Have you used YouTube to learn a new skill? According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, over 50% of U.S. YouTube users, which is approximately 35% of all U.S. adults, indicated “the site is very important when it comes to figuring out how to do things they haven’t done before.” I can just hear my Instructional Designer friends saying “yes, but videos on their own may not be enough.”
After purchasing a shiny new mountain bike and waiting for it to be shipped, I started consuming YouTube videos centered on the fundamentals of mountain bike riding. There are numerous videos on the topic, and many are quite good, with clear explanations and demonstrations in real-time and slow motion. When my bike arrived, I felt confident and ready to tear up the trails with my newly acquired YouTube-based knowledge.
Not so fast! In fact, my first ride was quite slow and objectively pretty bad. The video-based instruction not transferring to real-world performance of a complex psychomotor skill is not surprising. An obvious issue is that I did not perform the task immediately after video demonstration. For instance, I could have watched a video on a specific skill, such as cornering, at the top of the hill then attempt to execute while careening down. Still, time from demonstration to practice does not seem like the complete answer. I thought about M. David Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction, described below, and why videos are just part of a more comprehensive learning strategy.
Task / Problem Centered: Learning must be in the context of a real-world problem. One limitation is that I did not have baseline data, so my approach to viewing online content was broad rather than focusing on a specific task or problem, such as cornering or braking techniques.
Activation: New knowledge must be built on prior learning. YouTube video creators are appealing to a general audience without the luxury of a learner analysis. That leaves it to the viewer to reflect on their prior knowledge and see where the new learning fits. It would have been beneficial to think about what I know, such as riding a road bike, and how that may apply to what I saw in the videos.
Demonstration: Videos can effectively provide learners with practical demonstrations of specific skills and proper techniques. The mountain bike training videos typically included a verbal explanation followed by an on-bike practical demonstration, often with narration. The challenge was not having my own experience as a point of reference, such as how demonstrated techniques “feel” on a bike.
Application: Use the new knowledge in a meaningful way, through practical application. While riding, I identified knowledge and skill gaps based on indicators such as apprehension and mistakes then made mental notes that I wrote down after the ride.
Integration: Continue to apply the new knowledge and build on it. This principle highlights the main flaw in my original thinking. It is unreasonable to expect to go from watching videos to proficiency. Similarly, practice alone is not enough. I consider Merrill’s First Principles a cyclical process of continually defining and refining the problem to be solved, building on prior knowledge, viewing demonstrations with an emphasis on targeted areas for improvement, and deliberate practice toward mastery.
The next time you want to learn a new skill and are about to type some words into that YouTube search bar, take a moment to think about how the videos fit into a more comprehensive approach. With so much web content readily available, including engaging videos, it is easy to forget that demonstration is just part of the whole. In a world that expects immediate results, as I mistakenly did, it is also easy to forget that complex skills require extensive practice, so keep learning and enjoy the ride!
In the next post we'll take a look at music and peformance!
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