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Reviewed April 2016

Reviewed April 2016
Lindsey Gumb, Instructional Technology Librarian
Roger Williams University

Who invented the Internet? Is nuclear energy good or bad? Why is the earth warm and the moon cold? Kurzgesagt, a Germany-based YouTube channel and design studio, attempts to provide answers to questions like these through short, engaging educational videos. Kurzgesagt, translated as "in a nutshell," has been producing and uploading these animated videos in both English and German since 2014, with a focus in the STEM fields, but more recently Kurzgesagt has begun to address societal and humanitarian issues as well. The company's founder, Philipp Dettmer, believes that "all information can be presented in a way that everyone understands...regardless of [the viewer's] prior knowledge," and in a world of information overload, this concept is especially alluring. After watching several of the videos, it is clear that Kurzgesagt uses solid information design concepts to develop these tutorials, presenting information not only in an attractive manner, but also an effective one. With nearly 2 million subscribers and at least one of its videos boasting 9 million views, this YouTube channel is steadily gaining popularity.kurzgesagt 2

Users can access the videos either on YouTube or the Kurzgesagt website, however, the YouTube channel seems to provide better topical organization and access to the complete set of videos. The Kurzgesagt website is colorful and fun, but at times misleading. At least three of the central homepage icons are labeled as videos, when in fact click-through reveals not videos but illustrations and video stills that, while visually engaging, lack captions to identify what is depicted. Unless the user is familiar with the topic, these images are not useful without corresponding metadata. Users can avoid this frustration by going directly to the YouTube channel, which contains only videos. 

The company uses Adobe After Effects and Illustrator to produce, on average, one video per month, and seeks user opinions via an open YouTube comment forum to determine topics of interest for new content creation. Videos all have closed captions in at least English and German, and thanks to solicited volunteer contributions, many have translations in several other languages. Additionally, because the videos are hosted on YouTube, they can be accessed on multiple operating systems and devices, and unless Kurzgesagt deliberately removes them, they should be accessible indefinitely. While it is true that YouTube videos lack opportunities for interactive user engagement and assessment, videos on the Kurzgesagt channel display related linked content at the end credits for users who may be interested in learning about similar topics.

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The aesthetics and production of the videos is indisputably professional and engaging, however, it is important to point out flaws in the actual information being disseminated. The scripts do not appear to be based on scholarly research, nor even on entirely reputable sources. For example, the video detailing the European Refugee Crisis lists as sources not one but two Wikipedia pages, a handful of news sites, and a Wordpress blog that does not provide the author's credentials. This particular clip also contains emotive language, which seems out of place in the context of an educational video. Kurzgesagt's tutorials are developed specifically for users with no prior knowledge of the topic on view, and when "you don't know what you don't know," the information presented becomes questionable if the sources are weak and the language is loaded. This lack of credible supporting research is problematic for an educational project aimed at creating tutorials for the novice.

As the academic community slowly but surely embraces the OER (Open Educational Resource) movement, Kurzgesagt has the potential to become an acclaimed addition to classrooms both globally and at all education levels. However, the company will need first to partner with experts and scholars in the fields represented by the videos to render Kurzgesagt's intellectual content as solid as the visual content.

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