How (and Why) to Learn Something New on YouTube


Around the time I was taking Crash Course World History, I ran across John Green's TED Talk. Knowing from the course that John Green is at once both extremely intelligent and incredibly funny, I clicked the link and settled in. After a witty story about how the idea for Paper Towns came to be, he began to talk about how he fell in love with learning. He also talked about the idea of learning communities, and how, at a certain point in his life, he no longer had a learning community. After high school, college, and his former job, he was no longer surrounded by people who enjoyed learning, and who constantly sought out new knowledge. I think most of us have been there. Even if you haven't yet graduated high school, you've probably experienced that feeling, usually sometime around mid-July, of actually MISSING schoolwork. I'm with you. That feeling of coming home for the day, having learned something that you never knew before, or the feeling of accomplishment that comes with finishing a research paper (often only hours before it was due).

But then John talked about how he discovered YouTube. Believe it or not, under all the cat videos and makeup tutorials, there is a community of learners on YouTube. Several communities, in fact. While we all know that YouTube can be used to learn anything, from how to build and/or fix a car to how to give your hair more volume, only a select few use it to learn anything further than what we need to know in that exact moment. And while there's nothing wrong with that, I propose to you a challenge. My challenge to you is this: every day, for 10 days, watch an educational YouTube video. It doesn't really matter what it's about (although I recommend things you already have at least a passing interest in), but try it out. Because first of all, we all know that watching YouTube videos has a tendency to snowball (flash back to the time you accidentally stayed up until 2 am watching Jenna Marbles). Second of all, even if you have to drag yourself to do it, you'll still go to sleep each night having learned something that you never knew before. I personally recommend subscribing to channels that catch your fancy, so that their videos and other videos like them will be recommended to you on a regular basis. Like I said, a snowball effect.

And so, without further ado, I present to you a list of YouTube channels that I personally recommend for both entertainment and educational value:

  • The Big Think: the main thing you need to know is that Bill Nye is a regular contributor to this channel. If you try to tell me that you don't love Bill Nye with all of your secret 8th grader heart, I will know you to be a liar. But apart from that, The Big Think has videos about nearly everything you could possibly want to learn about, and so many more about things you never even imagined you wanted to know (aka The Science of Female Sexual Response, or Stopping Psychopaths in the Developmental Stage).
  • The Smithsonian Channel: if you ever had the good fortune to visit any of the Smithsonian Institute's many museums, particularly the ones in Washington, D.C., you will know that there is something there for everyone, and it is a paradise for the voracious learner. Most of the videos have to do with history, but get this: they have a whole series on Bao Bao the giant panda. I can't think of anything I'd rather do to unwind from my day than watch pandas derp about and be adorable.
  • Philosophy Tube: when you're in the mood to think about life's big questions (such as whether Mewtwo is a Marxist), or if you're interested in knowing how people of other cultures or religions view the world, this is the channel for you. They address philosophy and thought, but don't take themselves too seriously. I highly recommend their series Gentleman Thinker.
  • The School of Life: if you were (or are) the kid sitting in high school thinking, "ok, but how does this relate to ME?" then The School of Life is the channel for you. Answers to everything from Why is Work So Boring to How to Seduce Someone on a Date, all backed up with science and psychology.
  • It's Okay to Be Smart: Of course it is! These are mostly animated videos explaining scientific and historical phenomena. If you just finished Crash Course World History and you desperately need more fast-talking educational humor, start here.
  • In a Nutshell: more animation! This one is all science, but speaking as one who absolutely despised science in high school AND college, this channel is actually something that can keep my attention. Not to mention, something about the narrator's voice sort of makes me feel like I'm watching an extension of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

These are all the channels that I have to recommend for you today. However, if you don't see what you like here, rest assured, there are probably hundreds of channels out there that cater to your exact brand of curiousity. So get out there and find them! Learn something new today.

Think I missed one? Let me know what your favorite channels are in the comments below!