Top YouTube Moments in Education History

Posted on January 30, 2013

Since its inception in 2005, YouTube has become a global phenomenon. Last year, the site reported an average of 4 billion views per day, nearly four times the prime-time audience for all three major U.S. television networks combined. That's a lot of video watching, and not all of it has been concentrated on classics like "Charlie Bit My Finger" (now with more than half a billion views, the most of any user-submitted video) and funny videos of cats. There's also a significant market out there for videos focusing on education, an audience that YouTube itself has worked to cater to over the past few years. These changes have helped bring the Google-owned video site into the forefront of educational technology, and with the popularity of its educational content rising at a rapid clip, it's unlikely to lose that status anytime soon. To commemorate YouTube's committment to delivering educational content, here's a quick look back at some of the pivotal moment in the site's history that have made it such an educational powerhouse today.

  • February 2005: YouTube is launched.

    It's hard to believe that it's been almost a decade since the video-sharing site debuted. It was so successful in its first two years that it drew the attention of Google, who purchased the site in November of 2006 for a whopping $1.65 billion.

  • November 2005, MIT creates an account on YouTube.

    It shouldn't come as a surprise that MIT was one of the first colleges to get on board with YouTube, as the school has been at the leading edge of online education for nearly a decade. While it was a few years before the school really got into posting loads of videos and online content, today some of its oldest offerings highlight the famous MIT OpenCourseWare program and feature superstar professor Walter Lewin.

  • November 2006: Salman Khan begins posting tutoring videos to YouTube.

    Salman Khan originally created his YouTube feed to tutor his niece in math, but it has grown by leaps and bounds since then, becoming the eponymous academy in 2010. Today, The Khan Academy's videos have nearly 230 million views and are among the best-known and widely used educational content on YouTube.

  • June 2007: Vsauce's YouTube channel uploads its first video.

    Vsauce is one of the most popular educational channels on YouTube, with more than 280 million views to date. It's popular perhaps because it makes science more accessible to the average person, answering questions like "What's the most dangerous place on Earth?" and "Why do we have two nostrils?" in fun but still educational videos on the channel.

  • Fall 2007: The first course college course on YouTube is delivered.

    Media studies professor Alexandra Juhasz was the first to teach a course about YouTube. It was called "Learning from YouTube" and helped students to better understand how YouTube could affect education, especially in the classroom.

  • October 2007: The first YouTube channels for universities are launched.

    In late 2007, YouTube struck deals with several major universities to create dedicated channels from which to distribute their own content. The first university to get on board? UC Berkeley, which launched its channel with more than 300 hours of videotaped course content and events. It was quickly followed by USC.

  • November 2007: The Last Lecture garners more than a million hits.

    Professor Randy Pausch's inspiring lecture about how to achieve childhood dreams was a nationwide sensation, spawning a book and numerous reports throughout the media. A recording of it also saw incredible popularity on YouTube, scoring well over a million views within the first month. Today, it has 15.5 million hits and counting.

  • April 2008, YouTube is awarded a Peabody Award.

    In mid-2008, YouTube earned a Peabody Award for being a "a 'Speakers' Corner' that both embodies and promotes democracy." The award, created to recognize outstanding achievement in electronic media, was one of the first signs that YouTube's content was seeing rapid diversification.

  • Fall 2008: Stanford professors offer free courses via YouTube. In 2008, some of Stanford's leading professors decided to offer lectures free of charge through YouTube, along with the accompanying class materials. Among those professors were Andrew Ng and Sebastian Thrun, who have since gone on to start their own online education companies, Coursera and Udacity, after experimenting with more applied versions of their early YouTube experiments with online education.

  • March 2009: YouTube EDU launches.

    Early 2009 marked one of YouTube's most monumental changes in becoming a more education-friendly site. Initially starting as a pet project of YouTube employees who wanted to highlight great educational content from college, universities, and educators, YouTube EDU has grown to include videos on nearly every educational topic imaginable.

  • November 2010: Vi Hart begins posting videos of math class doodles.

