Do you need to add anything to YouTube to make a good product for learning?

In general, the barriers to entry in offering a digital product for learning are pretty low. They are falling as time passes, it seems. Making, hosting and publishing content are problems pretty well solved. Packaging and designing that content well for learning purposes takes time and effort but it is a far from insurmountable challenge. Connecting users with those experiences is what the internet is for and has been doing for a few decades now.

There are challenges of scale and quality, certainly. Those challenges tend to exist in all sectors, however. There is nothing peculiar about learning there, although designing well for learning requires some specialist inputs or experience. So, it should be no surprise that a new learning product arrives for trades people (building buildings). YouTube has clearly indicated the demand for the topic and the ease with which good content (by which I mean useful and interesting) can be created and discovered. And here is Copeland to show the way for practical skills.

On first encounter, the familiar question, or a question that should be familiar to us all, ran through my mind: “Why is this any better than YouTube?”. As with every topic humans have created, there is an ocean of content on YouTube on the subject matter of the construction industry. I haven’t done the research, but I expect that all the guidance on Copeland can be found on YouTube. That’s not the point though.

The main investor in Copeland has an eye on a labour market problem that YouTube is not attempting to solve. The construction industry in the US is struggling to find enough people to hire and there are plenty of underemployed folks out there. The packaging of well crafted video tutorials into a simple and well produced experience, with a certification as a proof point, might become something enduring. Those tutorials are presented by verified, seasoned professionals with a provenance intended to match the price point. They also use professional and work related (dry?) language in titling that YouTubers tend to avoid for fear of the algorithm.

This is a different commercial logic than that which has raised Masterclass, another investment, to a reported $2.5 billion valuation. (I know. Really?). In that instance, the marriage of Hollywood production values with high profile global talent as course leaders has fuelled growth. Maybe I need to get out more, but I have yet to see much of either of these in standard learning services.

None of these points shatter the earth with their insight. There is something interesting though about which projects attract investors and what those investors are looking for. There is a commercial story to tell – a market logic. That logic can be tested pretty quickly before too much more is built. The c$7 million Copeland has raised is built on those tests and the value they point to beyond construction as a sector. Why not other sectors with the same approach?

So, the vision is there too. The scalability challenge can be satisfied via the Masterclass experience, probably at significant lower production budgets. I assume that the typical questions of leadership credibility and technology suitability were well answered in exchange for that investment. YouTube has been studied closely to understand the important differences – I wonder whether they also tested content there in development. This would have helped solidify the real differentiator in design and user experience.

It might not make sense to apply these checks and balances to all of our products for learning, but there are times when the thought experiment might be useful. It might also help us answer that YouTube substitution question that we should always be asking ourselves.

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