Survey Research on Motivational Elements of YouTube:

Age and Education Matter



Grace Lin

Department of Educational Technology

University of Hawaii


Georgette M. Michko

Educational Technology and University Outreach

University of Houston


Curtis J. Bonk

Professor, Department of Instructional Systems Technology

Indiana University, Bloomington


Alex J. Bonk

Sociology Department

Indiana University, Bloomington


Ya-Ting Teng

Department of Human Resource Education

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign




YouTube has become one of the top attractions on the Web and in life in general. This study explores issues of why people create, comment on, share, and watch shared online video such as YouTube. In this survey study, 1008 respondents were sent to one of 60 surveys with embedded YouTube videos representing some of the most popular videos. Our study revealed those under age 35 create YouTube videos because they are bored, whereas those older than 35 tend to do so to experiment, share knowledge, teach a class, or globally enhance the world. Those with master’s degrees or higher tend to watch YouTube videos to obtain knowledge, while those with less education do so for fun or are bored.




YouTube, a popular video-sharing site with a fast growing stock of videos and ever increasing users, showcases one example of the adoption of Web 2.0 technologies that allow sharing, commenting and networking based on user-generated content. Many higher education institutions, such as the University of California at Berkeley, Vanderbilt, and Stanford, have also started to tap into this popular resource by putting class lectures online. In this survey research, we explore the demographics of YouTube users, as well why they may watch or create videos for education. In addition, we explore design elements for a successful video.


YouTube was created in February 2005 by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim to share videos with their friends. Employees of Paypal at the time, the three 20-somethings built a site that was bought by Google in 2006 (Google, 2006) and quickly named “invention of the year” (Grossman, 2006). Nearly 20 million people now visit the site monthly, with approximately 100 million videos viewed daily, and about 65,000 videos uploaded daily.


YouTube is one of the fastest growing websites in terms of visitors, easily beating the competition, including Yahoo! MSN, MySpace, and Google Video (USA Today, 2006). According to a March 2008 report by comScore, YouTube accounted for one-third of the video sharing market in the USA (Lipsman, 2008). The popularity of YouTube is understandable due to relatively inexpensive video cameras and software, the advent and popularity of virtual communities, and the desire for sharing user-generated, unfiltered content. A new report from hitWise, published in April 2008, indicated a slight upward shift in the age of YouTube users, changing from predominantly younger users (age 18-24, 30%) to a much more even distribution across all age groups (Dougherty, 2008).


Educational Use of YouTube


Also called the Read-Write Web, Web 2.0 has changed the teaching and learning landscape by empowering learners to generate ideas and comments online, rather than simply reading or browsing someone else’s materials (Downes, 2005). Instead of passive consumption-based learning, we are living in a participatory age where learners have a voice and potentially some degree of ownership over their own learning (Brown, & Adler, 2008). At the start of the twenty-first century, emerging technologies, such as online photo albums, blogs, wikis, podcasts, online videos, massive multiplayer online games, and virtual worlds, are generating waves of new opportunities in higher education, K-12 schools, corporate training, and other learning environments.


Gomes (2006) reported that people spent the equivalent of 9,305 years on YouTube between its inception and August 2006. While the news media often highlight the use of YouTube for entertainment, politics, and self-promotion, an increasing number of educational, informational, and technological videos are posted to the site. Such videos might be incorporated into face-to-face class instruction, as well as into supplemental activities outside class (Bonk, 2008; Downes, 2008). In addition, students might be assigned to create a YouTube video as a class project. Shared educational videos have already created YouTube “stars”, such as Karl Fisch, a director of technology at a Colorado high school, who gained fame for his YouTube video, “did you know?” It was quickly re-mixed into numerous versions, translated into multiple languages, and shared around the globe. In addition, a popular series of humorous educational videos made by CommonCraft explains current technologies in plain English (such as wiki, blog, social bookmarketing, and flicker). In the fall of 2007, Pitzer College Media Studies Professor Alexandra Juhasz taught an entire class about YouTube using nothing but YouTube tools (Inside Higher Education, 2007). She faced many challenges including tracking down hard-to-find videos, a 500-character limitation on feedback, and extensive public attention (Juhasz, 2007).


Given the educational potential of YouTube videos, this study explores motivational and participatory learning aspects, asking to what extent users share, watch, create, comment on, and subscribe to YouTube videos.




