writing, research and speaking on human-capital management. He works with a variety of academics, think tanks, consultancies and HR vendors in Canada, the U.S., Japan, Europe and China. David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.