One of the most popular categories on YouTube is “how to” videos. Some of the more popular ones include how to kiss, how to tie a tie, and how to unclog a toilet.
But does watching those videos actually help you to be able to do the task?
Well, it depends.
A recent study in Psychological Science found that people overestimate how much their abilities improve after extensively watching others perform.
Whether it was watching someone throw darts, moonwalk, or play a computer game, study participants improved their confidence that they could perform the task, but not their actual ability to do so. The findings suggest that learning by seeing may be less effective than we often believe.
The researchers are careful to point out that they are not saying that YouTube’s tens of millions of instructional videos are useless. You can still learn from such videos if you follow a few evidence-based strategies:
- practice – and lots of it (should not come as a surprise!)
- smart small – before trying to learn how to juggle five balls, learn to juggle three
- engage in mixed practice – don’t watch the video and then practice later; People get more out of watching after they have already attempted the skill, so try the skill yourself and then revisit your favorite how-to videos frequently to refine your technique.
I’ve stressed these same concepts to my students for years. I tell them when studying for a test, don’t just look over the solutions to a problem. They need to actually put pen (or pencil) to paper and work out the problem themselves. And then check their solution against the correct answer. This way they can see where they might go wrong, and what needs to be done to fix their errors.
Bottom line – learning is not a passive activity, a person needs to be actively engaged in the process.
That being said, maybe that’s why how to kiss videos are so popular.
Practice makes perfect…