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Why Are so Many Tutorials so Bad?

It’s not an easy question to answer. There seems to be a lot of them. YouTube, Microsoft support, Udemy and so many others produce bad content sometimes. You want an answer, you spend your time searching for it, only to find that the answer is way too long, or it doesn’t contain the information you need. This is a challenge, and it has not been solved by simply browsing the internet.

Last year in 2020 I spent a lot of time working on a new set of hard skills. I wanted to learn Excel and it’s VLOOKUP formula. I practiced with it on my own, yet it didn’t seem to stick. I then went to the Microsoft Office support website. I found a guide it had available, but the article was two to three pages long. It had way too many details, and I had little patience to read it all. I instead turned to YouTube. Like Microsoft, their tutorials were also 20 minutes long for one formula, so I finally tried Udemy. This time the video was almost 30 minutes and I had to skip through it just to find the exact moment it was mentioned. It was no better because the explanation was once again way too long.

That leaves very few options to learn from. You can search endlessly on Google and try and visit websites until you find one that works. That’s a lot of people’s approach. This can be effective since sometimes you can find what you’re looking for: a short article. But the bigger problem is why are so many of them so long?

For most of us we want to go online and quickly learn how to do something. We don’t want to watch 30-minute videos in the middle of our workday on how a skill can be applied in every context (usually it’s just one). The Excel formula I wanted to use literally only returns the neighboring cells value. It could have been applied a hundred different ways, but I only needed it for one: my own small spreadsheet of data with two columns. The rest of the details were totally unrelated to my work.

So if there are others who can say they’ve been in my situation before-and I’m sure I’m not alone-why then do we have tutorials that are so needlessly long? One reason may be that the creator wants to reach a wider audience. This could be true since they want to attract users to buy their course, sign up for their newsletter or like their videos. But why not divide up a video into multiple parts so the average user doesn’t need to watch the rest of it? That would require more work for the creator but save time for the viewer. But that’s exactly what is needed: a short tutorial.

Yet what about the tutorials that are short yet still can’t explain the concept? Do they need to be longer? Not at all. I’d rather the video was just recreated so it can be explained again. Personally, I’d prefer a one-to-two-minute video explaining the concept with just a quick example. I do not need an intro clip that promotes your channel. That takes time away from learning. I also don’t even need to know your name or what you create in other videos. That takes time away to. Simply show me the skill, how you use it, then allow me to practice on my own. Most of us don’t want to be subscribers or patrons. We have zero interest in your other content.

Sadly, a lot of it takes too much time. I generally find that Microsoft help articles take me nearly 30 minutes to go through and YouTube is almost 15 minutes too long. Yes, I understand the author is trying to cast a wide net, but for some of us we don’t need it. Maybe I’m stuck on a spreadsheet at work and just need one formula or I’m working on a school assignment, and I only need to know how to use one button in Word. Why then do I need to sit through a half hour tutorial when more than likely it can be explained in two minutes or less? Unless you’re trying to learn a whole piece of software, it really doesn’t need a long tutorial. Only a quick one, and even then, just a short text guide may do. That way I don’t need to spend hours being instructed, but rather dedicate more time to actually doing. That’s how you learn.

Jerome John is a graduated of Crafton Hills College, the University of Redlands, and Western Governors University.