YouTube is an L&D powerhouse for younger workers

Every generation learns in different ways, and organisations need to make the most of Gen Z’s preference for online video content, says João Nogueira Santos

YouTube is an L&D powerhouse for younger workers

By 2025, Gen Z workers – people born after 1997 – will make up 27 per cent of the workforce. They are the largest, most educated and diverse generation in history and their social contribution will shape our world for decades to come. Everything from politics and business to culture and climate change will be influenced by their worldview and know-how. 

As the first true digital natives, Gen Z spends more time online than any other generation and they love YouTube. Just like Gen X and Baby Boomers grew up hooked on watching TV, younger generations, including 85 per cent of teens, are drawn to YouTube. Why? What is the appeal? There are two main reasons. Firstly, YouTube is very entertaining and secondly, it is full of learning content. And as every good teacher knows, when learning is combined with entertainment, the results are extremely powerful.

Over the last decade, YouTube has slowly been changing the way people are learning and how educators are teaching. This connection is borne out by independent research. In a recent survey conducted by Think with Google, 80 per cent of Gen Z teenagers say YouTube has helped them become more knowledgeable about something and 68 per cent say YouTube has helped them improve or gain skills to prepare for the future. 

Look at the impact that ‘Study with Me’ videos had during the pandemic, by helping students to remain motivated. Educational channels like the Khan Academy have spawned the arrival of thousands of new content creators, all dedicated to helping audiences learn something - school subjects, hobbies, artistic skills, science, self-care, plus business skills and personal development. This has also sparked the rise of other online video learning platforms, such as Udemy, Coursera and Udacity.

But it’s more than just Gen Z

Although YouTube is especially effective at engaging younger audiences in learning, its appeal is much broader. YouTube’s own data shows that 72 per cent of people aged between 36 and 55 are also learning on the platform. 

Matthew Syed and Malcolm Gladwell may be household names, but there’s a whole new generation of personal development and productivity superstars on YouTube and they have millions of followers. These content creators also appeal to very diverse audiences - ethnically, generationally and in a gender-neutral way. People like Jay Shetty, Ali Abdaal, Thomas Frank, Matt D'Avella and Lavendaire. By putting YouTube at the heart of a future-focused learning strategy, L&D professionals can grab the attention of not just younger workers, but across every generation, background and origin. 

The learning potential within YouTube is phenomenal and best of all, it is completely free. What is it about these videos that make them so good for learning? One of the biggest factors that makes YouTube content so valued and high quality is that it attracts the most creative learning content producers and world leaders in education. The very best content on YouTube can be sublime and is better than any content found in closed learning libraries. It is also universally available, which is one of the most significant benefits at a time when ‘levelling up’ is such a socio-political priority

The internet has always been regarded as a great up-leveller. It has created an opportunity for universal free education and with a little research, the content available, especially when it comes to YouTube, is of the highest quality. Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy which is now the world’s biggest school – both online and offline – says YouTube will go down in history, together with writing and the printing press, as sparking a new era for learning, one that is open to all, completely free and very high quality.

There are other benefits to consider too. Along with its physical accessibility, the video format also makes learning easier for anyone to grasp. Videos are more supportive of diverse learning needs and styles than traditional classroom approaches. Not everyone can learn easily by reading books and manuals, whereas YouTube is quick and user friendly. It’s inclusive, you can pause the videos, rewind or rewatch clips many times and take notes. 

Given that L&D budgets are especially squeezed at the moment because of the pandemic, it’s a shame that more organisations are not making the most of what’s there for the taking. So much corporate training is still happening in classrooms or proprietary content libraries. How could companies be leveraging the world’s biggest and best learning resource?

How to make the most of YouTube’s learning content

The single most important element is content curation, because of the vast amount of content available on the platform. It’s about searching, filtering, organising and contextualising YouTube content to meet the company’s training needs. Now there are resources to make this task easier. Consider having themed weeks to combine news events with important topics – corporate sustainability and health and wellbeing are two examples.

Supported like this, it’s only a matter of time before people start to switch onto self-development and continuous learning, which is the key to living successful careers, adapting to changes, and helping organisations succeed.

João Nogueira Santos is CEO and chief curator of Learninghubz