By Zsarlene B. Chua

Usually, a YouTube session will start with a particular goal in mind — say, watching a pop star’s latest vendetta-laced music video or to watch a cat video — but as many would attest, one could quickly fall down the rabbit hole and hours later you find yourself watching a random video about Vestal Virgins or the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance without a clear understanding of how you got there.

The little YouTube schoolhouse

Viewing choices might be random but what is clear is there is always an element of curiosity — if not purpose — whenever a person clicks on the next recommended video at the side of their screen.

“Our curiosity has us doing utterly unproductive things like reading news about people we will never meet, learning topics we will never have use for, or exploring places we will never come back to. We just love to know the answers to things, even if there’s no obvious benefit,” described Tom Stafford in a 2012 article for the BBC.

And in a lot of ways, this inherent curiosity has paved the way for the success of YouTube.

“Curiosity, specifically, is something that has always been there since the beginning… some of the most popular videos initially were focused on finding content you won’t be able to find on television,” noted Sanoop Luke, content partnership lead for YouTube Family and Learning, ANZ and SEA during a video interview at the Google Manila offices in late August.

“Curiosity brought them [to YouTube],” he added and it’s curiosity that made them stay.

More than a billion hours of content are viewed on the site everyday according to data released in February, and learning videos alone amass “almost half a billion views each day.”

Educational content on YouTube is not a new thing though it has been on the upswing in the last couple of years, said Mr. Luke, as more and more “creators” are leveraging this human trait and making videos to satisfy the hunger for knowledge.

Take for example the two channels on top of the site’s education/learning genre: TED, the media organization known for uploading talks online for free distribution, currently has 21 million subscribers across its other channels such as TEDx and TED-Ed; and VSauce, which currently has 19 million subscribers across its three channels (VSauce, VSauce2 and VSauce3).

“Just by looking at those two numbers, you can assess that there is a lot of interest in this lifelong continuous learning,” Mr. Luke said.

The little YouTube schoolhouse

The popularity of the genre also attracted the interest of formal learning institutions with teachers now making their own educational videos or using YouTube as a teaching aid. One can, for example, consider the case of the “rapping teacher” from the UK who, using the handle “mrbruff,” uploads videos of himself rapping lessons so students can take in information better. It seems to have worked as the BBC reported on Aug. 27 that said rapping teacher has been thanked by several GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) students for helping them to pass their subjects.

He said rapping, “which I’ve always loved,” helped teaching because “rap is very easy to memorize,” according to the BBC article.

His most popular video, “Stormzy vs Mr Bruff 2017: AQA English Language Paper 1 Rap,” had more than 194,000 views as of this writing.

Mr. Bruff is one of the quirky ones. Many channels use other methods, such as simple animations as in the case of Minute Physics (or the aforementioned TED-Ed), created by Henry Reich to explain physics concepts simply like “what is gravity?” and “why is the solar system flat?”

“[I get ideas from] all over! Sometimes things I learned when I was actively studying physics, sometimes from books or articles or papers I read, or questions people ask me (friends or viewers), or sometimes I’ll see something interesting and it’ll be the seed for a video,” Mr. Reich said in the FAQ section of the Minute Physics web site before adding the trick is to actually choose which idea would make for an interesting video.

This method of choosing what makes an interesting video/topic is what separates a typical schoolteacher from an “edutuber,” what YouTube calls their learning creators.

“A typical schoolteacher is teaching while a YouTube creator from the learning genre is not just teaching but have to also inspire and entertain, so it’s kind of a big job they’ve taken on as a learning creator,” Mr. Luke said.

Educators in the US initially felt wary about using YouTube as a source for teaching materials because not all content available on the site is school-friendly, but in 2012, YouTube launched an automated playlist called YouTube EDU which filters and shows popular education videos on YouTube.

“If we didn’t have a system for filtering it, we couldn’t partake, but we do now, and at a time of declining resources, it is a great way to find additional materials,”  Robert Gulick, director of technology in the Washington Local Schools in Toledo, Ohio, was quoted as saying by a New York Times article in March 2012.

In a similar fashion, the site also launched an app for the younger set called YouTube Kids in 2015 where videos are curated and encompass several areas including entertainment and education.

The app, available on iOS and Android, reached the Philippines in 2016.

“[We’ve put in] a lot of elements that put control back to the parents but also [elements that make] the kids feel like it’s their app,” said Mr. Luke, adding that parents can set which videos their children can watch and how they can watch videos.

The app currently has more than 10 million downloads globally and Mr. Luke noted that the Philippines is “one the bright spots [in the region] in terms of how well kids enjoyed it. It is doing quite well in terms of activations.”

The country is also welcoming a crop of creators producing learning content as the genre is proving to be very popular.

“In the Philippines [learning videos are] very popular. We’re able to see that the great thing about the Philippines — if you look at the top creators globally, many of them are American creators and because of the language it translates really well to the Philippines,” he said.

And in the past two or three years, they have been noticing that more and more creators doing learning videos come from this part of the world.

“They don’t have big numbers but they do have subscribers that are very locally based,” Mr. Luke said.

A few local creators gaining traction include “Techbuilder” who builds “weekend projects” ranging from a fully functional Star Wars BB8 droid to a DIY candle-powered USB charger lamp. He currently has almost 273,000 subscribers.

Other creators include “Buhay Korea” which currently has more than 17,000 subscribers and focuses on teaching the Korean language to Filipinos; and “PinoyMoneyAcademy” which currently has a little over 24,000 subscribers and focuses on teaching financial literacy.