YouTube is often hailed as a hub of inanity, teeming with videos of cats, cartoons and Chris Crocker. For many of us it’s a useful medium for listening to music or podcasts while working, or a way to wind down afterwards, but for others it can be a harmful distraction when deadlines are due. YouTube isn’t home only to the lowest forms of entertainment, however, and this week marks the School of YouTube Week, where video producers from around the world got together to make entertaining yet educational content to promote learning and support Comic Relief. Learning on YouTube shouldn’t have to be confined to just a single week, though, and to reflect this I’ve complied a list of some of my favourite YouTube channels that I think serve as both an entertaining distraction and an educational platform.
The Slow Mo Guys do pretty much what their name implies, that is making slow motion videos of basically anything that interests them. Their videos speak to a very basic curiosity I think we all have about the world, and their down to earth and humorous presentation style is really approachable. Gavin Free, the show’s co-host and creator, is a slow motion cinematographer with such films as Hot Fuzz and Dredd on his resumé, and what I find the most interesting about their videos is the rare moment where they explain a little bit about the slow motion capture process itself.
2. Crash Course
Started by VlogBrothers Hank and John Green, Crash Course presents educational courses covering a range of topics, including History, Biology, Psychology and Literature. Like the channel suggests in its title all of the information contained in each video is relatively basic, but in spite of this it’s a great way to introduce yourself to a topic you might not know much about in a relatively short space of time.
Periodic Videos, produced by Brady Haran and the University of Nottingham, focuses on the chemistry of the period table of elements (hence the name). The series has a video for every element in the periodic table, which is phenomenal, and many elements have more than one. Professor Martyn Poliakoff’s explanations remind me of my days in secondary-school chemistry class… but in a good way. Overall Periodic Videos makes for a fascinating and educational series, presenting relatively advanced chemistry in a way that’s easy for non-chemists to appreciate.
Supported by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, Numberphile is another channel with videos by Brady Haran, this time for the more mathematically-minded viewer. Whether you’re an aspiring mathematician or just interested in numbers, Numberphile presents mathematical concepts and philosophies in easily digestible formats, helping even those with little experience in mathematics wrap their heads around some of the complicated ideas that arise from the field.
Produced by Hank Green (of Vlogbrothers and Crash Course) SciShow focuses more on the sciency things in life, from answering quick questions asked by YouTube commenters to sitting down and talking with experts about a particular subject. SciShow often focuses on recent events and seeks to explain things that are currently in the headlines from a more scientific standpoint, helping bring scientific ideas to a place where they are more relatable to the viewer.
Derek Muller first started the channel Veritasium with the aim of promoting scientific facts and debunking common misconceptions, wanting to work his way up from the simplest concepts in science to the more complex ones, using the previous videos as a building block for later ones. Somewhere along the line, though, he got distracted and now he makes videos on things he finds interesting, ultimately making for a fun and tangential approach to science education.
Like many other channels in this list, Vsauce presents scientific material in an understandable and entertaining way. Rather than focusing on the explanation, however, Michael Stevens, who presents the channel’s videos, poses interesting philosophical ideas based on scientific facts and phenomena. Watching a video of Vsauce may not teach you anything new, but it will almost certainly change the way you think about something you already know.
The Tommy Edison Experience is unlike any other YouTube channel I’ve come across. Directed and Edited by Ben Churchill, it focuses on the daily life of Tommy Edison who has been blind since birth. In the videos Tommy tries to explain his experience as best he can, taking challenges and answering questions from YouTubers about what it’s like being blind. Tommy’s sense of humour and charisma make each and every video highly entertaining, while also providing a fascinating insight into a way to experience the world that’s completely alien to most of us.