So you’re quarantined. Binge-watched the entire Netflix catalog, re-organized your sock drawer and now you’re itching for what’s next? As many of us are stuck in our homes for the foreseeable future, why not try learning a new skill or two? When the pandemic is over we can emerge, resplendent and wise. But as we can’t attend classes out in public, what can we do? Focus on the internet’s most amazing resource: YouTube.
Four years ago, I picked up my first digital camera and took a photo. It was out of focus, shaky and looked orange in tone. After much trial and error I began to find my way around my Canon camera. But then came the next challenge: Photoshop. I didn’t even know how to open the program, let alone retouch a photo. But three years on and I now tackle complex Photoshop tasks with ease. I can remove objects, change colors, airbrush skin, create composites and I’ve even mastered stop-motion video.
I now run a photography business and I’ve shot for The New York Times. And how did I climb this steep learning curve, you ask? Well, I didn’t take a course. I didn’t have a guru. I didn’t even consult a manual. I simply used the internet’s best teacher: YouTube.
Whenever I encountered a challenge from a client like, “Hey can you remove the writing from my t-shirt” for example, I took this approach: I said yes to any request, even if I didn’t know how to do it. Then I went straight to YouTube and typed my question into the search bar. Instantly, thousands of videos appeared, taking me through the task step by step. Once I had watched the video and practiced the technique a few times, voila! I had acquired another skill. I did this once a week and, before the first year was out, I had gone from a complete novice to a very competent Photoshopper. It’s only grown from there.
But it’s not just photography skills that can be picked up on YouTube. You can learn almost anything. I recently started renovating my old apartment and I needed to remove an ancient door handle, one without any obvious screws. I was stumped. I opened my YouTube app and typed in “How to remove an old door handle.” Sure enough, a video appeared and talked me through it.
But if photography (or door handles) aren’t your jam, what else can we learn from YouTube? Well, almost anything, but here are some great skills you can pick up.
1. Learn to cook
Cooking shows are always popular. They can inspire your next menu, but they can be hard to follow in real time. Your TV may not be in the kitchen, or it can be hard to start and stop the show. Enter YouTube.
Simply prop your phone or tablet up on the countertop and search for any recipe you desire. You can pause the video or easily rewind to see a section again. YouTube has cooking videos for all levels of experience and any recipe you can think of will be on there somewhere. It’s especially great if you have someone with a dietary restriction coming over for dinner.
2. Play an instrument
Yes, really. Whatever instrument you want to learn from piano to guitar, even singing, there is a channel on YouTube that can start you off. Like me and my photoshop, going from complete beginner to expert on YouTube alone isn’t easy, there were times when I just wanted to ask a person a direct question rather than wading through all the videos, but with time, patience and consistency, you can at least pick up some basics and improve your skills. It helps if you have a natural aptitude, but don’t be afraid, just start small. Here’s a great one for piano and singing teacher Madeline Harvey has many wonderful videos on how to sing safely and confidently.
3. Renovate your home
I mentioned the door handle, but that’s just the tip of the home renovation iceberg. Any task you need to tackle around the house can be found on YouTube. It’s particularly great if you are dealing with some Ikea flatpack and their indecipherable instructions. Not only is there practical advice available, but there are lots of stylish decorating videos to inspire your next project.
Steve Ramsey runs a great channel called Woodworking For Mere Mortals, there is a cute DIY makeover show run by two Canadian women called The Sorry Girls or, if you’re just nosy like me and want to peek inside other people’s homes, try Apartment Therapy.
4. Teach yourself to meditate
If sitting in silence with your own thoughts makes you feel like clawing your eyeballs out, you’re not alone. We know meditation is great for our mental and physical health, but the silence can be deafening.
You may be pleasantly surprised that YouTube offers many helpful videos to help you get started with a meditation practice. You can search for meditation videos by length, starting with videos that are only a minute. You can even filter them by style or subject. You can find videos that just play sounds or music, videos that only play a bell at the start and end of the meditation or use a guided meditation.
A guided meditation is where a person talks you through what to think about. You can find guided meditations that improve sleep, self-confidence, energy or whatever you’re seeking. As people make videos from all over the world, you can even choose an accent that is most soothing to you.
5. Learn a foreign language
While you can certainly take a class (post-pandemic) or an online language course, you will most likely have to pay for those. But on YouTube you can learn a language for free.
Get Germanized is a fantastic resource for mastering the basics of German, for example. Search for whichever language you wish to learn and seek out videos with the most likes or views as those are probably the best and most trusted.
6. Learn philosophy
Sometimes we don’t want to learn a practical skill or lose ourselves in a mindless TV show. Sometimes we want to stretch our brains in other ways. TED Talks are influential videos from expert speakers on education, business, science, tech and creativity, and all of them are available on YouTube. TED Talks, and similar channels, share ideas and stories that will make you think and spark discussion. Another great speaker and philosopher to check out is Alain de Botton, who talks on various contemporary subjects and themes, emphasizing philosophy’s relevance to everyday life.
Those are just some of the subjects you can dive into on YouTube, but many others exist. Whatever you’re looking to learn about, YouTube can be a fantastic resource. It may take some time to find the channels you like best, but once you find them the learning never has to stop.