Research into the content and credibility of YouTube videos tagged as “educational” has yielded startling results about the [mis]information that circulates on the internet. This study focused on videos relating to medical topics, and revealed no correlation between educational quality and user engagement/value measurements. This troubling result highlights both the need for established institutions to create and disseminate high-quality educational videos, and for viewers to think critically about the content and credibility of what they choose to watch.
Medical educators and patients have increasingly adopted YouTube as an educational tool. In 2009 YouTube launched YouTube EDU, which compiled and organized educational channels from over 300 verified colleges and universities. By the end of the first year the site had over 65,000 videos posted. Five years later, the use of YouTube for educational purposes has continued to grow in popularity.
However the content and credibility of educational YouTube videos can be difficult to validate. To be sure, there are some video sources that consistently produce quality products, including Harvard University Press, NOVA PBS, and New Scientist. However there are also many amateurs’ channels that, despite regularly posting well-made videos, cannot definitively be associated with an individual or institution. And even if the source is credible, there are currently no standards in place for the peer-reviewing videos.
Previously studies into the educational merit of medically related YouTube videos have examined the full spectrum of available videos that are tagged as educational. From these studies researchers concluded that the educational quality of such videos is dismally poor.
However, researchers from several universities in North Carolina decided to do a follow-up investigation in which they would exclusively examine YouTube videos from verified, credible sources. They studied 607 different videos pertaining to cardiovascular diseases (a topic selected because it is one of the largest health issues of the developed world) for a total of 35 hours of footage. These videos had passed previous screenings by the Social Media Healthcare Network for content veracity. Further analysis of the video content was conducted by looking for the presence/absence of information pertaining to seven key disease education factors: epidemiology, pathophysiology, screening, diagnosis, complications, disease treatment/management, and prevention.
In addition to evaluating the quality of the content, these educational YouTube videos were also assessed on the degree to which they engaged the viewer. This was done by examining the comments and the number of views, likes, dislikes, and favorites that the video received. In addition, each video was also evaluated on “understandability” using a scale referred to as the Suitability Assessment of Materials (SAM). SAM assesses how well a video can be understood by the lay-public based upon factors of content, literacy demand, incorporated graphics, layout and typography, learning stimulation, and cultural appropriateness.
The researchers hypothesized that the public would more greatly value high-quality YouTube videos that were produced by credible sources. Though this had not been the case with previous studies, the researchers thought that the exclusion of videos from unverified sources might shed insight on otherwise murky results. However the data showed otherwise.
To begin, the researchers noted that there were relatively few available videos posted by verified sources. Furthermore only 27 percent of videos scored well in terms of content criteria (four out of seven of the aforementioned factors). Perhaps most compellingly, the public showed less engagement with videos that the study labeled as “optimal” (videos published by credible sources with extensive and detailed content). In fact user engagement was greater for videos that were inaccurate.
The results of this study highlight several issues that will need to be addressed in the future of using YouTube as an educational tool. First, there is a need for trusted institutions to step-up and produce high-quality videos for public education. Secondly, as videos are increasingly used to promote education, experts must institute formal practices for peer-reviewing video content. Finally, some of the responsibility falls on the viewers. In the future viewers must learn to think critically about the content and credibility of educational YouTube videos and remember that education and entertainment are not always equivalent.
By Sarah Takushi