Explainer Videos and An Education Revolution

(Or, How My Daughter’s YouTube Channel Is Changing the Planet)

I’ve been witnessing an interesting trend recently: my ten-year-old daughter has taught herself how to produce explainer videos.

My Ten-Year-Old Daughter’s Self-Produced How-To Video

She borrows my iPhone, shoots video, uploads it to her computer and uses Windows Media Maker to cut, splice, add audio and voiceover tracks. Her videos are perfectly fine – in fact better than most – in her chosen category of “amateur makeup and beauty tips.” (Put the category aside for a moment. I’ll get back to it later.) She has her own YouTube channel with hundreds of followers and an Instagram feed to promote it.

Here’s what’s important about this:

  • No one taught her or even suggested to her that she do this. She learned everything herself: through trial and error, help files and good user interface design, but most importantly by watching other explainer videos.
  • It’s costing her nothing except her time.
  • People are watching her videos.

Here’s why all that matters:

  1. First of all, there’s clearly a massive surge of amateur/community-based education going on, fueled by an open-source, “I’m going to learn what I’m interested in” and “I’m going to help other people if I can” ethos. People who know something are finding ways to teach/share what they know. Khan Academy, Ted Talks, Stack Overflow, etc.

    And clearly, the boundary between student and educator is fading. In wartime, there was a “watch one, do one, teach one” training mentality (in emergency medicine, I think – I’ll have to look that up). It didn’t create brain surgeons, but it did create a lot of competent field medics … which was better than “not enough competent field medics.”

  2. Second, it’s cheap and easy to create and consume this material. Witness: my daughter. The software is good and improving, free or cheap, and the ability to learn it is increasingly easy … because the availability of learning material is subject to the same compounding effect.

    Classic science fiction used to predict the days when robots would make robots. Well, what we’re seeing is a “learners teaching learners” effect. Same idea.

  3. Third, the value being created is real. This morning I read an article that said that advertisers are beginning to recognize the value of explainer videos as an audience magnet. This was a lightbulb moment for me.

    My first job out of college was finding sponsors for programming produced by WGBH Boston, where the guiding principle was that education could not overlap with the commercial ethos IN ANY WAY. This idea is a longstanding cultural construct that comes from an understandable moral distrust of capitalism, but is frequently interpreted in an extreme/irrational way. The truth is that finding a reasoned balance of commercial and educational interests is entirely practical.

Imagine a world where sponsorship dollars were attracted to successful explainer/how-to production, providing a financial incentive for people to create educational materials. If I’m an expert in cold climate persian cat grooming, I might be able to teach what I know and get paid. And my reward would go up if I did a great job and created a lot of material that people liked.

As a side note: you may not interested in cold climate persian cat grooming, but someone probably is (just like some people are attracted to my ten-year-old’s “amateur makeup and beauty tips”). Whether you think it’s worth someone’s time to generate such niche (or ephemeral) educational materials is irrelevant: if people think it has value it has value.

Oh and another side note: no one would argue that my daughter’s videos make you into a makeup and beauty expert. But on the other hand, no one would argue that you don’t learn something after watching them. This peer-based education revolution isn’t creating PhDs, but it does seem to be creating slightly better educated amateurs.

This doesn’t apply just to YouTube video. The trend applies to software, apps, online course/reminder services, customized reading/content lists, even formal courses. The top ten results for a Google search on “free course creation software” yields Udutu, CourseLab, and Odijoo. I have no idea whether these services are any good, but clearly there’s something going on here.

I wonder if there’s a Moore’s Law-type singularity effect here that we’re only beginning to notice: maybe the aggregate skill level in a populace is doubling every eighteen months.

Note to self: I wonder what this world would look like taken to its logical conclusion? Great topic for a Getting To Next…

Michael Sattler

With a career spent in founding and technical leadership roles with new and enterprise-level organizations, Michael Sattler is a veteran in technology strategy, operations, and product management. He’s spent decades in B2B and B2C SaaS product development, software and application design, engineering operations, new venture creation, and innovation practices.

He has scaled and managed technical teams from 2-50+ across three continents, led large-scale cross-functional program management, and founded or co-founded six companies.