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Designing for the YouTube Generation When Flipping the Classroom

June 16, 2017

*This is a short series where I’m recapping some of my favorite sessions from UBTech 2017. Relive the conference on demand for free at UBTech 2017 Showcase 

The principles that suck us in to YouTube videos are the same things that have made movies captivating for decades and plays engaging for centuries. In the UBTech 2017 session, “From Shakespeare to Spielberg: Designing for the YouTube Generation When Flipping the Classroom” Brian Klaas, senior technology officer at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, analyzes how YouTube has directly shaped student expectations about watching video online, including the flipped classroom.

According to Brian, “as more faculty flip the classroom and have students watch lectures online, effective and engaging presentation design that meets the expectations of the YouTube Generation becomes ever more important.”

There are patterns to the experience that make YouTube engaging and make the viewing experience powerful. The effective narrative structures used in plays, film and YouTube videos help us retain information. The richer the sensory experience the more likely you are to remember it

How can we use this in our flipped lectures? By making them authentic, simple and actionable, and using self-expression and control. In his session Brian explained how when we apply these principles we see improved student outcome and satisfaction.

AUTHENTICITY is an honest expression of an experience and it’s what makes videos viral. How do we make flipped lectures feel authentic?

  • No Reading. Reading from slides or script sounds inauthentic. You’re the expert in the classroom and know what you’re talking about. Using outlines and notes instead of a script allow you to feel improvisational and your students will pick up on that.
  • Tell stories. Stories are a powerful, meaningful and effective way to add authenticity to your lectures. Bringing people into your flipped lectures will drive human emotions and give your students something to relate to.
  • Your students can tell when you’re phoning it in. Passion is the difference between a good lecture and a great presentation, and will resonate with your audience emotionally.

KEEP IT SIMPLE. Most YouTube videos are very simple productions. They focus on one idea, one event and they’re done. You have the opportunity to clarify your message by simplifying the conversation. Use these guidelines to ensure your videos capture your audience’s attention:

  • Use multimedia. People learn better from a combination of pictures and words than just words alone. Concepts are more likely to be remembered if the images reinforce the words. Studies show that if you only present the word, 10% of your audience will remember the concept 72 hours later. If you reinforce that word with an image, 65% of your audience will remember the concept in the same amount of time.
  • Keep the extraneous details off of the slide. People learn deeply when the message is tight and focused with visuals that reinforce the information rather than distract from it.
  • Too much info on one graphic impedes your ability to learn. Use your visual aids to focus on one thing at a time.

SELF EXPRESSION. Reflection is the heart of art. Great films and plays make us reflect back on our own lives, and that’s the power of education as well.

  • Discussion-forum posts, Twitter streams, journal or blog entries, photo streams and video responses all promote reflection.

CONTROL. Students are accustomed to deciding how, when and where they use content in their personal lives. The same has to be true for how they use academic content.

  • Students are time-poor, so keep videos short. There’s real evidence that short lectures are remembered better than traditional 60-minute lectures. Recent research by edX shows the optimal time for a video is six minutes or less if you want to retain knowledge.
  • Chunk your content. If your lecture runs longer than six minutes, chunk your content. Much like plays have three acts, think about how to break up your longer topics into shorter sections.
  • Mobile access. The student expectation of anytime, anywhere access to content means you need to make it portable and design for mobile. Students live and die on their phones and will listen and watch when and where they can. Mobile accounts for more than 50% of YouTube views.

ACTIONABLE. One reason that YouTube has such a high retention rate is that they’re constantly feeding you more, enticing you with “here’s something else you might be interested in.” With your flipped-learning videos you can:

  • Always provide follow-up actions to let students know what related activities they can engage in to learn better.
  • Test-like activities, short assessments after every lecture, help form deep memories and retention. And telling students “this will be on a test” actually works. It’s a method of foreshadowing.

What does YouTube get wrong? For everything we’ve learned from YouTube, there are a couple things where the site falls short when it comes to learning.

CONTEXTUAL GUIDANCE. Klaas says students actually don’t like it when instructors post their videos on YouTube for two reasons: because the videos are hard to find, and all the video choices make it distracting. Providing limited choices actually makes things easier to navigate.

ACCESSIBILITY. Captioning is a key component of accessibility. YouTube provides auto captions, but they are a poor comparison to tried and true captioning solutions like 3Play an Cielo24.

You can watch Brian’s session here.


Brian Klaas is Senior Technology Officer, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Klaas is a former theater director who has spent the last twenty years at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health building world-class educational experiences. Brian teaches “Introduction to Online Learning,” a requirement for all students at the School, leads faculty training and development courses, and is passionate about excellence in presentation design and delivery. Brian has presented on techniques for successful online learning delivery at conferences throughout the country, including UBTech, the Online Learning Consortium, Adobe MAX, TechEd, Syllabus, and CUE.

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