Should I Use YouTube For Employee Training?

Should I Use YouTube For Employee Training?
Summary: It's easy to create a few videos, post them to YouTube, and believe you've satisfied the requirement to train your staff. Is YouTube a great training vehicle or is it simply an easy way to waste money and other resources? Let's find out.

Is Using YouTube For Employee Training A Good Idea?

The success of any business is dependent in large part on how well the company's employees understand and are able to perform their jobs. Training is the process we use to help workers acquire the knowledge and skills to be proficient. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010) reports that employers indicate training is necessary for 3 primary reasons:

  1. To provide skills specific to their organization
  2. To keep up with changes in technology or production methods, and
  3. To retain valuable employees.

Furthermore, the human reality of forgetfulness makes it necessary for employees to have on-going access to training.

Training a staff of any size can be a challenge. During 2016 the average small business spent $1,052 per employee for training (Training Magazine, 2016). Decisions to invest in training are difficult when a reasonable ROI is difficult to show. Furthermore, many businesses struggle to find adequate time to provide and manage a consistent training program. The average employee received 43.8 hours of training in 2016 (Training Magazine, 2016). And according to Mimeo (2016), the average Learning and Development professional has three different roles to fulfill within their company, which can divert their expertise into non-training areas.

Budget constraints, vague ROI, and scheduling difficulties have caused many businesses to explore easier and less costly ways to train their employees. Some companies have simply given up on training in hopes that employees will gain sufficient on-the-job experience as quickly as possible, and not need formal training to learn to perform their jobs. Other companies have begun taking advantage of free video hosting services like YouTube, Vimeo, Lynda, MediaPlatform, Viostream, and others. Consider the following YouTube statistics reported by Fortunelords (2017).

  • 1,300,000,000 people use YouTube.
  • 30 million people visit YouTube each day.
  • 5 billion YouTube videos are watched each day.
  • 3.25 billion hours of video are watched on YouTube each month.
  • 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube each minute.

YouTube is free, it’s easily accessible on most mobile devices, and is utilized by approximately 180 million Americans (Statista). Who of us hasn’t used YouTube as a quick and easy way to learn how to do something? It is a phenomenal resource. So it’s not much of a stretch to consider that free video-based services might offer a ‘quick and easy’ alternative for employers to train employees. The purpose of this paper is to address the strengths and limitations of YouTube and other video-based services as an effective means for employee training.

Elements Of Effective Training

Effective training design includes the following elements:

  1. Explain
  2. Demonstrate
  3. Practice with Feedback
  4. Assessment

1. Explain

The first and most basic element of training is an explanation of the new knowledge or skill to be learned. Explanations should include (1) important supporting knowledge, (2) why the skill is important, (3) the context for applying the skill, and (4) detailed descriptions of the steps to take to perform the skill.

Example: To teach a Sales person the skill of responding appropriately to a customer who says “I’m just looking” the trainer would explain several things about the skill. The trainer would explain that “I’m just looking” is a very common customer response and should not be taken personally. The trainer would explain that helping these customers in a positive way can increase their sales. Finally, the trainer would name and describe in detail each of the steps for responding appropriately to this type of customer.

2. Demonstrate

After explaining, effective training shows a demonstration of the skill being performed. Merrill (2013) reminds us that this element is referred to as demonstration because it connotes the idea of showing learners application of the information. In other words, after we Tell about the skill, we then need to Show the skill.

Example: After explaining the skill, including the steps of the process, the trainer would demonstrate application of the skill. The demonstration should be a realistic encounter during which the trainer would perform each step of the process with an “I’m just looking” customer. The trainer would present multiple demonstrations to show the skill in a variety of different situations.

3. Practice With Feedback

Practice is the opportunity for learners to apply the skill in a realistic situation. They should practice the skill that has just been demonstrated to them. A variety of practice scenarios is best. It has been shown that practicing a skill in routine, or common problems enables learners to also use the skill in new and non-routine problem situations (Mayer, 1998). After each practice, the trainer should give corrective feedback. Trainers should explain which portions of the learner’s performance were correct and which portions were not, and why. Receiving feedback during the practice of a new skill results in improved performance (Mayer 2008).

Example: The trainer could place the student in multiple role-play scenarios that mimic real-life situations. The learner would practice responding to role-playing customers who say “I’m just looking.” This will require the learner to recall and apply each of the steps in the process that was described and demonstrated. Either during or at the end of each role-play scenario the trainer should offer corrective feedback by explaining what parts of the process were done correctly and which need improvement. It’s during these practice-feedback activities that the skill is really learned.

4. Assessment

One purpose of assessment is for the trainer to ascertain whether or not the learner is proficient in the skill. In addition, and equally as important for learning, the assessment informs the learner about their ability in regards to the new skill. That understanding can either emphasize a need for additional training, or instill confidence that one is prepared to successfully perform their job. Since assessment is the opportunity for the learner to demonstrate their ability, feedback is typically not included in an assessment. The best training includes assessments that are similar in format to the practice scenarios, but without the corrective feedback provided during practice. Feedback may be given after the assessment is completed.

Example: The trainer could place the student in multiple role-play scenarios that mimic real-life situations. The learner would practice responding to role-playing customers who say “I’m just looking.” This will require the learner to recall and apply each of the steps in the process. The trainer observes and notes how well the learner followed each of the steps.

Comparing YouTube To Effective Training

As mentioned previously, YouTube and other video-based resources are being considered by more and more employers as a training medium. Let’s look at YouTube and how it stacks up against the standards of effective training.

1. Explain

Explaining, or telling about something is the most common element across all kind of training, and YouTube is no exception. A bird's eye survey of education and training videos found on YouTube reveals that most videos include some type of an explanation of the steps of the process they intend to teach.

Score: 5 out of 5

2. Demonstrate

Much training is heavy on the tell and light on show. For example, textbooks typically lack a demonstration of the skill to be learned. Video, on the other hand, is an ideal medium for showing how to perform new skills. Many YouTube videos are exactly this - showing how to do something. Others do well at explaining but do not include needed demonstrations.

Score: 4 out of 5

3. Practice With Feedback

As previously described, practice is essential for effective training. In fact, it’s during these practice-feedback cycles that the most learning happens. The use of video as a non-interactive medium means that practice in any form is typically excluded in YouTube-based training. Individualized feedback on a learner’s performance is impossible using YouTube or any other video-only training.

Score: 0 out of 5

4. Assessment

Assessments provide trainers and learners with important information about whether or not the learners have acquired the new skill. Since assessments are similar to practice, YouTube videos are equally poor at providing assessment information as they are at practice with feedback.

Score: 0 out of 5

Overall Score: 2.25 out of 5


Video-based training providers publicize several benefits of using their platforms including; 1) reduced costs, 2) ability to accommodate different learning styles, 3) high engagement factor, 4) reduced travel budgets, and 5) accessibility. Unfortunately, these most commonly touted benefits do not necessarily equate to effective training.

For training to be effective it should include each of these four elements: 1) Explain, 2) Demonstrate, 3) Practice with Feedback, and 4) Assessment. The combination of these 4 elements helps ensure an effective, and therefore cost-effective program. YouTube and other video sources can be an excellent medium for the first two elements - Explain and Demonstrate. However, they do not provide the other two critical elements - Practice with Feedback and Assessment. Including each of the 4 elements in training results in a valuable learning experience with an ROI that can be demonstrated. The exclusion of one or more elements in a training program wastes both time and money. Managers should use these 4 elements as a guide as they consider the value of any training their employees receive, including video-based training. They may be surprised to discover they may not be as good as advertised.