Learning From YouTube

We all know how to wire a plug, right?

Twenty-five years ago, it was common for many small electrical appliances to be sold without a plug. As such, wiring one used to be one of the first pieces of basic DIY most people learnt. Unfortunately for the Internet generation this may no longer be the case, but then that’s what YouTube is for, isn’t it?

The Google-owned video-sharing site is fast becoming the principal way that the world consumes moving media, largely driven by music videos, en-vogue vloggers and, of course, general meandering.

Surprisingly no-one has yet to coin a good phrase for the phenomenon of getting lost in a loop of videos and sidebar suggestions, but we all know it happens. Indeed, it’s very easy to take all this free content for granted. But while we can all lose hours of our day this way to trivial watching, are we missing something that is actually a really valuable source of education?

Pre-Internet, knowledge was either gained through school education, acquired passively in the real world, or learnt through books and controlled media. Nowadays, (largely) anyone is free to post whatever content they desire to the web, leading to an enormous wealth of shared knowledge – information that can be readily accessed at any time.

So back to the plug. You may well have learnt to wire one in school, a friend showed you how, or are even still yet to know. If you needed to find the information though, where would you turn? Almost certainly the Internet. And rightly so. Within minutes you could copy someone else’s instructions and complete the task. But would you really be learning?

Think back to your school days. In your chemistry lessons did your teacher just tell you to remember that combining hydrogen and oxygen makes water, or your physics professor just show you that magnets either repel or attract one another? No, they taught you why these things happen.

Often the key to education is understanding the method as much as producing an end result. Anyone can be a good cook; simply accurately following a recipe is enough. But truly understanding the ingredients and using them to their full potential – that’s when you become a chef.

The same is true of basic tasks, and the plug is the perfect example. Even if you do know how to wire one, do you understand why each component part is structured as it is? Do you realise, for example, the difference between socket types in various countries?

Science and ideas are fast becoming the new Rock ‘n’ Roll, just ask Professor Brian Cox. We now live in a world where information is king, and everything from tradesmen to religious movements are suffering. The tools to educate yourself are right in front of you, and so easy to use that the average individual can have a far broader knowledge of basic ideas than ever before.

As for the plug, I found the answer (of course) on YouTube. A video with the title “British Plugs Are Better Than All Other Plugs, And Here’s Why” immediately drew my attention. It’s great – a short, informative four minute piece on the science behind a UK plug.

But here’s the thing. It’s had nearly 1 million views. Just think about that. One million. Some TV shows – in fact most TV shows – could only dream of that audience. And that’s the beauty of YouTube. Instead of largely corporate-driven media, we now have a platform for user-generated content for the masses.

At the moment we take it for granted, but it may not last forever. The world revolves around finance and monetisation is a real issue. But while it’s there, make the most of it and educate yourself to the maximum. Never has learning been so easy.