Can Educational Videos Make the World a Better Place? Interview with Derek Muller

Brainfood, Learn, People

Can Educational Videos Make the World a Better Place? Interview with Derek Muller

I have always been fascinated by the concept of education and teaching, and am very curious to explore new ways to learn about the world and myself. One of the greatest challenges for traditional learning methods is to provide an instructive environment while also keeping the students’ attention and engagement in the topic.


In recent years, the Internet has provided us all with a vast array of alternatives and complements to traditional education, effectively giving a vast and often free teaching environment for us all. One of the most effective and entertaining forms of online learning is without a doubt the online video. Often hosted on sites such as YouTube, a number of channels have risen in the past 5 years providing their viewers with a healthy combination of knowledge and entertainment. Such channels are often classified as “edutainment” because of this. Since their invention some years past, many have been created, and today cover a huge spectrum of topics, ranging from Maths to Physics to History and Biology, and sometimes combining many education topics to provide even more interesting content.


Many channels feature likable hosts, short, to the point videos usually under 10 minutes long and easily understandable visual styles of narration to allow even inexperienced viewers to sink their teeth into the approached topics. Explainer videos are often enriched by cartoons and other immediately relatable stimuli that further help in the understanding of otherwise complex topics.


Personally, I am not very good at mathematics, but by watching Numberphile I usually feel one step closer to gain understanding of very complex theorems and proofs thanks to the short and accessible narration in their videos. The same thing can be said for history and astronomy in channels like CrashCourse, hosted by bestselling author John Green, or for Physics in MinutePhysics, a channel which, true to its name, offers explanations of many physical phenomena in very short but informative videos, featuring cartoons to be even more engaging. Then there are “general curiosity” channels like Vsauce and Veritasium, not focusing on a single subject but rather trying to raise interest and stimulate viewer curiosity for science and discoveries by giving glimpses into the ways the world works and trying to make you ask “but why?” in every video.

It has been proved in professional studies that this online video form is particularly effective in the teaching of complex topics to the masses, as it increases attention and interest, as well as improving the very approach to learning and teaching as a whole, and encouraging creative thinking and curiosity. Furthermore, don’t think you have to be a child or teen to be able to relate to the teaching method, since the topics are often presented in a way which is engaging to adults too.

These channels all offer a fast and easily accessible way to broaden your knowledge of the most varied topics, while giving an entertaining and relaxing platform to ask their questions in. They are appreciated by millions of viewers because of this. You should try them yourself before dismissing them as “just another lesson”. Trust me.

 To make things easier I have created, an aggregator that collects updates and new videos from some of the most interesting YouTube education channels and publish them as they are uploaded. This allows me to view all my favorite content in the same place, and I believe to encourage the diffusion of knowledge and the evolution of teaching methods.


To give another take on this topic, I have also interviewed Derek Muller, creator of Veritasium, asking him what his opinion on the subject is:


  1. Hi Derek, for those who don’t know, who is Derek Muller?   

Hi Daniel. Derek Muller is a Canadian-Australian science communicator, the creator of Veritasium, presenter for the Catalyst science show in Australia, and host of a new documentary on Uranium. He has a B.Sc. in Engineering Physics from Queen’s University and a PhD in Physics Education Research from the University of Sydney. He has taught at Matrix Education, a Sydney tutoring college, and lectured at the University of Technology Sydney and the University of Sydney

  1. What’s Veritasium?

The word is derived from latin, Veritas, meaning truth, with the ‘um’ ending of an element. So Veritasium is ‘an element of truth’. Veritasium is primarily a YouTube channel all about science. Its mission is to help people not fool themselves.

  1. How did you come up with the idea and how did you develop it?

 I always wanted to be a film maker. I also loved teaching and science so this was really the perfect way to merge all of my passions. The project has developed over four years of making videos.

  1. More than 2 million subscribers and 100 million views – what’s the secret of your success?  

One secret is perseverance. I couldn’t have gotten here if I had quit, which I certainly contemplated many times. I make videos that interest me, and often I find they interest other people. If I can show people something they have never seen before, or something in a different light it usually makes for a successful video.

  1. What does “Educating” mean to you?

 Educating is all about learning – that is the core of education, helping people learn. Finding ways to do that is a challenge but there are many approaches to it, and many people working on making it better.

  1. What do you think about today’s traditional higher education?  Why is it failing?  

 I think it’s tough to speak about today’s higher education in general. In some places I’m sure it’s working well. In other places it’s awful. And I don’t know that there is a common source of failings except the economic realities of trying to educate a larger fraction of the population with a smaller budget. That is an immense challenge.

  1. People like you, David Malan from Harvard CS50, John and Hank Green from Crashcourse, are sending a strong message to today traditional Educators by showing that you can teach, engage and have fun at the same time.  Should today’s traditional educators make an effort to become Edutainers?

A course has to be interesting and inspiring to get students motivated to study. I think boring lecturers are tough to learn from because they don’t instil their excitement for the subject in their students. It’s important to be interesting, to be clear, to communicate well. These things have always been important in education. But I also think YouTube edutainers serve a different purpose from traditional educators. Our first job is to entertain and our second is to educate. We never test our viewers or assign them homework and I think that would change the dynamic significantly.

  1. How does the future of University look like to you?  What will it happen if education keeps democratizing itself and MOOCs like Coursera, Udemy, EDx, Ted-Ed and of course Youtube keep gaining traction?

I don’t know what the future of higher education looks like. I hope that universities focus on their two main objectives separately – research and teaching. Not all great researchers need to be great teachers and vice versa. I think YouTube and online components of classes will play an important role in the education of the future, but I still envision them being implemented effectively by a teacher who has interaction with his/her class including face to face time. In my view this social interaction is a fundamental piece of the education puzzle.

  1. Your plans for the future? What can we expect from Veritasium in 2015?

In 2015 Veritasium will continue to publish original and hopefully interesting content. I’m also optimistic that the output will be more frequent. Around July/August I’ll be launching a TV documentary on Uranium. There may also be some merchandise from Veritasium. So I’m looking forward to a productive year!