    Doodling may not sound educational, but it is the way Vi Hart does it. Soon after this mathemuscian began posting her videos they went viral and her channel now has nearly 33 million views. In the year since, she has teamed up with Khan Academy to create even more great educational content, much of it popular with middle and high school girls.

  • January 2011: Crash Course begins offering lessons on biology and world history.

    Great animation and smart humor have made this educational channel one of YouTube's most popular. The channel earned 275,000 views within days of launching, and today boasts more than 22 million. Those early videos remain among the most popular on the site, however, exploring the Agricultural Revolution and World War I to millions of viewers.

  • February 2011: YouTube announces twice the number of views of educational content.

    Between 2010 and 2011, views of the educational videos on YouTube doubled. Oddly enough, it may be the rest of the world spurring on this trend: 80% of the views came from outside the U.S.

  • March 2011: TedEd creates a YouTube channel.

    TED lectures have been incredibly popular with educators, but this new channel is geared specifically towards helping spread new ideas about education, technology, and a wide range of academic topics. It's proven to be a popular spin off, garnering almost 15 million views in the past two years. Even better, many of the videos are modifications of TED's most popular lectures that allow them to be more easily used the classroom.

  • June 2011: MinutePhysics starts offering physics videos on YouTube. Minute Physics is currently one of YouTube's most widely viewed educational channels. It has only been around for few years but has already managed to draw in nearly 70 million views. Videos on MinutePhysics, created by Henry Reich, explain physics concepts and ideas through simple black and white drawings. The most popular video on the channel, with 3.5 million views, explains what you should do to avoid getting soaked when caught in a rainstorm.

  • September 2011: YouTube Teachers channel launched. Teachers who want to better understand how to use YouTube in the classroom now only need to head to The channel offers help with everything from organizing videos, to using them in class, to helping struggling students. Even better, teachers can sign up to be part of the YouTube Teachers Community, a mailing list that allows to them to easily share ideas and best practices.

  • October 2011: YouTube gets another popular educational addition: SciShow: Students or teachers hoping to learn about science can head to this great YouTube channel. Featuring videos that range in topic from explaining overpopulation to documenting the Mars rover landing, SciShow has garnered nearly 36 million views in just over a year.

  • December 2011: YouTube for Schools launches.

    While YouTube may have already been a great educational tool by late 2011, it was often blocked on most K-12 campuses do to other potentially offensive or distracting content on the site. To solve this problem and to make YouTube's educational content more accessible to teachers, developers created a new tool that allowed teachers to bypass the ban most schools had on the site by creating a setting that limits access to only educational materials.

  • May 2012: AsapScience creates its own channel.

    AsapScience may be relatively new to YouTube but it's quickly becoming a visitor favorite. In less than a year, it's raked in more than 23 million views of its fun and educational content. Among AsapScience's most popular videos are "Amazing Facts to Blow Your Mind," "The Science of Orgasms," and "The Scientific Power of Naps."

  • September 2012: YouTube teams with Khan Academy to train and promote new content creators.

    Due to the rise in popularity of YouTube's educational channels in recent years, the site decided to work to create even more high quality, unique content for viewers. Ten rising stars were chosen, with each earning additional support and funding for their YouTube channel. Among them are some names we've already mentioned, like AsapScience, as well as those who are still building their online following like KemushiChan.

  • October 2012: YouTube reaches a record-breaking 1,000 educational channels.

    While you can still find a myriad of silly, funny, or just plain stupid videos on YouTube, evidence of just how far the site has come in supporting content of greater substance happened just last year when the site reached a milestone with its educational content. In early October (appropriately on World Teachers' Day), Google announced that visitors to the site could now choose from more than 1,000 educational channels, teaching everything from algebra to art history.

  • October 2012: The first YouTube Education Summit is held.

    Educators, tech gurus, and marketers came together this past fall to discuss ways to expand and more fully develop YouTube's EDU portal. It was the first get together of it's kind and featured big names in YouTube content like Sal Khan and big names in education, like Sesame Street Workshop, alike.