Behind today's TED-Ed launch

Today marks a big new chapter in the TED story, as we unveil the first part of our TED-Ed initiative.  Announcement.  YouTube channel.

Viewed one way, it's just the release on YouTube of a dozen short videos created for high school students and life-long learners. But we're committed to growing this archive to hundreds of videos within a year, and I thought it would be helpful to jot down a few personal notes on why we're doing this... ...because there's a right and a wrong way to interpret today's launch.

The wrong way is to imagine that we believe this to be some kind of grand solution.  "TED claims its new TED-Ed videos will transform education"!  Er, no. We don't. 

The right way is to see this as our reaching out to teachers and saying: Can we help?

Teachers are heroes. That's pretty much the founding principle of TED-Ed.  TED's core mission is to spread great ideas and teachers are right there at the deep end. They've dedicated their lives to helping shape the minds of the next generation. There is no more noble or important work -- and it is scandalous that it is not better recognized or remunerated. 

One of the most thrilling developments at TED in the past few years has been seeing some of the world's best educators (in the broadest sense) reaching the size of audience that they deserve. The talk of education reformer Sir Ken Robinson has been seen on all platforms more than 11 million times... and is still being viewed by more than 10,000 people every day.  Indeed every talk we post now on the home page gets viewed by tens of thousands of people in its first few hours online.  But most of these talks are aimed at adults. And even though many of them are being used in classrooms, at a typical 18 minutes length, they simply displace too much class time.   

And so the question we've been asking with increasing urgency the past couple years is: could we do something similar to TED Talks that would work better in schools? Something that would give teachers a useful new tool. And more than that, could we create a platform that would allow teachers to share their best lesson to a much wider audience?

15 months ago we hired Logan Smalley, a TED Fellow with a proven passion for teaching and technology,  and together we've spent a lot of time this past year listening to educators, and members of the TED community, and figuring out what TED could best offer.  Here is some of what we heard.

- Video does indeed have a powerful role to play in education.  
- It allows great lessons to be shared online with vastly bigger audiences.
- It allows teachers to show things that would be hard to show live in every class.
- It also can allow kids to learn at their own pace (hello, replay button).
- The best length for a video to be used in class is under 10 minutes.
- The best videos often use animation or other visualization techniques to deliver better explanations and more compelling narratives.

HOWEVER, none of this, for a moment, displaces the teacher. On the contrary, it amplifies teacher skills. It may also facilitate the ability for teachers to play to their strongest card:
- Teachers who are great instructors can create lessons that may be seen by thousands or millions, and, like a text-book, be reused year after year.
- Teachers who are great coaches can invite to their classrooms, via the web, and without cost, the perfect instructor to ignite interest in a topic or to meet a specific child's needs.

We also heard that the deepest desire of many teachers is not to prepare their students for an annual standardized test, but to inspire them to become life-long learners.

And so, our vision gained clarity. TED should invite great teachers to help us create a new video collection, made up of short, memorable lessons. We should not try to recreate what Salman Khan of the Khan Academy and others are doing so brilliantly, namely to meticulously build up entire curricula on video. No. TED is known for its ability to evoke curiosity, wonder, and mind-shifting insight.  That should be our prime goal here. Short lessons that spark curiosity. That deliver memorable "aha" moments. That make learning thrilling. If we contribute just one iota to doing that, it would be a worthwhile project. 

We pictured grouping videos into series with intriguing titles that would allow them to be relevant to multiple subject areas. "Inventions that Shaped History." "Questions No One Knows the Answer to."  "Playing with Words." 

But how to populate them? Our strategy at TED on all projects we take on has become one of "radical openness". Any internal skills we have are vastly outweighed by people externally, and so we should simply seek to empower them. (See TED Open TranslationTEDx, etc.)

So that's what today's TED-Ed launch is. An invitation to teachers across the world to help us dial up the effectiveness of video lessons. As an initial offering, we have posted a dozen lessons that we think show promise. And now we're ready to assist teachers in creating hundreds more.

Most of the examples in our launch collection rely on animation to amplify the educator's words. We think this works. One way to think of the potential of animation is to ask: what could a teacher do if you gave her or him a magic blackboard -- one which could display literally anything that would assist in an explanation (and in holding the attention of the class)?  Would that help ignite understanding and excitement? We think the answer is Yes. Check out, for example, Mark Honigsbaum's talk on pandemics. 

And even in cases where a talk is recorded live on stage, it's possible to use animation to add a whole new layer of wonder. Take a peak at this TED-Ed talk by David Gallo, for example.

Greg Gage's cockroach beatbox and Jason Munshi-South's talk on animal evolution in New York City are further terrific examples of this technique.