Using an online survey tool called SurveyShare, survey participants were randomly assigned to one of 60 video surveys where they answered a total of 41 questions anonymously, including demographic and general questions about YouTube videos. In the middle of the survey, they watched one of 60 randomly selected YouTube videos. Each of the 60 YouTube videos was selected based on its popularity, content, length, and overall appropriateness for the study. After the participant watched the video, he or she responded to more questions about that particular video, as well as to more general questions about emerging technologies, and the impact such online videos might have on education and training.


An assortment of techniques was employed to solicit survey respondents (e.g., Google ad words, iPods drawings, blogs, online newsletter announcements, and free membership in the survey tool). Data was analyzed using SPSS 16. Survey responses on demographic items were grouped into categories for statistical analysis and to enable comparisons with previous studies. For age, the categories were “35 and under” and “over 35.” For education, the categories were “four years of college or less” and “masters and doctorates.” The Pearson’s chi-square test was used to determine statistical significance between categories.




The 1,008 survey participants consisted of 54% females and 46% males from 27 different countries, with 57% from the USA. Participants represented all age and education groups, but were mostly older and more educated, with 61% over 35, and 60% with masters or doctorate degrees. Approximately 31% of all respondents reported being either faculty or students. When asked how often they watch YouTube videos, 33% indicated that they watch less than one video per week, while another 34% watch one to three videos per week. Only 12% watch one or more videos per day. Fifty-nine percent of participants indicated that they are most likely to watch videos between 6 pm and midnight, and another 20% prefer to watch between noon and 6 pm. Types of videos most interesting to participants included comedy 31%, followed by education 24%, arts and entertainment  21%, news 13.6%, computers and technology 6%, and sports 3%. Regarding tool usage and social aspects of YouTube, 77% of participants reported sharing a YouTube video with a friend, and 46% have saved a YouTube video to their favorites. However, other social tools were not used as extensively, with only 30% ever commenting on a video, 22% ever posting a video response, 18% ever creating a video, 17% ever subscribing to a channel, and only 6% ever flagging a video as inappropriate. The ideal length for a YouTube video was identified as one to four minutes for 64%, and four to seven minutes for 24%. When asked how important YouTube videos are in training and education, only 10% identified them as important right now, with 33% indicating they will be important in five years. Similarly, only 21% regarded Web 2.0 technologies as important in training and education today, but almost half (49%) thought they will be important in five years.


Reasons cited for watching YouTube videos ranged from entertainment (71%) and fun (58%), to a need for knowledge (52%), personal or professional research (43%), sharing knowledge (34%), learning about other people and cultures (34%), and class requirements (15%). Based on education, eight statistically significant differences for watching were identified. Those with masters and doctorates selected the following reasons for watching more often: need for knowledge, 56% as compared to 46% of those with less education (p<0.01); recommendations from others, 53% to 46% (p<0.05); personal or professional research, 49% as to 33% (p<0.001); the potential of online video, 32% to 21% (p<0.001); and experimentation, 32% to 23% (p<0.01). Those with less education selected these reasons more often: fun, 62% as compared to 55% (p<0.05); boredom, 27% to 17% (p<0.001); and viewing favorite videos, 26% to 16% (p<0.001). Based on age, 10 statistically significant differences for watching were identified. Those over 35 selected the following reasons more often: need to know, 56% as compared to 46% (p<0.01); recommendation of others, 53% to 45% (p<0.05); personal or professional research, 48% to 35% (p<0.001); controversial topic, 32% to 24% (p<0.01); and experimentation, 33% to 21% (p<0.01). Those 35 and under selected these reasons more often: fun, 66% as compared to 53% for those over 35 (p<0.001); relaxation, 44% to 36% (p<0.05); boredom, 34% to 13% (p<0.001); watching favorite videos, 24% to 17% (p<0.05); and class requirements, 23% to 10% (p<0.001).


