While YouTube is better known for Taylor Swift and video game commentary than higher education, the video hosting platform has gone from a potential classroom distraction to a multifaceted learning tool.

To date, YouTube has more than one billion users in 91 countries—that’s almost one-third of the population with Internet access. Of all the videos watched in a single day around the world, one billion of those are learning-related videos. That includes edutainment (often hosted by subject-matter experts), how-to or curriculum-based videos (often hosted by educators or experts) and skills-based learning videos for teachers.

But is YouTube truly useful as an educational tool, or is it better suited for watching teens play Fortnite?

Amy Antonio and David Tuffley, in an article for The Conversation, write: “As the 21st century unfolds, we are seeing a shift from the campus-based model of education that has endured for a thousand years to an open, anywhere, anytime model. On-demand video is a disruptive technology that is providing a flexible new way of delivering education that will require some adaptive thinking from higher education providers if they are to survive this period of change.”

And according to the University of Queensland, Australia, research shows that video can be equally as helpful as face-to-face instruction for some types of learning—notably, “mastery learning where a student can view complex clinical or mechanical procedures as many times as they need to.”

There is also strong evidence that video, when incorporated into student-centered learning activities, can increase student motivation.

Here are a few ways YouTube can be incorporated into your classroom.

1. Free lecture content

There are literally thousands of educational videos that can supplement course material—and, best of all, they’re free. For example, TED Talks offers more than 3,000 lectures from experts in their field, while non-profits, educational organizations and large broadcasters such as the BBC’s Open University offer their own YouTube channels with quality content. Tip: Don’t use video to replace a lecture, but rather to complement it.

2. Curate your own playlists

Once you create an account, you can curate playlists, bringing together diverse voices on a particular subject. You can show videos in class (as an intro to a new topic, for active learning or for a research project) or assign videos to be viewed outside of class. You can also recommend students subscribe to relevant subject-related playlists for supplemental learning.

3. Customize your lessons

Tools like EdPuzzle can help you crop videos, add commentary and incorporate quizzes. TED-Ed also allows you to create customized lessons by adding discussion topics and interactive questions to TED-Ed Animations or TED Talks, which can be shared with students.

4. Flip the classroom

The ability to curate your own videos helps to facilitate flipped classrooms. Students watch the assigned videos on their own time, at their own pace (and as often as they’d like). Instructors can even create videos of their lectures to be viewed outside of the classroom, freeing up class time for discussions, group work and interactive assignments.

5. Use video essays

Tanner Higgin, in an article for Common Sense Education, argues that video essays are a particularly useful tool for classroom instruction. “They’re usually meticulously narrated and edited, juxtaposing video footage, images, audio, and text to make an argument much like a writer would do in a traditional essay.” They can be used to introduce new topics, inspire debate or provide fodder for research projects; students can also create their own video essays to demonstrate learning.

6. Start your own channel

It’s surprisingly straightforward to create your own channel on YouTube, for your students or the broader educational community. YouTube even offers a course on how to bring your ideas to life with the right educational video format and, for those who want to take it a step farther, to build your own educational brand.

7. Upgrade your own skills

YouTube isn’t just for students; educators can use YouTube as a professional development tool in the classroom. Whether tuning into the hottest subject matter experts in your field, keeping up with the latest research or connecting with an online community of peers, there are plenty of ways to upgrade your skills and expand your knowledge.

Since there are well over a billions of videos on YouTube, how do you find the right one? Start with trusted sources rather than using a general search, and look for videos that are no longer than 10 minutes (to keep students’ attention). Follow your favorites and create playlists for future reference.

YouTube doesn’t have to be a distraction in the classroom—it can engage students, supplement course material, provide a diverse range of voices and, ultimately, inspire learning.

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