At TED-Ed we have hired a lean, mean team of talented animators and producers who are now standing by to turn teachers' best lessons into memorable films. We are also reaching out to animators worldwide who wish to offer their services in this regard. The pairing of great teachers and animators offers amazing potential for spreading knowledge in the YouTube era.

As well as our in-house team, we have signed a contract with Cognitive Media, the groundbreaking animation team (led by Andrew Park) who are behind the wonderful RSA Animate talks. I wanted to experiment with them on how to do short videos specifically designed to catalyze curiosity.  So (tapping into my boyhood obsession with Physics) I tried writing a couple of scripts, and Cognitive developed a wonderful new style of animation to turn them into a short series called. "Questions No One Knows the Answer To."  Here's the brief intro.

As you can see, Cognitive's work is truly brilliant and they are now ready to animate lessons (or more questions-no-one-knows-the-answer-to) from real teachers! (Nominate one here.)

A further massive impetus to our launch came in our partnership with YouTube. They offered us significant financial help to accelerate our production plans, so that we are now looking to build this new archive into more than 300 videos within the first year.  YouTube have also done  a really smart thing to get round the fact that many schools block their content.  They've created a special YouTube For Schools program (which we are part of) that schools are now white-listing. They've also been great in working out with us limited commercial intrusion, including, importantly no pre-roll ads, and no advertisers inappropriate for children. In fact a teacher should be able to show these films in school without showing any ads at all. By launching initially on YouTube, we are giving these new videos their best possible chance to shine and attract an audience. 

This is the first part of a two-part launch. The second part comes next month when we open up a new section of devoted to TED-Ed and offer some powerful new tools to teachers.  But for now, I would love you to watch some of the initial sample of videos, ponder the opportunity TED may have to contribute to education, and give your feedback and insight in the comment section below. And, most important of all: if you know a great teacher or animator,  please send them to TED-Ed.  We would love to hear from them, or from you!

49 responses
As a teacher who uses TED talks in my classroom as often as possible, I am thrilled with this initiative! My students and I are looking forward to what else Ted-Ed can come up with!


Thrilled with the initiative and the timing couldn't be better considering I spoke TEDx Gramercy on Saturday where I talked about the power of experiential learning to revolutionize how we learn.

I think the TED-Ed initiative is wonderful, and I would encourage TED to expand its thinking consider more interactive learning media such as games or simulations that teachers can use.

The research proves that we only remember 10-20% of what we read or hear two weeks after we hear it. But we retain up to 80% of what we learn by doing. I'd love to lend my expertise in simulations to the cause.

P.S. Great choice of the video above. We have shown that to our kids to get them excited about science.

Good for you, Chris, and your TED team:

Kudos for your innovative outreach to catalyze creativity and curiosity in schools.

Rudolph Flesch said, "Creativity is based on the notion there's no particular virtue in doing things they way they've always been done."

Your mission to provide teachers and students with inspiring videos that imaginatively explore our world - will encourage many fascinating, far-ranging conversations about what really matters.

Let us know how we can support this valuable program.

Sam Horn, The Intrigue Expert

I often encourage teachers to "teach with TED." This is going to make TED all the more accessible to learners and hopefully increase the level of curiosity and interest that will provoke great action for our students...and teachers! After all, a fundamental premise of TED (in my opinion) is that we are all learners. Thanks for working hard to put this together! It's very exciting.
very excited for the TEDx commnuity to help source resources here. Thank you TED for making this a priority. Potential here is huge!!! - john
Awesome! thank you so much for this initiative. I use TED all the time in my classes too.

I have no doubt that this incredible resource will expand tremendously over the next couple of years.

I personally hope that I can be a contributing factor in the near future.

Once again, thank you TED for all your help - it is much appreciated.

This is a terrific outlet for your efforts!

Someone should reach out to Kathleen and David Kern who Chair the Deep Run High School Marathon Dance in Henrico VA. These kids raise over $150K each year and have a story that is both compelling, and possible to replicate.

