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Free online videos are revolutionizing online education

YouTube star Hank Green explains how videos help teach the public.

Todd Goodrich/University of Montana

Knowledge has always been power, and access to it was once very tightly controlled.

Thankfully, we now live in a world where most people accept that, while not all goods and services should be equally distributed, it would be best if education were. Higher levels of education mean happier, healthier people working together to solve bigger and harder problems. And we’ve got a lot of big, hard problems to solve.

The steps that were first taken by the public education system are being expanded upon by the Internet, which puts access to all of the world’s information in your literal pocket. The problem has gone from having not enough information to having too much. It's important to figure out what information is legitimate, and how to build not just knowledge, but systems for understanding the world.

What does education mean when my phone will always be better at knowing when WWI ended than I will?

Students and teachers struggled with this at first, but now they are thriving with it. High quality, information-dense but enjoyable and understandable YouTube videos are providing tools for students and teachers inside and outside the classroom. Vi Hart focuses on fascinating and surprising aspects of mathematics while Minute Physics explores mind-bending topics like quantum mechanics and gravity in ways that anyone can understand. Brady Haran, who was working for the BBC when YouTube became his full time job has created several channels exploring chemistry, math, and computer science. CGP Grey’s videos distill complicated and often hugely misunderstood concepts.

There are even channels tackling topics that are likely better taught outside of the social pressures of secondary school like sex education that I think could have a hugely positive impact on the next generation.

My brother and I began making YouTube videos because it was a weird and fun hobby, but now most of our videos are educational. On SciShow we discuss exciting discoveries in science today and in the past, with a focus on their impacts on our lives. Our channel Crash Course focuses on the needs of students and teachers in the US, teaching everything from World History to Ecology in a structured, course-like format for free.

Every school day I get dozens of tweets, Snapchats, e-mails and Facebook messages from students and teachers telling me how our work is being used in schools across America and the whole world. This world of infinite information is empowering, but also occasionally overwhelming. The tools to learn and thrive in this world are still adapting, but I’m so thrilled that YouTube has become such a powerful tool for education.


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