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.

More Shortcomings?
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

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  1. Holly MacDonald May 3, 2011 at 10:10 am · · Reply

    Great post David – I’m a big proponent of technology for training and user-generated content (UGC).

    I think those in training roles need to embrace it, but figure out how to harness it and provide good governance and structure to ensure that it is an enhancement not entertainment.

    Video can provide tremendous learning potential, but anyone in a learning role needs to consider: searchability, versioning, look and feel, etc. Also, there are issues of consistency (the “right way” or “field vs. corporate office” or “in our location, we…”), efficiency (what is the impact if all employees are out there shooting mediocre video – could be a massive productivity hit), and the big fear sabotage (the real risk is much lower, I think).

    In addition to the brand risk you mentioned, there is getting the IT folks on-board. If it’s external they are going to be worried about security. If it’s internal, they’ll be worried about storage and network bandwidth. Not that any of these are really show-stoppers, but trust me, it’ll come up!

    An instructional designer’s job is to ensure the content is presented and delivered in a way to enhance learning. It’s not about controlling the content or homogenizing the look (or it shouldn’t be) but corralling all the org. resources to ensure that learning happens. For example, if an instructional designer sees a “diamond in the rough” – a video that is engaging and helpful, but could be enhanced with a link to a checklist or the process that’s presented could use some tweaking, they should be able to amp it up or at least include it in an overall program to ensure that it gets maximum exposure to the right audience at the right time.

    The same could be said of many other user generated content: think slideshare for internal audiences, wikis, blogs, podcasts, etc.

    Really enjoyed your article – keep ’em coming!

  2. Ronald Molag December 2, 2011 at 9:27 pm · · Reply

    If employees can meet their training needs using YouTube, why do we need anything else?

    Well… they wont meet their training needs on youtube. Training is much more than instructing simple tasks. Ever experienced the effect of trainers feedback (with or without video )on your own behaviour in a training-setting? (being it a presentation or a conversation exercise)?

    Sure instruction can be done on video like it has been done for decades and you can upload videos on youtube but to call that the end of training?

    And do you really want to upload a companies instruction videos on a public channel?

  3. Laurie Rosenbaum January 20, 2016 at 12:28 pm · · Reply

    I wouldn’t say Youtube is a new learning method. You mentioned reading and instruction … but Youtube is simply learning by “observation”, which has also been around for millennia. I met a candidate last week who said he enjoys learning new things and used Youtube to teach himself how to juggle!

  4. Good article. Has anyone explored the legality of using YouTube videos uploaded by others in an ILT or WBT curriculum?

    While downloading is not allowed, embeds or hyperlinks are allowed. While only some videos state that they shouldn’t be used for any commercial usage, most videos don’t mention such things. Also many videos are uploaded by 3rd party uploaders who might be violating the actual owners copyright.

    I reached out to them but they gave a snobby answer saying we dont provide legal access.

    My question is if I can see YouTube @ work and do my research and learning, why cant I use it in a classroom environment, where I stream for a group audience or ask them to stream it in their PCs.

  5. Good blog post. I certainly appreciate this website. Stick with it!

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