As I get ready to walk at my college graduation next week, I have more gratitude for one thing above all: YouTube. YouTube was my go to while doing homework, prepping for exams or just when I needed to refresh what a term meant.
It’s also the first place I go when I want to learn about a subject I don’t know a lot about. Time and again, YouTube has helped me understand concepts, offering numerous different explanations till I found one that clicked.
Sometime in high school, my Economics teacher introduced Keynesian economics to us with this video:
The video is a fun dramatization of the opposing philosophies of economists John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek, via rap battle. Before watching it, I didn’t know anything about either economist. Five years later and one Bachelor’s degree in Economics later, I continue to associate Keynes and Hayek with this video.
In my experience, YouTube’s biggest benefit is that it offers something to students with many different learning styles. Many students learn much better with visual aids, and animation can add significantly to that. Many students also prefer to learn at their own pace, and YouTube allows them to pause and return to the same video a number of times. I have had professors who I loved and who spent many hours helping me over email and office hours, but their in-class explanations just did not suit my learning style. Here, YouTube was able to bridge the gap.
Khan Academy is one of the most popular YouTube channels for education, and has evolved into a fully fledged independent platform and non profit organization. Sal Khan, the organization’s founder, started out making YouTube videos to tutor his cousins while working at a hedge fund. Sal has since educated millions of people around the world on a huge range of subjects. This video about Krebs cycle from 2009 is the channel’s most popular explainer video, with more than 2.8 million views:
For students who don’t have access to good teachers or certain subjects, YouTube, and other video based educational platforms serve as a crucial resource, providing access to something that these students would not otherwise have. Many institutions like MIT have entire courses from their departments online, making them available to students all over the world.
I’m not suggesting we replace educators with YouTube or have to choose between the two. I’m suggesting that educators and YouTube together can be exponentially more effective than either alone. There are many professors that effectively use YouTube, put up their own videos or recommend videos to students. There has been a recent rise in experimenting with the “flipped classroom” model, a model where students view video lectures at home before class and use in-class time to go through problem sets or have discussions. Especially for introductory classes like Intro to Calculus or Intro to Economics, the flipped-classroom model or some variation of it can be extremely effective while being significantly more efficient.
“Using video is a great way to introduce a provocation, use as a transition, or give students a resource they can rewind and watch at their own pace,” said James Earle, an educator and a Youtuber himself. The Keynes v Hayek rap battle I watched in 11th grade served as a great provocation, it introduced a complex subject without being intimidating. It was memorable and entertaining and I continue to return to it 5 years later.
There’s a reason I went to college instead of watching YouTube all the time. Professors can provide mentorship, insight, help answer questions and guide students in a way that the internet rarely can. What worked well for me was using YouTube as a learning aid in addition to my classes, and more often than not it was much more helpful in learning individual concepts. What my professors were able to do was contextualize what I learned, linking it to other concepts, talk about how it fits into the larger perspective of the class and the field and teaching me why I was learning what I was learning.
The best classes I took were not the ones where I found the professor unhelpful and solely used YouTube to learn everything or the ones where the only way I could find any information on the subject was from the professor. The best classes for me were the ones where my professors effectively used or encouraged us to use resources from YouTube and other sites and spent the valuable time during lectures sharing their unique perspective and expertise with the class.
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