SUNDAY TIMES - How good are apps & YouTube at teaching you stuff?
Sunday Times Lifestyle By Yolisa Mkele, 2017-03-20 09:54:09.0

How good are apps & YouTube at teaching you stuff?

In the internet era learning anything is a few taps of a keyboard away.
Image: iStock

Yolisa Mkele attends the school of soft taps to find out

Remember that resolution you made to learn something new? Perhaps French, kung fu, or was it nuclear physics? Whatever it was it probably hasn't gone according to plan.

After all, there's not enough time to squeeze in a class between work, gym, kids and a partner who's perpetually frisky when you're bone tired. Combine that with the expense of taking up a class in something new and it's easy to see why these resolutions often fall through the cracks.

Fortunately, we live in the internet era, which means learning anything is a few taps of a keyboard away. But how good are apps and YouTube at teaching you stuff? I took to the web to find out.

According to language learning app Duolingo's co-founder, Luis von Ahn, an independent study showed that 34 hours on Duolingo is equivalent to a university semester of language classes. With this in mind I endeavoured to teach myself as much Korean as my brain could absorb in a two-week period using only apps and the internet.

The results surprised me. Within a week I had learnt an entirely new alphabet and could sound out Korean words based on the symbols used. By the end of the second week I was impressing strangers in bars with rudimentary sentences.

Emboldened, I tried the same experiment with the tango, with slightly less stellar results. I blame a severe lack of co-ordination for that one.

But the internet taught me these things for free and it was a good teacher. In a world where people are fighting for free education, this may be a solution.

"Technology has the ability to close the gap between people who can afford higher education and those who can't," said Von Ahn.

And it need not be restricted to frivolities like languages or the tango. YouTube offers lecture series from some of the top universities in the world on everything from engineering to physics. It may not be the magic pill that cures all our educational ailments but the internet could hold the key to increasing access to education - and that's something this country desperately needs.

This article was originally published in The Times.