Just what I've been waiting for since hearing about it last summer! And I've just spread the word to the group of French techers ICT consels, so it's bound to spread!
It looks great. Really. Repeating all the kudos.
But every entrepreneur, whether a for-profit or a non-profit, is constantly beaten up with the question, "What's the revenue model?" and "How's it sustainable?" Since neither YouTube (revenue from ads) not TED (supported by ad and conference fees) is due to the philanthropic generosity of some magnanimous billionaire, how can this really grow and expand as desired while still keeping schools ad-free. I don't mean to be a wet blanket but I fear the free-market reality will ultimately force advertising on teachers and students.
Monica, I get where you're coming from, but I don't think you need worry. This is right at the center of TED's mission, and if need be we'll simply underwrite it with profits from the conferences. We've seen time and again in recent years that if you create an open platform with no ulterior agenda, you can get incredible support from people around the world, and accordingly, spectacular leverage of the money invested. There are so many people out there eager to contribute to better education for the world, I think there's every prospect this will scale without costing the earth. We're committed not to cross any inappropriate commercial lines -- and we're committed to see this through.
This a great announcement. TED has long been of great use in education, but seeing this move to give TED in education the visibility and importance it deserves is a wonderful move forward. Congratulations!
I was so happy to see this announcement this morning! As a avid TED fan myself and as a teacher who tries to "teach with TED" (@jrichardson30), I think this platform provides an easily accessible, very exciting, and intentionally creative way to bring the power of TED and RSA animation to classrooms all over the place. I love it. Also, I think its brilliant that people can nominate amazing educators--who might only really be "known" within the context of their school--to deliver lessons to other kids. I would also love to see this as a way to get "non-educators" (i.e. people who may not think of themselves as middle/high school teachers, but educate through platforms like TED) involved in this project. How cool would it be to have a "guest lecture series" designed for a younger audience given by Bryan Stevenson, Jill Bolte Taylor, Elizabeth Gilbert, Philip Zimbardo, Chimamanda Adichie, etc? I know their talks are already online and accessible to anyone but I think it would be really powerful to think about ways to include these voices into the TED Ed program as well. Thanks for doing this!
I am so thrilled with this TEDed announcement! I started watching TED videos when I was a practicing attorney for a quick dose of motivation. As a high school and college teacher, I now use them in my classroom to inspire my students. TED videos practically guarantee "oohs and aahs"! Thank you for bringing a new dimension to education!
I am Extremely excited about this new initiative! I am a young teacher who has worked in IB International schools for five years and live to inspire curiosity! I am busy organizing my first TEDx Youth event and I am so happy that my favorite network of people and ideas have launched something that will be so useful in my life and the life of my students. I am already busy brainstorming ideas and will be developing scripts with a few other educators to submit in order to spread ideas using this fantastic new resource. Thank You so much for your work on this!
Spread the passion!
Consider making this content available to PEG (public access) television channels like ours, WBRW-TV in Macomb County, Michigan. This would make this programming available to youth, seniors and others without internet access.

Please reply to this request.

THANK YOU TED for the inspiration + for the action + for changing the world
So glad to be part of this amazing community
Your dream works
congratulations from TEDxNashville and TEDxYouth@GreaterNashville!
TED talks are frequently shared amongst home education forums and communities. TED ED will be an invaluable resource. Thanks,
Hooray - both for the exciting launch and for the way you have included teachers.
Chris, I am so overjoyed and thankful to you and all the intelligent and talented people you've gathered that might actually be able to save this world, Tears are grossly inappropriate but the flood gates are open. I know this is just the beginning of TedEd, but I can't think of a more able group, a more important effort or a more critical time to give our children the knowledge and strength they will need to fix the world. They might actually have a future worth living and new "Idea's Worth Sharing" with their children. In a world where so many seem to think stupidity is worth sharing Ted has given me hope. Thank you, You are my where is that box of kleenex!!.
TEDxHomer teen are so excited!
Thanks so much for reinvigorating learning.
Now to uncover lessons from the young, wise and undiscovered...
J am an 87 year old WW2 Royal Navy veteran and I have learnt a lot from TED
and its on going,and I am able to pass on many things to my partners Grand kids
I though I knew the world and every thing in it, but TED keeps throwing new things at me, and it keeps my old brain to keep thinking,what will happen when the earth can no longer support the billions of the earth populations?? which will happen eventually, I'm glad i was born in my generation Keep up the good work TED Regards Victor
Any thought about lessons for younger students than high school?
Excellent news. Massive fan of TED Ed. Always frustrated by You Tube blocking by schools. Looks like a sensible and timely solution.
What I've seen looks promising. However, i've seen many content exercises which have looked good early but failed to scale or sustain.
The lessons I think you need to think about to succeed where others have failed are these ( in my opinion!)
1. Teachers are very busy. They don't have the time to research large content stores.
What they need are discovery tools by context that point to content. Let me illustrate:
If I have a class from very different language and cultural backgrounds and I want them to think about interpreting events through different perspectives, which video helps?Knowing that there are 50 I might use will guarantee I won't use any, or stick to the one I know.
2. Supporting materials, such as multiple choice questions, assessment guidelines or lesson plans add value to content. Especially if these are by teachers who have used them themselves
If TedEd surrounds it's content with educator-led context and discovery you'll be closer to your ambitious and worthy goal.
Best of luck
I hope that this dream would be available in many languages and dreamed by a great number of teachers all around the world.
We have only 2 weeks until our TEDxSkylineHS event (Ann Arbor, MI) that focuses on innovation in education. Yikes! We have to quickly rearrange our entire program line-up to highlight TED-Ed with our presenters. The other education innovation event coming up is TEDxMMPS, organized by Missoula, Montana's innovative principal Jane Bennett. The two of us have been exchanging ideas for our respective events. I expect we'll see some teacher lessons nominated from both of these events. The TED-Ed initiative is inspired. Thank you TED.
First I will repeat my mantra - 'New Technology, Old Learning'! It's almost as if back in the 1980s I never thought to wheel the TV set and VCR into the classroom and showed my students a short video clip or programme that in somewhat enhanced the content of the lesson. But at least the TED videos, unlike most of the blackboard-based Khan Academy ones, involve the production of a good quality visual experience that makes the content more accessible, understandable and memorable. And to be fair, TED understands it is not replacing the teacher, but supporting them. But it's not clear if TED intend to invest the necessary finance to ensure the standard of content presentation is always going to be as consistently high as the first examples.

