Learning Things From Internet Videos
From Erlang to Hexaflagons, this is what great educational internet videos can teach us.
Working in technology, I’m always on the hunt for new ways to explain things. Not long ago, I asked Twitter if anyone could recommend exemplary explanatory videos. The replies were truly interesting. There were a bunch, but these five stood out for the way they use tone, visuals, and humor to convey complex things.
1. Erlang: The Movie
This video breaks down what’s interesting and novel about the programming language Erlang. It’s useful and dense but also a little silly. Erlang is showing its age as a language, but its core technologies carry on. And its descendant, Elixir, which looks and feels a lot like Ruby, is a popular platform for big platforms that involve lots of conversation (like chat).
2. Everything Is a Remix, Part II
This video is an updated Part II of a classic, and it’s notable for just how well it uses its medium. It would not work at all in a form other than a carefully edited video.
3. The collected works of Kurzzgesagt
These animated explainers are absolutely beautiful, bright, and shiny, with clear voiceover, which is great because they often present bad news. The recent video on climate change included below is exemplary because its thesis — that there are no simple solutions! — is the opposite of the typical reductionist solutions offered by most explainers. There’s something great about getting bad news via animated birds.
4. The collected works of 3Blue1Brown
This account publishes very careful explanations of complex mathematics using — and this is near to my heart — a totally custom math-animation tool written in Python, which a community has adapted to be more general.
5. Statistical Rethinking
Before I asked Twitter for advice on videos, I asked Twitter for advice on statistics, and the book the most people recommended was called Statistical Rethinking (once I was ready to go Bayesian). These are lectures by the author of that book, professor Richard McElreath. Okay, it’s statistics. But…they’re friendly, viewable lectures with good visuals, memes, and lots of wit. They’re paced for learning more than fun, which I appreciate. New lectures are published every week!
Of all of them, this one is the most fun. It’s just hands messing with paper. It’s nearly a decade old. But it’s charming, full of facts, and you truly do learn a good bit about hexaflexagons. They are cool.
Paul Ford (he/him) is a Co-Founder of Postlight. Get in touch at email@example.com, and find him on Twitter @ftrain.
Story published on Feb 16, 2022.