YouTube, Meaningful Learning, and the Lifelong Learner

Have you been in a classroom where you can feel the energy and the excitement to participate in the activities and discussion? Well, how many teachers or educators can step into a classroom and ‘energise’ the students to that excitement level? Not many, I guess. I have tried but sometimes fail to maintain dynamic environment throughout the semester. However, I was lucky enough recently to be a student, albeit for a brief moment, to Dr Raihanah, the spirited, energetic and dynamic educator from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM). Lucky UKM to have such a great talent! I have the privileged to have Dr Raihanah as a guest writer on this blog. Let’s hear now from Dr Raihanah about what’s inspired her to be a lifelong learner, or as she put it, a student of YouTube classroom. Read on…


Hi. My name is Raihanah and I’m a student of the YouTube classroom. Like my daughter’s generation, I am constantly exposed to new knowledge the minute I get online. The strength of my ‘curriculum’ lies in the strength of my passion for learning that particular day. It could be a 10-15-minute talk which I stumble upon as I scan the YouTube “What to watch” recommendation page; or a slightly longer video I search out for and enjoy over lunch in my office based on my favourite speakers like Ken Robinson, Brene Brown, Tariq Ramadan or Nouman Ali Khan, to name but a few. The topic may range from personal to professional, from spiritual to academic. Yet the goal is one: let’s learn something new today, and let’s make the learning count.

I identify my interest, areas of concern and scope as an adult, a mom, a teacher, a researcher and a spiritual being, and I tap into that particular area for the day. This is my roadmap for “meaningful learning.”

David Ausubel in the 1960s talked about meaningful learning and rote learning. The essence of the two lies in the distinction one makes between learning new knowledge and previous knowledge. With the former, new knowledge is built based on previous knowledge, with the latter, i.e. rote learning, the new and old knowledge do not seem to meet.

As an individual, my choices of learning are inclined towards meaningful learning not because I have an exam to pass, rather by my need to build on my current schema of ‘things I know, about things I like’. I want to build my own reservoir of knowledge based on the things I am passionate about.

I see the same passion in my 10-year old. She is not keen on knowledge as prescribed by the school curriculum, rather she is interested in developing knowledge and skills that excites her. Like how to do a hand stand and a middle split.

This was brought on after a trip to Beijing last November in which we saw professional acrobats perform such wonderful contortions of their limbs you’d think they’re made of rubber. It took her a month of viewing online videos and practicing on her own, but she mastered both skills.

She was also very keen to find out about asthma when she suffered from a nasty case of bronchitis recently. I see her searching out various YouTube videos about it, watching others talking about asthma, and how they learnt to live fulfilling and active lives despite their illness. It’s truly empowering when you think about it.

This is what I think lifelong learning in the 21st century has become. Unlike the convention, where a teacher sets the parameters of learning and the students are taken through the programme, with the current Gen-Y the individual sets her own learning objectives and priorities based on her interests and seeks out the sources of knowledge, in essence becoming their own teacher. The mastery of this 'self-teaching mind-set' is what lifelong learning has evolved into.

My parting thoughts: as a lifelong learner, I am thankful for the learning opportunities I have today. The knowledge shared in the thousands of videos on YouTube and other online resources like the TED talk engage and challenge us to develop meaningful learning. The opportunities are immense and the benefits to be reaped are equally large. Yet all that remains is for each of us to set goals of learning for ourselves and begin our journey. What do you want to learn today?

Raihanah M.M. is a lecturer of literary studies in UKM. Her areas of interest include travelling, reading and writing. She lives in USJ with her husband, daughter and pet cavy. She can be contacted at