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The 15 Best TED Talks About Learning

TED Talks are now a household name when it comes to innovative, stimulating and inspiring thought-leadership. Most of us have seen at least a presentation or two, or heard about the concept.

These presentations give knowledge lovers around the world an opportunity to upskill on a huge variety of topics.

In fact, social media, technology, entertainment, design, business, global issues and science are just some of the categories that TED offers. They even have categories for love and magic!

But, of course, we are going to focus on our sweet spot. Let’s explore our favourite TED Talks about learning!

What Is a TED Talk?

TED is an American-Canadian non-profit organisation founded in 1984. They give a platform for the world’s leading thinkers and doers to share their knowledge on a topic. They aim to inform and educate people around the world in an accessible way.

Initially, TED hosted conferences that covered topics on Technology, Entertainment and Design. Since then, TED conferences have evolved into something much bigger.

Today, TED Talks span a multitude of topics and worldwide communities. Current talks explore everything from science and business to global issues, education and arts.

The maximum length of a TED Talk is 18 minutes. That’s long enough to flesh out the central idea and short enough to hold the viewer’s attention.

In 2006, TED shared six conference recordings online. Since then, the organisation has shared thousands of videos online for free viewing under the slogan ‘ideas for spreading’.

As a result, these talks are viewed and listened to more than three billion times each year. Similarly, TED has become a household name, and they have gained a following of millions of people.

To meet the increasing demand, TED talks are now filmed at flagship TED conferences, independent TEDx events and partner events. As such, TED Conferences LLC now span various organisations, all devoted to sharing ideas and knowledge.

The 15 Best TED Talks About Learning

There are TED Talks on pretty much every topic on Earth. However, as L&D torchbearers and learning technology advocates, it’s the education category that we’re especially passionate about.

After all, there are some golden oldies and delightful new TED Talks about learning, development and education to explore. Without further ado, let’s take a look at 15 of our favourite TED Talks!

The Life-long Learner — Bernie Dunlap

Benjamin “Bernie” Dunlap is the multi-talented president of Wofford College. In his TED Talk, Bernie tells the inspiring story of his friend, Sandor Teszler.

Sandor Teszler was a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who outlasted the suffering. According to Bernie, his very last days were lived with humour, kindness and, above all else, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

While Bernie details an emotional story of the suffering that Mr Teszler endured, his talk drives towards an important and encouraging message. Bernie shares how his friend taught him about passionate living and lifelong learning.

Learning How To Learn — Rodrigo Arboleda

Rodrigo Arboleda is a true good-doer. He is the chairman and CEO of the One Laptop Per Child Association (OLPCA), a nonprofit organisation that seeks to provide equal access to knowledge for all children.

His talk recites the story of a Colombian priest who armed impoverished locals with the newly invented transistor radio back in the 1940s. He set up a radio station to teach and inform unschooled inhabitants, educating an estimated 4.5 million people!

Rodrigo used this impressive anecdote as a catalyst for his own story and work at the OLPCA. Along with the president and former presidents of Columbia, Rodrigo set out to equip every child in Columbia with one laptop or tablet.

He states that he wants to ‘Maintain the spirit of curiosity that you get in children.’ This is an important TED Talk about the significance of mass education and enthusiasm for learning.

Learning Styles And The Importance Of Critical Self-Reflection — Dr Tesia Marshik

Learning styles — the idea that we all learn best in different ways — are deeply ingrained in our educational system. But what does science have to say about this controversial topic?.

Dr Tesia Marshik is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Her research interests in educational psychology include student motivation, self-regulation, and teacher-student relationships.

Her TED Talk focuses on debunking the myth of learning styles. In fact, Tesia goes on to examine an array of compelling arguments against learning styles. Are we wasting time and resources promoting audio, visual and kinesthetic learning?

Overall, this TED Talk promotes a positive message: All of us are capable of learning in a variety of ways.

The Nerd’s Guide To Learning Everything Online — John Green

Most of us know John Green from his New York Times bestselling books, including The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns. However, he is also a passionate online video maker and an exceptional speaker.

In his TED Talk, John draws from his own experiences when it comes to learning. He shares how he became a passionate and committed learner by finding a way to learn that worked for him. He did this through a community of learning via online videos.

Here at Growth Engineering, we are big fans of social learning and online learning approaches, both of which have helped to fuel John’s experience. As such, we simply had to include his TED Talk in the mix!

Let’s Use Video To Help Reinvent Education — Salman Khan

Salman ‘Sal’ Khan is an American educator and the founder of Khan Academy. Khan Academy is a non-profit educational platform that provides free video lessons on a wide variety of topics, originally focusing on maths and science.

In his famous TED Talk, Sal talks about how and why he created the Khan Academy. He argues that traditional classroom training methods should be thrown out the window.

To make training more effective, Sal explores how pupils and employees can be trained using videos. Let’s hope that the days of picture-less education material are long gone!

Online Learning Could Change Academia — For Good — Tyler Dewitt

Science, education and technology professional Tyler DeWitt is passionate about using innovative approaches to create better, more accessible teaching and learning experiences.

In his TED Talk, Tyler explains how higher education is still rooted in rigid and traditional structures. He then explores how advancements in digital content and virtual reality are changing the future of learning.

In fact, Tyler emphasises that academia must adopt and embrace this new digital reality to meet their students’ needs.

The Global Learning Crisis — And What To Do About It — Amel Karboul

Amel Karboul is a former Tunisian government minister. Today, she is an author, speaker, politician, philanthropist and business leader who focuses on solving global challenges in education.

