Learning new things can be one of the greatest joys life has to offer. Our world is endlessly fascinating. Fields of science, philosophy, history, psychology and more all provide limitless opportunities to expand one’s understanding of the universe. And with the incredible resource that is the internet, hungry learners can start researching anything that piques their interest — until they get bored.
Diving head first into a complicated topic can be daunting and even frustratingly complex. Some of us need a little push to point us in the right direction. Thankfully, YouTube has a wealth of amazing channels that not only educate but entertain audiences. They fan the flames in the minds of those eager to learn in a way that’s more easily approachable than dense research papers on Google Scholar. But how?
Balancing education and entertainment can be a challenge. Leaning more entertaining could unintentionally undermine the educational aspect. Conversely, leaning more on the academic side might scare away those who are eager to learn but get overwhelmed by a barrage of information. The most successful channels on YouTube use a few tactics to help achieve a perfect harmony for their audience.
The most obvious solution is to have an entertaining host who might throw some jokes into the video. Pair that with fast-paced editing and exciting visuals, and you can make even the most restless person sit through a dense philosophy or history video. This is the route many edutainment channels like Game Theory and Wisecrack take. They infuse educational content with humor to keep the audience laughing while learning.
The problem with comedy is that everyone’s sense of humor is different. One person could watch a Game Theory video and think it’s funny, but another person could find MatPat’s humor to be childish and annoying. In this way, comedy could work against the video, effectively degrading its quality. Similarly, channels that employ a gimmick like Wisecrack’s Earthling Cinema or Thug Notes run the risk of having people tune in only for the jokes and the characters without paying too much attention to the information.
Of course, these channels are successful because they know the audience they are going after and tailor their videos for them specifically. Understanding your audience is key. Are they scholars who already have a basic understanding of science, philosophy or history, or are they new learners who are fresh to the subject and may require additional levels of humor and entertainment?
But flash and style only goes so far without substance. Even with fancy editing and personable hosts, a video could still be boring if it amounts to listing off facts and spouting unfamiliar terminology. Nearly every successful educational channel on YouTube uses framing devices to make the information easier to digest. Whether it’s Crash Course using Batman to discuss philosophical utilitarianism, Wisecrack using South Park to teach their audience about economics, or Because Science breaking down the physics of Mario’s iconic jumping skills, these shows take something their audience is likely already familiar with and inject it with a dose of education. This not only allows them to reach more people thanks to the popularity of movies and video games, but also to show them why the information matters.
Not all videos need to be based on a pop culture references, though. Science channels like Smarter Everyday and Sci-Show educate their audience while framing the science around a simple question or idea. There’s a lot of science around what happens to brains when they are deprived of oxygen, but Destin from Smarter Everyday puts his own spin on the topic by framing the idea around something a lot us of who travel can relate to: Why airlines insist you put your own oxygen mask on before assisting someone else.
Or look at a recent Sci-Show video that proposed the idea “Why Peeing in the Pool Could Be Dangerous.” Again, the video could have simply addressed how urea can react with chlorine to create corrosive trichloramine, but I sense many of you are already bored.
A Reason to Care
Again, these channels are pitching not just what the information is, but why it’s valuable to you. You know that classic dialogue in school where a kid asks their teacher, “But when will I ever need to know this?” These channels answer that question! Framing devices can inspire tangential learning — a process where people educate themselves if they are exposed to the topic in a context they already enjoy. The most successful edutainment channels don’t just answer questions and end it there. They leave the audience curious enough to research more questions and ideas on their own terms — to go beyond the video itself and explore the amazing world around us!