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Generation Z Prefers Learning From YouTube, Not Books

A recent Pearson study found that a majority of Generation Z kids prefer learning from YouTube and videos rather than printed books.

Nearly 60 percent of people aged 14 to 23 prefer YouTube as a learning tool, while 47 percent prefer printed books, according to the study. Fifty-five percent of them also said that YouTube has contributed to their education, the study found.

The Pearson study, conducted by a New York-based global market research firm, The Harris Poll, looks at the differences between Generation Z and Millennials—defined as ages 24-40—when it comes to their outlooks, values, experiences in education, and use of technology.

The Generation Z age group has a "specific brand relationship" with YouTube, said Peter Broad, director of global research and insights for the education company in an phone interview.

"When younger learners are looking for answers, they're going to the most straightforward, familiar force, and for them that's YouTube," Broad said. The Google-owned video-sharing website is "full of explainers and tutorials," content that is "short and easily digestible," he said.

For younger learners who have grown up with technology, it's all about efficiency and using any resource they can get their hands on easily, Broad said.

"They want to learn as quickly as possible," he said. "Their assumption is that [the answers they need] will be available to them."

Julie Evans, CEO of education nonprofit Project Tomorrow, agrees that Gen Z's affinity for YouTube is driven by their exposure to it. The nonprofit has been doing research on K-12 students and their use of technology and the learning environments they prefer since 2003.

The video-sharing website is widely popular among kids. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 85 percent of U.S. teens use YouTube, and 32 percent say they use the video-sharing platform more often than other social media platforms. Forty-seven percent of Gen Z kids spend 3 or more hours on YouTube, according to the Pearson study.

YouTube, however, has recently been accused of targeting children with advertisements and violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, Education Week reported in April. It has also been criticized for recommending inappropriate content to kids, as reported by the New York Times.

The preference for YouTube and videos signals a shift in learning styles. The role of video and visual learning is "essential in rising learners and the generation to come," Broad said. Pearson has also found that there is growing interest in other video-based learning platforms like Khan Academy.

For the kids who prefer learning from YouTube or videos, the driving force isn't just about engagement, Evans said. Generation Z has access to so much technology, for them, it's about purpose and context, she said.

About 40 percent of Gen Z polled for the Pearson study said that they don't think technology will transform how college students learn in the future.

"Kids today have grown up with technology. They're looking for experiences that use tech purposefully, not frivolously," Evans said.

YouTube, she said, connects the learning environment to the real world. Evans used learning about gravity as an example.

"Before YouTube, a teacher would probably talk about gravity in the abstract sense, or drop something," Evans said. "With video, you can see gravity at work on earth versus in space. They can see it in a more concrete way."

While a lot of kids like to learn from YouTube or videos, the study also found that only 26 percent of Gen Z would like to take as many online classes as possible.

Just because they go to YouTube doesn't mean that they don't want to learn traditionally in a classroom, Broad said. Young learners still value their teachers, with 78 percent saying teachers are important to their learning and development, according to the study.

Evans said another reason could be that online classes have not been well-developed or well-designed. A lot of the online courses weren't self-paced or were exact replicas of a class environment, and kids were not used to it, she said.

"Students are hungry for purposeful learning," Evans said.


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