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The YouTube University




My wife is sold on YouTube videos posted by soft-voiced young girls gushing with enthusiasm, giving gratuitous advice on solving household problems. How to clean recalcitrant deposits on cooking vessels, how to remove that spot from an expensive silk sari, how to make that special fish preparation and a hundred others. The girls have perfected a style of earnest exhortation, with characteristic North Kerala lilt, repeating steps again and again. They also beseech you to like and subscribe to the channel. I was amazed to find that subscribers of some of these channels run into lakhs.

I am also an ardent fan of YouTube university. Recently, on finding that the instructions that came with my Xiaomi Wi-Fi booster were in Chinese, I instinctively looked for an answer on how to activate the device on YouTube. A search revealed more than 100 results, short YouTube videos by whiz kids explaining how to solve the problem. Curiosity drove me further to search for exotic knowledge like ‘String Theory’ and ‘Aryan Migration’ theories. YouTube was ready with content for these as well. Experts like Michio Kaku were ready to explain what ‘String Theory’ was!

Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim, formerly working with PayPal conceived YouTube in 2005 to exhibit amateur videos. The “You” apparently implies that the content is user-generated, and “Tube” is taken from an older term for television. YouTube has metamorphosed into a site that showcases original video content. Google acquired YouTube in 2006. Since its beginning, YouTube has become one of the largest and most popular video distribution platforms on the Internet. Its monthly viewership exceeds 4 billion hours. Every minute, approximately 500 hours of video content are uploaded to YouTube.

In the digital age, imparting knowledge is no longer confined to lecture halls and textbooks. Videos are increasingly becoming a ubiquitous accompaniment to teaching, providing students with interactive content that makes learning more fun. Universities are looking at YouTube as a platform of increasing relevance. According to social video measurement platform, Tubular Labs (https://tubularlabs.com/) “Videos posted by the 20 universities with the highest-viewed content on the site were seen 60 million times. And it is a space which is flourishing: last year, viewership of educational content uploaded by experts has increased by 20%.”

The education content on YouTube is not only produced by students; academics and graduates are also chipping in. Simon Clark’s website (https://www.simonoxfphys.com/bio) is illustrative. A graduate of both Oxford and the University of Exeter, he uploads content with stress on physics to his subscribers who exceeds 200,000. His videos has the novelty of featuring on-screen citations, like in academic papers and quite often, go deep into the content.

Eight million children around the world are on YouTube every week. Uma Rudd Chia blogs in the ‘Medium’ (https://medium.com/@uma.tan/about) that “All it needs is a more structured education model that allows for unstructured learning to be accredited. YouTube and its very organic and intuitive method of teaching our children, can become an actual accredited University.”

Chris Stokel-Walker writing in ’The Guardian (2 Dec 2019) says that: “YouTube has heavily promoted its educational content, and last year announced £15m worth of investment in grants for creators providing high-quality output.” YouTube presents a unique style of learning style that allows children to progress at their own pace. They can choose the topics they love and the learning methods and teachers who appeal most to them. Because of this, the children’s loyalty will be never lost. Learning driven by the love of learning, they will transform their passion into purpose from an early age. The content can be complete, comprehensive, and enjoyable, as good as what an ideal university can provide. What is desirable is a model that transforms YouTube content into a formally designed curriculum that provides informal learning. YouTube-based education would then be highly effective and successful.

The YouTube content has set standards for the presentations. Each lesson is short and engaging. This enables children to remain focused and concentrated. YouTube videos as a basis for education is that unlike a common tendency of study groups, they are not distracting.

It is instructive to look at some of the educational YouTube channels which have acquired great prominence. Ted-Ed is an example. It covers a wide spectrum of content, from visual arts to mathematics. Videos are heavily animated, and the lessons are taught using interesting examples. Ted-Ed has more than 10 million subscribers with viewership exceeding 1.6 billion!

Khan Academy is announces on its website that it provides tutoring in subjects such as math, science, economics and computing . Just as in a real class, the teacher introduces the concept and develops it through examples. This channel is reported to have more than 5 million subscribers and close to 2 billion views. Big Think provides intellectually inspiring content from a large panel of, which include including famous authors and thinkers. To date, this channel has 3 million subscribers and a third of a million views.

YouTube content extends beyond classroom learning. National Geographic provides very high-quality videos to satisfy your passion for nature and the environment. The statistics are staggering with over 10 million subscribers and billions of views. MIT, the Mecca of advanced learning provides lessons gratis covering content from actual MIT curricula in a variety of fields in Engineering, Science, and Statistics. Howstuffworks helps over 6 Lakh viewers understand how things work: from the trivial to the exotic.

For older people accustomed to sitting in a classroom and learning from a teacher, these new learning experiences may appear exotic. For children, free from prior experience and bias, the exhilarating experience of receiving information in a wealth of choices and forms will certainly be enjoyable. This reality, characterized by a short attention span and promising instant gratification is all they know. So, it may be worthwhile for educators to think of developing a mixed media version of education, where teachers interpret what they, along with students see on YouTube videos.

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