YouTube rules the roost. It is first resource that people refer to when they want to learn something new. After all, who would teach me how to replace a RAM on my laptop or to change the new windshield wiper blade on my old car?

YouTube is an extremely valuable resource. However, things do not work out that well if it is something more complicated like Linear Algebra or NMR spectroscopy.

Frequently, I meet students who have watched all the YouTube lectures even before the semester begins. They are also very judgmental about classroom lectures. I am soliciting help from the community about

  1. How to tell them that watching videos is no substitute for learning. Usually this needs to be conveyed at the start of the course, when they pay no attention to it. By the time they understand it, we are well into the depths of the course and it is too late.
  2. Not watching videos is also not a wise thing to do. There are excellent makers who create excellent animations which I wouldn't be able to do ... actually never! How do I tell this to the students without appearing like abandoning my duties?
  3. The biggest problem is enrolling students. Students (often the brighter ones) believe they have learnt the subject via YouTube well enough to skip the course altogether. How do I convince them that I will really help them study this subject beyond what they can manage via YT? How do I do this without sounding like a pimp? How do I politely tell them that they haven't learnt the subject via YT (or other online resources) at all beyond some mumbo-jumbo? Some of them might actually have learnt the subject to some extent ... How do I convince them of the utility of my course?

Thank you all.

EDIT: In light of objections by Anonymous Physicist, I must add that a succinct summary of my question is : "How to handle YouTube-aware students? 1) At the time of enrollment 2) at the begining of the course and 3) during the course?"

  • @AnonymousPhysicist broad it may be, but no instructor will say that they haven't faced this dilemma. I have changed the title. Hope it adequately summarizes the content of the question.
    – magguu
    Apr 10, 2020 at 5:05
  • It's too broad. Please post questions that have definite answers. Apr 10, 2020 at 6:04
  • 2
    broad questions do have definite answers. and my question is specific to Youtube as an online resource. I am not asking "how to teach" but "how to cope with youtube while teaching". please do not pass judgments like my students.
    – magguu
    Apr 10, 2020 at 8:23
  • 1
    FYI, a similar issue is the change in preparation of (U.S.) calculus students during the past two or three decades due to the rapid rise in the number of students taking AP-Calculus in high school. This change has led to large increases in students whose self-assessed background in calculus is well above their actual background in calculus, and perhaps much of the possible ways of dealing with these calculus concerns could be transferred to your YouTube concerns. (continued) Apr 10, 2020 at 9:10
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    For example, see David Bressoud's Launchings columns for May 2015 (Calculus at Crisis I: The Pressures) and (especially) June 2015 (Calculus at Crisis II: The Rush to Calculus) and July 2015 (Calculus at Crisis III: The Client Disciplines) and August 2015 (Calculus at Crisis IV: Best Practices) and September 2015 (Calculus at Crisis V: Networks of Support). Apr 10, 2020 at 9:15

3 Answers 3


I've just embraced YouTube as part of my teaching. I've not used it to replace lectures or any classes but created my own separate YouTube content that serves a different purpose.

I am a copious consumer of YouTube, so I am perhaps familiar with some of the content there. I find that the viewers want to watch someone solve a problem or do something interesting or difficult but not be "taught" in the traditional sense.

I found that students need was to ask how to solve a problem when I was not around to show them how I might solve that problem. Although we had small group sessions when we could discuss problem solving, these were not really frequent enough for many students. Deferred gratification is a difficult thing for some students who prefer not to wait until the next support session.

To solve this dilemma I created some new unique problems that emulate the class work and create similar challenges without being useful for plagiarism. I then solved these problems as if I was a student and made the same set of blunders, many genuine on my part. I then verbalised how I would solve such an issue, create a working solution, and prepare it for classwork submission.

The idea was, that they could use these as a substitute for me being at their side and talking through a problem solution.

In the main, this has worked out. The episodes are not perfect, and could be improved; but it is path that teacher and class can walk together, and one has to start somewhere. Some students, foolishly just copied the work from the YouTube screen and handed it in as a class solution, when it was even a different problem; but they were the minority. Some students complained that I did not solve their specific problem in the video, when there was clearly an analogue of a solution therein; but in the majority it was helpful. It was also a clear marketing ploy, in that some just picked the class "because it has YouTube" content!

What I did was additional and optional content. No student was required to use it, and all the information it contained was present elsewhere in written class material. It was just another form of delivery to complement existing media which helped some students.

Give it a try!

  • hmmm.. very interesting and very creative! gives me a lot of ideas to try out. many thanks and kudos!
    – magguu
    May 10, 2020 at 14:50

First of all, not all YouTube educational videos are in the TED talk format. There are many lecture format videos

How to tell them that watching videos is no substitute for learning.

How do I tell this to the students without appearing like abandoning my duties?

How do I convince them that I will really help them study this subject beyond what they can manage via YT?

How do I convince them of the utility of my course?

You can tell students a lot of things. But the question is, can you convince them? I suspect the answer is almost always No.

Instead, you may want to consider the strategy of allowing/welcoming them to try to use YouTube as a substitute for your lecture. But test them often and early, and allow them to fail spectacularly on low-stake tests. When they struggle to solve simple problems on tests after thinking they learned everything from YouTube, they will soon figure out the problem. Obviously, you want to do this early, so that they have time to recover.

Of course, it is possible that some students can indeed do well by watching YouTube only. That would be fine, and that may tell you something about your teaching as well.


My students learn excel, and I say when you have built the function / formula following the video and you find yours does not work but you followed every step.

Does the video help you find your error?

Does the video explain common errors?

That’s the difference when you come to class....


So, I do mention common errors and as they have a fully worked example to refer to while they do further exercises I can go around solving and explaining their particular errors...

  • 1
    I teach something in which it is very easy to get misled by listening to very good speakers. These speakers are plenty on YouTube and even more on TED. Five minute clips with excellent animation and dramatic background music can fool anybody. Untill they pick up a pen and try to solve that equation. I want to inspire students to reach that stage.
    – magguu
    Apr 10, 2020 at 8:43
  • @maggu That's your answer right there. "Can the students do the work or not?" If they can, then the discussion of YouTube is irrelevant. If they can't, they need to do something else besides watching YouTube. Rather than explaining this point hypothetically to the students, make them do the exercises and let them come to their own conclusions whether their understanding is sufficient. Apr 10, 2020 at 12:46
  • @user2705196 that answers my point number (1) and (2) to some extent. waiting till they come to exercises always works. However I want to convey this before they learn it the hard way. My point number (3) "how to convince undergraduates who are wizened graduates of YT-university to enroll my course, that their YT-degrees are worthless" leaves me most clueless. These are actually the better students whom I enjoy teaching.
    – magguu
    Apr 10, 2020 at 13:53
  • And let me add: You should make sure you do help fins errors and explain common errors in class;) (many classes seem to have a "no questions may be asked policy)!:)
    – user111388
    May 10, 2020 at 14:04

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