Although only 18% reported actually creating a YouTube video, participants identified reasons for creating YouTube videos, ranging from experimentation (50%) and fun (50%), to sharing knowledge (44%), sharing information (38%), educating a small class (32%), making a global contribution (26%), educating the people of the planet (23%), and class requirements (15%). Based on education, 10 statistically significant differences were identified. Those with masters and doctorates selected the following reasons more often: experimentation, 55% as compared to 42% of those with less education (p<0.001);  sharing knowledge, 48% to 37% (p<0.01); sharing information, 41% to 33% (p<0.05); personal or professional research, 41% to 19% (p<0.001); educating a small class, 39% to 20% (p<0.001); the potential of online videos, 34% to 21% (p<0.001); making a global contribution, 29% to 22% (p<0.05); educating the people of the planet, 27% to 16% (p<0.001); and building their resumes, 14% to 8%  (p<0.05). Only one statistically significant difference was selected more often by those with less education, namely, boredom, 12% as compared to 8% of those with masters or doctorates (p<0.05). Based on age, 12 statistically significant differences for creating videos were identified. Those over 35 selected the following reasons more often: experimentation, 54% as compared to 43% (p<0.01); sharing knowledge, 47% to 39% (p<0.05); personal or professional research, 35% to 27% (p<0.05); educating a small class, 36% to 25%, (p<0.01); making a global contribution, 28% to 22% (p<0.05); and educating the people of the planet, 25% to 18% (p<0.05). Those 35 and under selected these reasons more often: fun, 59% as compared to 43% for those over 35 (p<0.001); class requirements, 23% to 10% (p<0.001); impressing others, 20% to 9% (p<0.001); boredom, 14% to 6% (p<0.001); love anything Google builds or owns, 9% to 5% (p<0.05); and seeking fame, 9% to 5 % (p<0.05).




Self selection resulted in an older and more educated group of participants who may have completed the survey because they are better able to appreciate the importance of such research, and who may have been more likely to be attracted by the offer of a free survey tool. Although participants in this survey may not be representative of a typical YouTube user, this older, more educated group appears to be using YouTube for educational purposes.


The fact that 60% of respondents identify the 6 pm to midnight time frame as the time when they are most likely to watch YouTube videos suggests that viewing YouTube videos is not done during the working day, but is rather an after-hours pursuit or a hobby or perhaps a class assignment. But, only 15 percent report they watch YouTube videos for class assignments. This viewing pattern coincides with reasons given for watching YouTube videos, including entertainment, fun, and relaxation. About a third of respondents watch less than one video per week, while another third watch one to three videos per week, and only 12% watch more than one per day. This again suggests a hobby or a diversion rather than a passionate pursuit for the majority of respondents. Education and age seem to be factors influencing motivation to watch and create videos.


A plethora of implications for educators can be derived from this study. First, educators might select short one to four minute videos for class presentations, with a maximum of seven minutes. Such videos can help anchor lecture material and other content. Second, these videos should be informative, interesting, and original. Instructors, therefore, might include activities where students select the videos to be watched to start or end each class (Bonk, 2008). Such a technique also empowers students and brings in personally meaningful and free resources to the classroom. Third, instructors might assign students to create a YouTube video, allowing them to be more creative and to participate in their own learning.



Bonk, C. J. (2008, March). YouTube anchors and enders: The use of shared online video content as a macrocontext for learning. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) 2008 Annual Meeting, New York, NY.


Brown, J. S., & Adler, R. P. (2008, January/February). Minds on fire: Open education, the long tail, and learning 2.0. EDUCAUSE Review, 43(1), 16-32. Retrieved February 23, 2008, from


Dougherty, H. (2008). Search & social networks neck & neck for video referrals. hitWise. Retrieved July 28, 2008, from


Downes, S. (2005, October). E-learning 2.0.  E-Learn Magazine. Retrieved October 26, 2006, from


Downes, S. (2008). Places to go: YouTube. Innovate: Journal of Online Education. Retrieved June 8, 2008, from


Google (2006). Google to acquire YouTube for $1.65 billion in stock. Retrieved July 28, 2008, from


Gomes, L. (2006). Will all of us get our 15 minutes on a YouTube video? Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 28, 2008, from


Grossman, L (2006). Best invocations 2006. Times Magazine. Retrieved from on July 28, 2008.


Inside Higher Education (2007). YouTube Studies. Inside Higher Education. Retrieved July 28, 2008, from


Juhasz, A. (2007). Learning from YouTube. Retrieved July 28, 2008, from


Lipsman, A. (2008). accounted for 1 out of every 3 U.S. online videos Viewed in January. comScore. Retrieved July 28, 2008, from


USA Today (2006). YouTube serves up 100 million videos a day online. USA Today. Retrieved July 28, 2008, from