Matthew Lindfield Seager

Netflix in the Classroom... kind of

Netflix in the Classroom… kind of

According to its terms of use, Netflix can’t be used in a classroom, it’s only for personal use. However, I recently learned there are certain Netflix documentaries that Netflix grants special permissions to allow educational streamings (e.g. Take Your Pills).

That sounds fantastic but it doesn’t seem like Netflix have actually thought about the intended audience for this as the user experience to identify these documentaries is awful.

If you’re a teacher, here are the steps to find out which documentaries are available:

  1. Navigate to a section of the PR site to see Netflix originals (as far as I know, only originals are eligible for these special permissions)
  2. Click on ‘All Alphabetical’ to get the full list
  3. We only want documentaries so click on the ‘Category’ heading to group the titles by category
  4. It defaults to sorting the categories reverse alphabetically so click on the ‘Category’ heading again to sort alphabetically (this moves the documentaries closer to the top and means we don’t have to click through 45 pages of films, series & stand-up comedy, just one or two pages of Anime)
  5. Scroll to the bottom, looking for documentaries. If there are none click ‘Next’
  6. Repeat step 5 until you’re past the ‘Anime Series’ category. Click/tap on the first documentary to open it up (note that the site seems to be using some sort of custom Javascript click detection so you can’t do normal web browser behaviour, like open the link in a new window. This will become a problem later)
  7. Check if the documentaty permits education screenings. If so, copy the URL (e.g. https://media.netflix.com/en/only-on-netflix/78922) somewhere for posterity… you’ll need it later to prove you’re allowed to screen the title
  8. Click/tap back in your browser to go to the listing page. Notice that when you go back the page number stays the same but the page reloads, losing your scroll position and sorting preferences
  9. Click the ‘Category’ heading to group by category, reverse-alphabetically (see also point 3 above)
  10. Click the ‘Category’ heading again to group by category, alphabetically (see also point 4 above)
  11. Find the next documentary (you’ll have to manually remember what you’re up to… they’re non-standard links so, unlike a standard web page, you don’t get any indication which links you’ve already clicked on) and click/tap on it to open it up
  12. Repeat steps 7-11 for the other 132 titles (and growing).

On a brand new laptop with no distractions and an uncontested 100Mbps Internet connection (three things I wouldn’t count on teachers in most schools having) I was able to check three documentaries in just under a minute, not including the time to save the URL if it was one of the small percentage that are permitted for educational use (nor the time to navigate to the next page when you finish one).

All up that’s going to be 40+ painful minutes of clicking and navigating for a list of about 25 education permitted documentaries (extrapolating from a fairly small sample).

A far better experience would be if the list view contained a little icon of some sort (a mortaboard hat icon perhaps) indicating which documentaries permit education screenings.

Standard HTML links (that allow opening links in a new tab and seeing which links have already been visited) would also be a huge improvement.


I contacted Netflix PR (the part of the organisation that hosts the “Only on Netflix” portion of the site) over a week ago and asked them for more information about the titles available under this service and whether they were aware of the usability and accessibility issues but I didn’t receive even an automated reply. I will update this post if they get back to me.