Can YouTube Kill Traditional Education?

For all of the typical associations made with YouTube, rarely — at least I believe — would a person consider it a form of education, especially when you consider the huge assortment of videos ranging from useful and entertaining to mundane and, frankly, stupid. Like really, really stupid.

But then there are those useful videos, like tutorials, or speeches or how-to guides that really teach us something, whether that be an important life lesson or a simple procedure. Typically, they are short (under 10 minutes), to the point, and interesting- there is no better way to lose a viewer than to provide them with boring, uninteresting lectures on topics that are equally as uninteresting.

And yet, despite the increasing prominence of videos that can teach us a significant amount about just about any topic, the notion that YouTube is a form of education would still seem somewhat farfetched and blasphemous. Can we learn by viewing videos on YouTube? Certainly. But can we gain a true education through YouTube? The answer to that is a little more complicated.

What We Care About

On some level, it is true that the foundation for most educations begins with a wide variety of learning: math, English, art, science, history, etc, having a diverse wealth of knowledge is important in discovering the things that drive or motivate you to succeed.

But it seems that throughout higher education — particularly in liberal arts colleges — we’re often encouraged and sometimes forced to try new things. Whether that be revisiting math classes, taking a foreign language or taking a lab course, a lot of the time the classes we are enrolled in might not be relevant or even interesting to us. So instead of being compelled and active in classes, one might listen passively, or even nod off. After all, if they don’t really care about the material being presented, it’s difficult for anyone to force themselves to be truly interested.

But with YouTube, users can easily determine exactly what they want. They don’t have to sit through countless boring lectures by professors or teacher assistants if they don’t want to. With YouTube, we finally get to learn about what we actually care about.

Is This The Future of Education?

And as YouTube — and the Internet as a whole — becomes more and more an appropriate place to learn about a huge range of topics, we have to wonder: Is this the future of education? Instead of simply supplementing our own educations, could YouTube eventually replace it?

Websites like Academic Earth have already begun to argue that point with an emphatic yes! On Academic Earth, visitors can view lectures from top professors from such universities as Yale, MIT and Stanford. For free. Again, that’s F-R-E-E. No tuition or sign-up required.

And we have to wonder if this sort of a la carte style of learning might one day become the norm. Although education has changed with new technologies over the years, it really hasn’t changed that much. 

But with YouTube, and online video as a whole, it has the potential to change a lot more. Some day in the not too distant future, I could see YouTube being an excellent alternative to people that can’t easily afford the often insane tuition prices — $40,000+ — that colleges ask for in a given year. Except instead of being simply single videos from top professors, it might offer entire lecture series from them at extremely affordable prices. And maybe, just maybe, they might be free.