YouTube, survey finds, is for fun, news and learning how to do stuff

Posted April 17, 2019

YouTube has been a social and entertainment phenomenon since it began 2005. But according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, just over half of adults use it to learn how to do stuff.

The survey, results of which were announced in November, showed that 51 percent of American adults use YouTube to watch how to do tasks that they have never done before. They also use the social medium as a learning tool, to follow news, and for children’s content.

Scott Mitchell, an assistant professor of communication studies at UW-River Falls, said that he finds himself in this mix of people.

“YouTube, I think, is one of the best ways, if you need an immediate reference, so a lot of people I know use YouTube if they need to change a tire on their car… or they don’t understand a concept from a book. (YouTube) presents it in a more digestible fashion,” he said.

Mitchell teaches courses that deal with digital technology and communication. Like many other professors on campus, Mitchell uses YouTube not only for his own enjoyment, but for his work on campus as well. He explained that YouTube is a great tool for helping him teach in class.

“I use YouTube primarily as a teaching reinforcement, or a pedagogical tool,” he said. “I teach a lot of concepts and theories that sometimes are hard to put into a visual representation and sometimes there is some sort of film or televised YouTube content that speaks more to watching it in action than what my words can capture.”

A informal poll of 25 UWRF students found that similar to the Pew survey, a majority of the students use YouTube as a means of learning how to do something they have never done before.

Almost all of the students agreed that YouTube also is a form of entertainment.

Freshman Ethan Thompson said that he uses YouTube to not only help remember his school lectures, but to keep up to date on the latest news, as well as video games and sports.

“YouTube has been an easy tool for school and other things because it’s so handy,” he said. “I think a lot of people are like me, where we are so used to learning how to do things visually. It makes life easier and more efficient.”

Although many people can agree that YouTube has helped them in one way or another, there are still individuals who can argue otherwise when it comes to professional work. Jeremy Nyhagen, the owner and operator of Mission Plumbing & Drain Service in River Falls, said that he gets a number of calls daily from people who try to learn things from YouTube, but end up having to call him instead.

“Half of the time when I get there and they’ve tried doing work because they saw someone else doing it on YouTube, it is usually a bigger mess than just not doing it at all,” he said. Even though he does not mind doing the work, Nyhagen continued, it can get more expensive for the customer if they don’t do the work correctly. He added, “It’s really not worth it for them.”

The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank based in Washington, D.C., conducted its survey in late May and early June 2018.