Growing up, my mother always told me: "You'll learn more from a journey of 10,000 miles than from reading 10,000 books." For years I thought it was a saying she had invented, a justification for taking me out of school for weeks at a time to satisfy her love of travel. I later realized she was quoting an old Chinese proverb that summed up the importance of gaining firsthand experience when learning about new ideas, new people and new cultures.
Of course, when it comes to learning in a classroom, firsthand experience isn't always a possibility. That's where video comes into play, giving teachers a way to transport students to an ancient land or recreate an otherwise dangerous science experiment. Videos can help break down difficult concepts while still capturing the imagination. Take Sal Khan, a gifted teacher and storyteller, and one of this year's most inspiring TED speakers. Sal has digested dense textbook material into deceptively simple (and dare I say it, funny) educational videos whose popularity has earned them nearly a hundred million views from students, young and old, around the world.
As well as bringing lessons to life, video has its own unique educational properties. It lends itself to self-paced, customized learning. There's no need to feel embarrassed if you don't understand a concept -- just rewind and replay until you do. It's not for nothing that Sal jokes that his first-ever students (his cousins) preferred him in video to real life.
The web has exploded the possibilities for video in education. It comes down to one important word -- access. It used to be that students only had access to whatever books or VHS tapes happened to be in the school library. Naturally, wealthier schools had better collections. However, when the world's greatest thinkers put their material on the web, top educational content is now available wherever there's an Internet connection -- whether it's located at a low-income school or an elite private academy. Since the inception of YouTube EDU in 2009, we've been featuring video from the world's leading educational institutions, including Harvard, Stanford and MIT, as well as organizations like Khan Academy and up-and-coming educational partners like Numberphile.
It's inspiring to see this theoretical notion of increased access play out in real-life. Khan Academy was the most-subscribed non-profit channel on YouTube in Algeria last month. And Tunisia. And Egypt. As Internet connectivity -- and YouTube access -- improves around the world, so too does access to an education that might have otherwise been out of reach. Some of the most inspiring stories we hear are from adults who never finished high school, but have since put themselves through college after learning from Khan Academy videos. One day soon, we'll live in a world where anyone with a mobile phone will be able to access the world's great thinkers, online.
While Sal's TEDTalk chronicles his amazing and unexpected Khan Academy journey to date, I'm most excited for what lies ahead, both in terms of enabling greater access to his videos, and finding more gifted individuals who, like Sal, can share their talents via YouTube, the world's first global classroom.
My hope for the next year is twofold. First, I hope more educators utilize the wealth of educational content available on the web. In response to teachers' calls for access to the vast array of educational videos on YouTube in their classrooms, we recently developed YouTube for Schools, a network setting that school administrators can turn on to grant access only to the content from YouTube EDU. The growing EDU corpus now contains more than half a million videos from 700 educational partners around the world, and features partners like Khan Academy, the Smithsonian, TED, Steve Spangler Science, and Numberphile.
Second, I'd love to see more people sharing their talents with us all. Like TED, we believe that amazing educators can come from all walks of life, whether from a Boston hedge fund like Sal or from a New York Opera house like Rachel Smith. If 2011 is the year the world discovered Sal Khan, let 2012 be the year we discover one hundred more just like him -- experts on every subject and topic sharing their knowledge with the global community. Next year on YouTube you'll see new educational channels from the likes of the Vlogbrothers, @radical.media and TED-ED that will further broaden the notion of what defines educational content. Be they smart, edgy, or just plain awe-inspiring, let's make educational videos go viral.
Just as YouTube serves as the world's archive of the human experience, so too can it serve as the world's biggest and most thrilling classroom. With YouTube as a hub of learning, we'll all have equal access to top thinkers, creators, artists and innovators, actively sharing content and ideas. So, in 2012 let us not only document touching moments from our lives and enjoy the latest music video on YouTube; let's also build a treasure trove of knowledge so we can truly use video to reinvent education.
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