How to use YouTube videos in a flipped classroom system

With students’ attention spans decreasing, it’s important to find engaging ways to help with pre-class preparation, writes Aravind Reghunathan

Aravind Reghunathan's avatar
8 Dec 2023
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“How many of you have gone through the readings for today’s session?” I ask at the beginning of my classes. Very few students raise their hands. It’s a scenario we academics face all too often. This lack of pre-class preparation makes a flipped classroom challenging to manage and impedes knowledge co-creation.

The flipped learning approach involves students familiarising themselves with the basics of a concept before class and using the in-person time to examine the concept in depth, which enhances student performance and engagement. For instance, some business school instructors employ case study methodology that requires students to read case studies before class and then use classes for a discussion of the relevant issues and solutions. I view case studies as pedagogical tools that are open to different interpretations and perspectives and stimulate fascinating classroom discussions. However, if students do not thoroughly review and interrogate the case, they cannot connect with the topic.

What’s wrong with traditional preparation materials?

Nowadays, students voice their discontent with the “uninspiring” nature of traditional or text-based materials. As a result of their extraordinary access to technology, the way digital natives communicate, engage, absorb information and learn is different from that of previous generations. The text-based nature of case studies could be a factor that affects students’ motivation to prepare for classes.

When it comes to text-based reading materials, many of my students lose focus after a few paragraphs. Some don’t even start to read them because they find their length “overwhelming”. While a pedagogical tool’s essential purpose is to get students out of their comfort zones and encourage them to question the various angles of a topic, we have to keep in mind that our attention spans are reducing as a society.

The power of YouTube in a flipped classroom

To address these concerns, we started providing short YouTube videos as alternatives to text-based case studies. Research that looked at group discussions stimulated by YouTube videos indicates that this technology could facilitate deep learning and enhance critical thinking skills.

For example, for a module on brand engagement, we ask students to go through a short video of the Tour De France and identify moments of brand engagement. In an era when cycling is becoming increasingly popular, especially with younger generations, this video easily captures their imaginations by featuring a world-renowned competition in a sport they can relate to. We find that more students engage with YouTube content provided as pre-class material than with a text-based case study. Overall, they retain topic points more effectively because they see rather than hear or read about the topic. Video content can energise a classroom. Take the video for the This Girl Can campaign, for example. After watching this video, my students engage in discussions about how cause marketing campaigns tackle prejudices and stereotypes in society. Its use of music, colours and stories provides ample material to initiate a discussion.

Since they can pause and watch any section of a video numerous times during their pre-class preparation, students with different learning speeds benefit from this approach. Many find note-taking easier when they can pause the video at points. Instructors can also play specific parts of videos during the class and pose sub-questions to prompt discussion.

YouTube offers endless variety. We can assign video content from different parts of the world. We can also select videos to match students’ attention spans. In my experience, students pay attention to longer videos at the beginning of classes. At the same time, a study based on MOOC videos found that videos with a maximum duration of three minutes garnered the highest student engagement. 

It might be difficult to find relevant videos for all topics in a unit, so combining this method with other pedagogical tools or delivery formats could be a great option. In a lecture, for example, we can use videos to spark discussion or simply to break the monotony of our own voices. On the other hand, videos such as the one for the This Girl Can campaign, which touch on multiple and related topics (for example, prejudices, exercise, inclusive images in marketing), can act as the focus of activities and discussion in an entire seminar.

Things to bear in mind

It is important to acknowledge the constraints around using online resources and the risk of misinformation when using these materials. Make sure your videos are from reliable sources.

Also, you might have students in your class who do not have access to the internet at home and should tailor your teaching accordingly.

Championing the use of YouTube videos as alternatives to text-based case studies can aid students significantly with pre-class preparation. Students find information easier to digest and instructors have access to an ever-expanding array of content. So why not give it a try?

Aravind Reghunathan is a lecturer at the Institute for Sport Business at Loughborough University London.

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