We’ve probably all used YouTube at some point or another, but few of us might realize the scale of this platform. MS&T Guest Writer Colin Hillier looks at what the S&T community might learn from it.

Launched in 2005, YouTube report that there are now over 2 Bn average monthly users of their platform, whilst 8 out of 10 18-49 year olds are regular viewers. It is available in 80 different languages and is the second largest search engine behind Google. 70% of YouTube videos are watched on mobile devices, delivering over 1 Bn mobile views per day.

But this is where it really gets interesting.  According to a Pew Research Center survey in 2018, 87% of users say YouTube is important for helping them to find out how to do something that they hadn’t done before, with 51% saying it is very important. So almost 90% of users are heading to YouTube for the purpose of learning something new.

Peer-to-Peer Learning

What is compelling about the YouTube format is that it’s largely made up of independent creators sharing their experiences. This might be cooking, vehicle mechanics, languages, astro-physics, or virtually anything else you can think of.

The number of topics covered is huge, ranging from the well-known to the obscure. Just the other day our household boiler stopped working and threw an error code. I could not find any information online, but I did find a video made by a heating engineer showing how to troubleshoot this particular make and model of boiler. It was in French, but YouTube provides automatically generated subtitles, so I didn’t need to fall back on my schoolboy French.

While the peer-to-peer nature of the content can come with problems (there are plenty of examples of incorrect information or conspiracy theories being spread) the vast majority of it is of people sharing their first hand experiences and expertise.

In the past, high quality video production required expensive equipment. Today most people carry a smart phone capable of high-definition video with the ability to edit the footage and upload to the platform, without the need for an editing suite. Everyone can become a creator if they wish for very little cost.

By any measure, the use of first-person videos is probably one of the most cost-effective ways of developing training content.

The Comments Section is Where it Gets Interesting

As with much of social media, the comments section is where the fun starts. Viewers can ask questions of the creator to fill in any gaps in their understanding, whilst the creator can get useful feedback on the content - in some cases updating the video after feedback from their audience.

So much of today’s training content is developed in a ‘waterfall’ fashion where there is little to no feedback that is used to enhance the training material once it is delivered. On YouTube the audience votes with their ‘views’, ‘likes’ or by telling everyone what they really think of the content in the comments section.

In this way much of the learning content on YouTube is self-regulating with the most authoritative and popular sources promoted to the top of the search algorithm. As the old adage goes, sometimes the fastest way to learn about mistakes in your content is to post it online and wait for the comments.

What Does This Mean for Military Training?

In short, we could learn a lot from the YouTube platform. So much of today’s training isn’t engaging or is very expensive. Or both.

The general approach for military training is also fairly inflexible in as much as it doesn’t get updated once it’s delivered. Training content is locked at the point of acceptance with little chance for subject matter experts within the military to provide feedback or enhance learning with their self-generated content or comments.

The concepts of Peer-to-Peer or Social Learning is not new, but militaries could gain from embracing some of the concepts and mechanisms within today’s social media platforms. In much the same way as militaries have relaxed their attitudes to the use of social media in general (within certain guidelines), they could benefit hugely from the same enlightened views within their training programmes.

About the Author

A graduate in Aeronautics & Astronautics from Southampton University and with previous experience in the UK Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, Colin has over 15 years’ experience in the defence industry. Colin started in simulation and training with Leonardo Helicopters (then Westlands), where he led the design, development and implementation of advanced mission training systems. He was also instrumental in the design and deployment of one of the first mobile applications for classroom and distance learning. Later he was seconded into Niteworks (a UK government/industry decision support agency) as the project lead for the Aviation Simulation project – a key component in the UK MoD’s training transformation initiative. This project focused on how games technology can be used to enhance aviation training in the military and close existing training gaps. Since leaving Leonardo, Colin has been part of the leadership of a number of training and simulation technology companies, supporting their growth in the UK and Europe.

Guest Writers – If you would like to inform and inspire the MS&T community please contact the MS&T Editor Andy Fawkes at andy.fawkes@halldale.com