The Viral Mentor

The mentor archetype has seen a resurgence, a resurgence that surpasses the Renaissance Period and is challenging the Greek era. Those who have the mentor archetype teach and protect their mentees the way Merlin guided King Arthur or how Mr. Miyagi tutored Daniel Larusso in The Karate Kid.
(SIDE NOTE: If you want a little perspective that the clock is ticking, Ralph Macchio is now the same age as Pat Morita when The Karate Kid came out.  So, tic toc tic toc, my friends. If you’re waiting to leave your mark, “Old time is still a-flying.”)
Mentors teach with enthusiasm, which comes from the Greek meaning “god-inspired.” Don’t underestimate the mentor. They help us achieve our character arcs. Mentors often played the role of the hero archetype in their earlier lives. They survived the trials, pitfalls, tests, and tribulations during their heroic pursuits and are now offering a perspective that the hero in training doesn’t have: experience.

Mentors Find a Platform

These mentors, once hard to find, have now gone viral. They found their voices on a platform that gives them access to thousands of heroes in training, other young aspiring Arthurs who might not know how to pull the sword from the stone. The platform that the mentors found is YouTube. That’s right. This video platform that once propelled the skiing squirrel to video stardom now functions like Merlin’s magical wand.
YouTube. I don’t have to link to it, right? It’s the top result for anything close to a search for the letters y-o-u-t-u-b-e.  Let’s try these searches:
U tub –> Yes, top hit.
Tubes for You –> Yep, top hit.
yt –> Yes, top hit. Okay, that one surprised me.
Back to the Mentors and the mentees, the heroes in training.
JSM is a student (“busy with exams”) who is a self-taught dancer, thanks to his YouTube mentors:

If you read the comments thread below the video on the YouTube site, you’ll see that while JSM wears the hero archetype now, there are numerous requests for him to add his own tutorials and become a vaunted mentor. Evolution of character right there.
Similar to YouTube, SchoolTube and TeacherTube have been great for educators (professional mentors) to upload and share their lessons. These are safe environments that have curated video collections for every school subject imaginable. It didn’t take teachers long to figure out how to “flip” their classrooms once all of this content was online, either. This wasn’t a top-down initiative either. Flipping the classroom was a teacher-driven grassroots initiative devised by ingenious, innovative educators. There’s no shortage of teacher mentors who love to help others flip their classroom, too.

What We Are Learning on YouTube

But at the moment I’m most intrigued by the non-educator mentors. What drives people to create how-to, instructional, and DIY videos?  Are they so passionate about their niche, their expertise, that they just have this desire to tutor others? That definitely sounds like the mentor archetype. There’s a little bit of Sal Khan in all of them and all of us.
So what exactly are people going to YouTube to learn? Everything. Everything from Taekwondo moves to string theory. From trending dance moves to new software release, there’s a race to see who gets the demo video up first.
A quick search on Twitters shows what people are learning on YouTube today:
upgrade playstation 3  how to use Google Search  lawn mower fix  my golf swing
Nutella Souffle Recipe  making leg warmers from an old sweater
crossfit training  Learning Spanish  Moodle layout  Facebook timeline
tying a Windsor knot  Learning Japanese  story of St. Patrick’s Day
What is twitter?  Handy Kitchen Tricks  Play Dancing in the Dark on guitar
If you have any doubt that we are learning outside of school or that we are a curious species, this should convince you otherwise. I find our collective curiosity fascinating. Way to go, us!
There are literally thousands, possibly millions, of mentors who teach their trade or expertise on YouTube. It’s intuitive for our young heroes in training to search by topic, evaluate mentors, and then subscribe to their channels.
YouTube has made a giant leap to the education space. They’ve created channels that collect videos from professional educators and amateur mentors. “Amateur” is the wrong word here. These contributors are experts in their fields. Some may not have recognizable names or have degrees or certificates to display, but they have profound knowledge to share. Their reputations are spread by the best ways possible: user comments, +1s, likes, shares, and Tweets. The best content rises to the top, as it should.

YouTube Channels

YouTube is not just a mad collection of millions of videos.  Users can create their own “channels” that people can subscribe to.
Here are YouTube’s own education channels:
YouTube Teacher Channel –  This channel has advice on how to use YouTube in the classroom and thousands of videos curated by topic. was created to help teachers leverage video to educate, engage and inspire their students. Here you will find tips and tricks for bringing YouTube into the classroom, as well as over 400 video playlists curated by CUE and aligned with the Common Core. is part of YouTube’s larger educational initiative, YouTube EDU, featuring more than 700K educational videos created by leading experts and organizations such as PBS, TEDEd, and Khan Academy.

YouTube’s EDU channel:

YouTube EDU currently includes over 700,000 high quality educational videos from over 800 channels. A team of teachers around the country scour the site to uncover the latest and greatest educational videos to add to YouTube EDU, ensuring that there are videos on everything from Astrophysics to Zoology.

YouTube EDU Submit – – Did you create or find a great video that you think should be on YouTube EDU?  Submit videos, channels, and playlists for review here.

User Created Channels

Other uses and YouTube partners have created educational, DIY and “how to” channels for both professionals and amateurs to share their knowledge and demonstrate their expertise.
TED Talks –

TED-Ed, TED’s education initiative, is an online library of short, captivating videos that engage inquisitive learners all over the world.

Expert Village – “Watch Learn Do” is their motto. Expert Village has 2.7 billion video views.
eHow – “Trusted Advice for the Curious Life” is the eHow motto. They have 207 million views.

Mahalo –  Mahalo has over 307 views. “Learn Anything on! Our ever-expanding library of how-to video tutorials gives you the ability to truly learn anything.”

Common Craft – Lee Lefevever has not added to this channel in several years, but his animated tutorials are still great.  14 million views here.

Udacity:  Free college-level classes here.  3.5 million views. “We believe university-level education can be both high quality and low cost. Using the economics of the Internet, we’ve connected some of the greatest teachers to hundreds of thousands of students all over the world.”

Idea Channel: 6.6 million views.

Here’s an idea: a PBS show that examines the connections between pop culture, technology and art.

Language learning is everywhere:


Complete courses are on YouTube, as well.

Heralding a Challenge

Millions of other users are not affiliated with any YouTube channel except their own. They’re thrilled to have 15 followers. Sal Kahn was thrilled to have just one when he started (his niece who was hundreds of miles away). This is what makes YouTube so great. For virtually any topic (speak in Old Saxon), there’s an expert who’s sharing. The numbers are staggering. 72 hours of video are uploaded every minute. That’s 103,680 hours of video a day are uploaded to YouTube alone. Over four billion hours of video are watched by over 800 million people every month. Obviously not all of it is instructional or informative, but the numbers say a lot.
I still hear critiques that YouTube is a place for entertainment with very little going on educationally. I’ve documented my response to that on YouTube.
Okay, so call to action here. I’m wearing the “Herald” archetype now. We all can contribute to this movement. Doesn’t matter if we are in the classroom or not. We all have an expertise in something that others can benefit from. What can you add to YouTube? You’ve no doubt been a consumer. Let’s turn to producer. 103,680 hours of video a day are uploaded. Can we add five to ten minutes to that? Short simple lesson to start leaving our mark? Young Arthurs and Daniels are looking for our help. Look for mine this week!
Tic toc tic toc.

Adam Renfro

Adam was a classroom English teacher for ten years and began teaching online in 1998. He now works for the North Carolina Virtual Public School, the 2nd largest virtual school in the nation. Adam has blogged for Getting Smart since September of 2011.

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