In her presentation, Amel shares some jaw-dropping facts about the current crisis. In fact, if nothing changes, half of the world’s 1.5 billion children will be out of school or failing to learn.

Her TED Talk focuses on sharing actionable ideas that help governments in different economic situations to ensure that every child has access to learning. Better still, all this is possible within just one generation.

Bring On The Learning Revolution — Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson’s talk is one of those golden oldies we mentioned. While this presentation was recorded in 2010, it’s rather timeless in its concept.

Rather than considering the latest in the learning technologies space, Sir Ken focuses on the authentic self, our natural talents, the educational system and personalisation.

In fact, he makes a case for shifting from standardised schools to personalised learning to create conditions where students’ natural talents can flourish. However, this can also be applied in the workplace.

He rallies against the basic structure of the education system and highlights how we need to disenthrall ourselves in order to revolutionise current training approaches.

Perhaps Sir Ken had a glimpse into what was to come, as personalisation is now a key approach to effective training programmes.

P.S. Listen out for the great quote from Abraham Lincoln!

Let’s Teach For Mastery, Not Test Scores — Salman Khan

Sal Khan appears on our list twice because of his dedication to education! Just like schools, some organisations rush workers through tests and assessments during training rather than focusing on getting the basics right.

To underline his point, Sal uses the metaphor of building a house on top of an unfinished foundation. Here, he makes some very refreshing points. The time we have to master a topic is variable, whereas the end goal of mastering it is fixed.

Would you choose to build a house on top of an unfinished foundation? Of course not. This begs a question: why do we rush students through education when they haven’t always grasped the basics?

Yes, it’s complicated, but Sal shares his plan to turn struggling students into scholars by helping them master concepts at their own pace.

What We’re Learning From 5,000 Brains — Read Montague

Read Montague is a neuroscientist and popular science author. As such, it makes sense his presentation is all about the brain. As this is another area close to our hearts here at Growth Engineering, we naturally had to include his TED Talk on the list!

Read explores how technology is helping us to understand the human brain. We no longer have to use mice and bugs to study the brain, but can now map brain activity in living and decision-making human beings.

This is extremely useful in understanding the complicated ways in which humans interact with each other.

And Read surely knows what he is talking about! After all, his work centres on human social cognition, decision-making and willful choice to understand computational neuroscience.

How Games Make Kids Smarter — Gabe Zichermann

We’re big on our games, and so is Gabe Zichermann. He is an entrepreneur, author, highly rated public speaker and gamification thought leader.

Over the last four decades, children have grown up playing computer games. As such, why shouldn’t we shift this format into the realm of adult learning? After all, today’s adults are used to playing games.

Gabe’s presentation shares how gaming can make children more productive by making them better problem-solvers and multi-taskers. Gamers are used to juggling multiple complex activities. For instance, they often have to switch between voice and text chats while operating a character through short-term and long-term objectives.

Consider that they do this while processing mind-bending graphics, and you’ve got yourself a competent problem solver! The point is, lots of skills can be learnt from computer games, and we totally agree!

What We’re Learning From Online Education — Daphne Koller

Daphne Koller is a computer scientist and co-founder of Coursera, an online platform that provides free college courses. She comes from an academic background, and she is a 3rd generation PhD.

Daphne’s TED Talk circulates around these topics. She notes that she is one of those lucky individuals who grew up with access to education. This helped to open the door to a world of opportunities.

Unfortunately, most people in the world are not as lucky. As such, Daphne continues to explore how online learning can help us provide wider educational opportunities at a lower cost.

Smash Fear, Learn Anything — Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss is an author, podcaster and tech investor. His presentation shares an inspiring story that initially takes you back to when Tim was a kid.

He explains that since the age of seven, he’d experienced quite an extreme fear of swimming. As a matter of fact, it took Tim until the age of 31 to deconstruct his fear and learn how to swim.

He did this by setting an end goal, something he focuses on when he mentions Parkinson’s Law. From Tim’s experience, it’s what you do (rather than how you do it) that will get you over that learning curve.

This presentation shows us that it’s never too late for us to learn. In addition, his story encourages us to not be afraid to learn new things.

A Passionate, Personal Case for Education — Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama needs no introduction! She has many titles under her belt: lawyer, administrator, author, and former first lady of the United States.

During her first foreign trip as a first lady, Michelle gave a surprise talk at a London girls’ school. The passionate and personal speech makes a case for each student to take their education seriously.

She discusses two concepts, introduced to her by her husband, Barack Obama: “the world as it is” and “the world as it should be”. This TED Talk inspires learners to understand how education helps to close the gap between these two notions.

The Call To Learn — Clifford Stoll

Last, but not least, let’s end with an extra fun TED Talk!

Clifford Stoll is an American astronomer, author and teacher. In this TED Talk, Cliff explains the importance of curiosity and learning. He does this in his own energetic and formidable way.

He bounces from one end of the stage to the other, manically enthusing about science and learning. His point, as he puts it, is this: ‘once I do something, I want to do something else’.

Cliff’s thirst for knowledge will fire up even the most traditional of obstructionists!

Final Words

We hope you have enjoyed these 15 TED Talks about learning as much as we did! All of them are amazing in their own ways, sharing stories, thought-provoking examples and innovative ideas.

Each of these speakers are passionate about conveying the importance of learning — just like we are here at Growth Engineering. This kind of thought leadership helps the L&D industry to grow and evolve into something great.

These presentations can also help you to supercharge your training programme by meeting the needs of your digital learners.

We, too, have a guide on how to appeal to your learners today. Click the link below to get your copy!

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