Back in 2018 while investigating mini-course design for several of the majors in the Behavioral Sciences Division, I started to look more closely at YouTube as an educational platform.  Major YouTube presenters are labeled “Influencers” which accurately reflects their ability to motivae and shape their audience, a classic example of the parasocial bond in the digital 21st century.  A fact which appears to be intentionally avoided by traditional academic entities is that these influencers frequently have 1 million subscribers—not just people that watch an occasional YouTube post, but who have voluntarily subscribed to see all of the posts.  The key is that a global voluntary audience is choosing to consume material presented by a single individual, usually on a specific theme or topic.  Given that a significant proportion of YouTube videos have some sort of learning/training component, this shows that millions of viewers see specific YouTube influencers as sources of knowledge and information, in other words educators.  The generation now coming into higher education has been raised on this free-to-choice pool of educators and their view of quality education has been shaped by this experience.  It is worth noting that with the widespread adoption of revenue platforms such as Patreon [] YouTube influencers can develop significant revenue streams.

To better understand how YouTube Influencers effectively educate I conducted a selective text analysis on 18 in-depth interviews on the YouTube channel “Video Influencers Site” in 2018.  A number of the top influencers have been interviewed by the hosts and provide insight into what makes a successful YouTube channel.  There was a striking pattern of very similar responses from the various influencers even though their channels cover a wide range of topics.  While some of these key points have been used in traditional higher education, others have been lacking as part of institutional strategies.

Key Points repeated throughout the various interviews:

  • Effective Influencers are Experiential—you must base your work on what motivates and drives you.  Artificiality will immediately be picked up by the audience, and they will leave.  Posting your experiences= authenticity.  Vloggers are perfect cases in point [Ben Brown/Casey Neistat vlogs as examples].
  • Success is due to a combination of effort/time put in, being true to your passion [internal honesty] and serendipity/fortuitous (though most downplay the last).  Influencers like the view that if you put the time/effort/authenticity in, then success is given or at least you are self-rewarded.
  • They strongly believe that everyone has something unique worth sharing and of interest to others—validated and defined by deep emotional instincts.  Viewers want conviction and emotional motivation.
  • Emotions rule on YouTube, not training/knowledge/credentials—those only support the opinions/material driven by emotional commitment.
  • Passion Rules.  Viewers respond directly to perceived passion–again experiential, personalized.  For example you’re not an archaeologist, you are Mortimer Wheeler who loves being an archaeologist and doing archaeology and wants to share his/her passion.
  • Training is driven and motivated by Passion, so training is passion-specific.
  • Presenters only need skills linked to passion, not on certification/credentials.
  • Audience “can feel/sense/respond” to Passion.
  • Content is driven/filtered by Passion (emotional not intellectual).
  • Knowledge is background support that adds to the Passion but knowledge has no abstract relevance.  Many of the Influencers noted that terms like “you will eventually need this” or ”Lifelong Learning” is not relevant on YouTube unless it is grounded in your Passion.  Knowledge acquisition is based on unique personalized set of criteria and interests.
  • Influencers have a very Calvinist value set—you must work hard-put your time in, due diligence, pay your dues.  Effort is rewarded and only effort counts.  Note again the dominance of emotion-passion-commitment and the lack of relevance of knowledge, training or certification.
  • In many ways YouTube Influencers are the opposite of Japanese concepts of ikigai and it’s socially driven model.  YouTube Influencers don’t operate within a network of constraints [do you have the training/certification to make these statements].  Emotion-passion justifies the material and is specifically grounded in a me/self-first orientation.  Obligation and responsibility towards others are only filtered within the context of self-defined goals and need satisfaction.  Frequent use of slogans like “follow your dreams”, “discover yourself” and “self gifting” by Influencers is common.  Emotion and passion legitimize content.

Skillshare and related educational-training platforms:

Running parallel to (and often directly linked in comments) to YouTube educational channels are short-term/limited content sites such as Skillshare [] which market themselves and an alternative to traditional teaching.  In this model revenue streams are controlled by the platform (Skillshare) which also vets the teacher and acts as a quality-control monitor.  The “Skillshare Teacher Handbook” offers valuable insight both into trends in contemporary education and also clarifies the direction traditional Higher Education has to move towards:

“All classes on Skillshare need to meet the following criteria.  If they don’t, they may be removed by our curation team.

  • Faster Learning for the Sake of Learning: We support authentic, inspired learning: all classes on Skillshare are, first and foremost, educational.  Classes help students to expand their knowledge, flex their creative muscles, and have genuine interactions in the community…
  • Meet Standards for A/V Quality: The audio in your class must be clear and easy to understand…video must be steady and high resolution…
  • Must Be Project-Based: We believe in learning by doing…all Skillshare classes are project-based…
  • Minimum Standards for Length: Classes must be at least 10 minutes long…
  • Include Introduction Videos…
  • Include Well-Organized Content: Great instruction requires great structure…
  • Vary Visual Presentation: You class should contain varied visuals throughout…
  • Share Value: You should impart expertise through tips, best practices, frameworks, concepts, theory, and/or examples…
  • Teach Clearly: Your teaching should be clear, professional, authentic, and engaging.”

Specifics for Individual Classes:

“Excellent classes are also:

  • Demystifying: The class is insightful and accurate, not superficial.  The teacher has a high subject matter expertise.  A variety of information is presented.  The teacher speaks to audience with warmth and respect…uses references to personal experiences and/or examples.
  • Actionable: The teacher situates insights in a wider context.  Students are empowered with strategies, not a step-by-step. They learn how to do a new kind of thing.  The class emphasizes a technique for framework to empower students.  Lessons include examples… There is a clear and engaging project prompt.
  • Well-Organized: The class contains clear signals and sequences.  The pace matches the level.  The class includes clear lesson titles.  ‘Concept Bookends’ frame sections with intros and recaps.  Lesson sequences demonstrate progress.
  • Clear Value Proposition: The class includes clear titles, takeaways, and target audiences.  A clear class title, description, and intro that identify who the class is for.  The class delivers what it promises…
  • Compelling: The class is visually dynamic and inspiring.  The class includes regular visual changes.  The class has a motivational style.  Lessons are cohesive and inspiring. (From Skillshare [] Teacher Handbook 12/3/20).

Skillshare and the related educational platforms postdate YouTube’s growth of popularity and have built on it.  But they also share many key elements for success, as all require voluntary investment from students rather than depending on social-group pressure underlying traditional Higher Education. 

These new educational platforms are part of a new wave of challenges facing the traditional Higher Education system and specific academic programs such as our Behavioral Science Program which we will need to embrace and respond to grow in the near future.  We have to apply much of this pedagogical model to the concepts and topics central to our courses, to act as a lure to draw in potential new students.  The key advantage to the YouTube and Skillshare approaches is that almost the entire cost is upfront, as once the videos are posted they run on various digital platforms, so other than tweaking to improve presentation there are limited additional expenses to reach a potential audience of billions.