The danger, as I keep saying, is that the the process of learning becomes increasingly to be seen by the public and promoted by the politicians and media as being getting students to sit and passively watch knowledge-based video clips produced for free by enthusiastic teachers, followed a series of computer-generated and marked multiple choice questions to supposedly assess 'ability'. This may be more cost-effective, but isn't education.

Tristram, those are exactly the questions we're asking. We're actually big fans of Khan Academy, and I think neither org sees itself for a minute as replacing teachers. I found your blog post provocative reading and will forward it internally.
In response to Tristram, I would like to think that many of the new TED-Ed videos up are not knowledge-based or content-based as Khan academy is. TED shares its mission to inspire curiosity and while watching "Playing with Language", I didn't leave with new knowledge, but I did leave with new questions. I felt that the video asked the audience to question themselves and deliberate in their choices. Similarly, in "Questions no one knows the answers to", the video demonstrates a conceptual focus and again, asks us to question and leaves us with a higher level of curiosity...of any inquiry we have had that has not been answered.

I am not sure where TED will go with this initiative in April, but I do have faith in TED. I am hopeful that there will not be quizzes and instead, TED focuses time on having resources such as: discussion questions, writing prompts, debate materials, and conceptual activities to extend what was seen in the video.

A colleague and I began an initiative earlier this year that was extremely similar to what TED-Ed is doing. The idea of capturing and amplifying the voices of educators is brilliant and I would love to see that expand to any 'expert'. We had considered organizing these videos (with related lesson plans, discussion questions, etc...) by a world map in addition to the category. This way, students could navigate the globe for new and interesting developments in education.

I am Excited about the future of TED-Ed and will continue to contribute to TED in anyway possible with TEDx events, submissions for lessons for TED-Ed and any other manner that can help promote and continue to build this amazing network and community of people and ideas!

Cool! (in a nerdy way :-B)

MY FIRST SUGGESTION: Animate for a reading of Napoleon Hill's "Think & Grow Rich" (either the PUBLIC DOMAIN 1945-version (I THINK it's 'public domain') or the updated (for inflation ... breakfast for two costs A LITTLE MORE THAN ten cents) version available at Amazon).

Especially the story about Henry Ford taking the newspaper to court for slander when they called him "uneducated" because he hadn't taken all the schooling that people call "education."

Another aspect is the restrictions a lot of districts face in what materials the teachers are allowed to present in classrooms. Unfortunately youtube gets somewhat of a bad rap with administration in school districts. It isn't uncommon for districts to disallow any youtube videos to be shown in a classroom. Rationale behind it is that anything at all can be uploaded to youtube...and nearly everything shown to students has to be given the stamp of approval from administration as a valid teaching resource (having gone through various channels of approval to check for validity of information, non-offensive material, etc.) prior to allowing it in the classroom. The shackles placed on teachers in the public school system are enormous.

Would be great if they can source all the videos and get it into the stream of materials provided by Department of would get it into the classroom easier and faster...

ted is good
beautiful. cant wait for more.
Much of your work and many of the videos are very inspiring but certain subjects seem to me to get very little attention and this is dissapointing. The subject I particularly have in mind is macroeconomics and with regard to it I would appreciate some demonstrations about how it generally works as well as a bit about of what it comprises (which is somewhat better known).

My search of the literature on macroeconomics shows that certain aspects to do with the effect of land tenure on the social structure have been ignored or badly and incompletely presented. This seems to me to be deliberately caused by the desire of the land owners and similar monopolists for not wanting to share the advantages that their ownership gives them. Could you better explain this too?

WONDERFUL Post.thanks for share..more wait .. …
I expect we'll see some teacher lessons nominated from both of these events. The TED-Ed initiative is inspired. Thank you TED.
Thank you TED for making this a priority , awesome for this initiative ------------------------- My Personal Blog :
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