Item:The Khan Academy is a wonderful non-profit educational website that is revolutionizing the way people learn. It was founded by Salman Khan, who was educated at MIT and Harvard, and quit his hedge fund job in order to set it up. He originally came up with these video lessons to teach his young cousin Algebra but they increased phenomenally in popularity. In just over five years , Khan Academy has produced 4,300 video lessons, attracted 1.5 million subscribers and its videos have been watched over 300 million times. One reason for the popularity of the videos, quoted by many respondents, is that they could grasp the concepts on video but that they had been unable to do so when they read a textbook.
Item :A prominent West Coast University recently unveiled a free online course on personal finance, a MOOC which attracted over 13,000 subscribers. The course material is pretty basic and includes topics such as mortgages, interest, and saving for retirement. All of this material is available in books , but many of those who signed up for the course said that they preferred watching a video to reading a book.
These are two isolated instances but they are part of a wider trend: people , particularly the younger generation, do not like to read and prefer to get their information from videos. This is different from the discussion of whether reading the printed word is better than online reading. The young prefer not to read. Period. They prefer to listen rather than to read. Hardly surprising , given the ubiquity of computers, TV, videos and video games.
Now, there are those who will argue that the means by which information is communicated is immaterial, as long as it is communicated. Some of them are , undoubtedly, those who used to say that grammar was unimportant, that what really mattered was that the message came through. We all know what that has led to ;today, many high school graduates, even some college grads, are barely able to write a coherent paragraph.
If communication were the only goal, it is true that the medium doesn’t matter. But there are other considerations. It seems to me that those who get their information through reading are able to obtain a more nuanced view of the subject. Reading may be slower, but it allows time for reflection. I also think that more complicated ideas can best be understood by reading, over and over again if necessary. The more advanced a subject is, the less chance there is that it will be the subject of a video. This is not to say that Video lessons are bad . Not at all. They are very good for reaching a large audience efficiently and for teaching the basic concepts. The disadvantage , as I see it, is that they cause us to become lazy and gradually to lose our taste for reading.( The other disadvantage is that watching something on the screen invests it with a certain authority and we swallow it unquestioningly. However,this applies to TV news and is a whole other topic).
The biggest negative of watching videos is that it causes us to lose our ability to both read and write. Video lessons are communicated in the simplest language possible to make them easily understood. This is only to be expected but it also means the vocabulary of inveterate video watchers is usually limited. English is a language of nuances, and words with multiple meanings. For instance, the term ” normal American” is not the same as ” ordinary American”; ” the public domain ” is quite different from ” the public eye”. These differences are lost on those who watch videos , and only read when they absolutely have to. This,of course, carries over to their thinking and to their writing, both of which are hampered by their limited vocabulary.
Ironically, even as the younger generation is turning away from books and reading, older people are discovering a renewed interest in reading. e-books are making it cheaper and easier for people who want to read. And, at the same time, writers are finding it easier to publish their books thus leading to an embarrassment of riches for the reading public. Kindle and other electronic readers make it possible for people to ” own” books at almost half price. Unfortunately , all this is lost on younger people who are accustomed to getting all their news from TV and Yahoo and read few books that are not required reading.
This is really too bad because reading opens up possibilities like nothing else. I’m not a teacher but , for the past 20 years and more, I’ve observed many children and tutored a few of them. Almost without exception , I’ve seen that those who have gotten into the habit of reading are more mature in their thinking and in the way they write. This is reflected in their SAT scores , their school and college performance, and in their post-college careers. They also are well-rounded individuals better equipped for this post industrial , globalized world.
If you would do your kids a favor , take them to the library and introduce them to the wonders of books. It doesn’t matter what they read ( as long as it isn’t an exclusive diet of graphic novels) ; this is their time to find out what they like and perhaps the foundation for a future career. However , if you want to nudge them in a particular direction, you can do so, gently.
Remember : It all begins with reading.