Get Free Instructional Design Tips from Watching Youtube


YouTube hit the mainstream pretty hard in 2014. Or maybe I should rephrase that to YouTubers hit the mainstream in 2014. Of course the kids have been watching their favorite YouTubers long before 2014, but it just feels like the rest of the world is finally gaining interest. Youtube’s popularity is a great example of non-learning professionals creating instruction. And in some cases very good instruction.

Not all YouTubers are interested in teaching. Many are simply entertaining in strange and unique ways. But from what I’ve seen, a good portion of YouTubers are truly interested in helping their viewers by teaching/showing them something new. But how is it that they’re able to do this so well without understanding Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction and the ADDIE model?


When a teenager can create an instructional video that receives hundreds of thousands of views, or even millions, we must take notice. New technologies make it possible for EVERYONE to create instructional content. And that’s a good thing. Let’s borrow the good…and let them keep the goofy.


YouTube even recognizes the value of YouTube for learning by presenting a section titled “Learn Something New” in the YouTube iPhone app.


Yes, there is a lot of junk on YouTube. But I’ve learned a lot from people willing to share their knowledge via video clips on YouTube. And honestly, I’ve even learned from some of the worst videos I’ve ever seen. So what can we learn from the good, the bad, and the ugly, of Youtube?


Here’s a few instructional design tips you can easily confirm yourself by attempting to learn something from YouTube.


1: Keep the overall Length of the video short

I was watching YouTube videos about waterpump replacement for my truck when I was reminded how important it is to keep content short. Many of the “car guys” on YouTube suffer from SME(subject matter expert) syndrome: They simply want to tell you EVERYTHING they know in one video instead of just getting to the point. As you begin to subscribe to channels you’ll begin to notice that your favorites are focused, scripted, and well edited.


However, there are some videos that are quite good and obviously unscripted, unedited, and perhaps a little too long. And so YouTube also reminds me that there are situations that call for speed over quality. This is often seen in corporate training situations where some bit of information needs to be communicated immediately to a large global audience.  Do we call it training? Maybe not. Do we sometimes defer to the “communications” department? Sure. But is the intended audience getting the information quickly, and capable of learning from it? Yes.
The learning nugget to remember: Whether you’re scripting a quality piece of content or recording a spontaneous communication, keeping it short and focused is always appreciated by the learner.

2: Be Specific and Focused

I found many videos on “Replacing a Waterpump”. However, some were just explanations, some were animations, some were too long (see #1), and some were not waterpumps for cars. Many were simply not what I needed. The search can be frustrating but I kept at it until I found the one that made everything click for me.
The learning nugget to remember: Motivated learners, with a real need, will suffer through the WORST training to get at the information they need to get the job done.
For you advanced instructional designers, I’m not talking about “writing clear academic objectives”. Discovering the right information is as critical to learning as well designed instruction. So it’s important for content creators to take care in clearly describing what their video contains. The best YouTubers are good at this, and take advantage of text which is #3.


3: Use Other YouTube features to Support the Video

Some of the best instructional videos that I’ve seen also use the description field liberally. They provide links to products, links to other content, and text related to the video. This has come in handy for me in the form of parts lists. My favorite YouTube channels to learn from usually show a project of some sort. And all projects tend to have a “Here’s what you need” segment. It’s great if you put that list in the video, but it’s even more helpful if you put an extended version of that list in the description field.
The learning nugget to remember: Provide support material in different formats for easy access, and repetition of important content.



Youtube is a great source of instructional inspiration. There is more to learn from YouTube than what I have pointed out here. These YouTubers may not be learning gurus, but their viewer data is compelling. Google is pretty good at surfacing the best videos based on your search criteria, so give it a try. If you find yourself thinking, “I can do that!” or “I can do that better!”, well, you’re right.
I could ask you what you’ve learned from YouTube recently, but I think we’ve all figured out that Youtube is great source of learning and view it regularly. What I really want to know is, what have you learned about instructional design from your favorite YouTubers?  And if you’ve never thought about, I would encourage you to think about it the next time you’re on it.