Learning from YouTube: literacy & videracy

A friend of mine at work has a teen aged son who is musically gifted. He likes to play the piano, but he can’t read music. His preferred way of learning a new piece is to watch somebody else play it and copy what they do. You might think this is limiting, but you’re forgetting about YouTube. Name a tune, and you can find a video that will show you exactly how to play it. Just take the name of the song, append “piano lesson,” enter it into the YouTube search box, and off you go. Let’s pick Harold Arlen’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

So: somewhere over the rainbow piano lesson

The results turn up some easy-peasy lessons and some that are quite advanced. Look at this one.

Here’s the thing. There’s a bottomless supply of friendly people who want to teach you, for free, how to do anything. You just hadn’t realize it yet.

Here’s another example. I like to fold origami paper models, so I was pleased to find a site with videos: PEM | Origami. Ordinarily you learn to fold origami by reading instructional books. But explaining how to make three dimensional models from flat sheets of paper is complicated. You have to learn a new paper-folding diagrammatic language just to follow the book. This extra learning overshoots the need. Watching someone fold, on the other hand, is a natural way to learn. Try it! From this point of view, the book-based approach requires excess mental effort that can now be freed up for something else.

ReadWriteWeb has a good piece on this topic: Is YouTube the Next Google?. It tells the story of a boy who “never Googled anything; he never went to any other site; his entire web experience was confined to YouTube videos.” There’s more of that to come.

This trend is a marvelous gift for all the clever dyslexics out there, people who have been at a severe disadvantage since the dawn of widespread literacy. The cheap resource used to be text. Hiring personal tutors for miscellaneous instruction was prohibitively expensive. But what if the cheap resource, relatively speaking, becomes video? We may see a new class of disability: dysvidia, or the inability to learn from video demonstration. “What’s wrong with little Randy? He just won’t watch enough TV!

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