A view from Simon Pont

Yes, you can teach someone how to be a YouTuber

A Glasgow college has launched the UK's first course in vlogging. It offers a great way to grow creativity and escape mediocrity, writes Simon Pont....

There are some things in life you just can’t teach, the line goes.  Your reaction, whether one of sage nodding or vehement glaring, will succinctly reflect which side of the line your views reside on.

Without fence-sitting, the American writer Marya Hornbacher brokers a middling perspective: "You can't teach an ear, you can't teach talent… but you can teach people who have those things not to just fly by the seat of their pants."

City of Glasgow College recently announced that they’ll be running a course in vlogging.

Autumn 2016 so marks the moment vlogging becomes a subject of formal learning, something studiable, a "discipline", a college qualification, a practice with more to it than pushing "record", breaking the Fourth Wall and "flying by the seat of your pants".  

The sub-textual message: the path to potential YouTube stardom might just be helped by a modicum of "classical training".

Akin to leaning over an exam paper, the questions quickly leap:

Is the college jumping on a fad, riding a bandwagon craze in a selfie age where we all carry audiovisual means in our pocket?

Or is Glasgow recognising the above-water tip of the zeitgeist and stating itself a first-mover in what will become a more widespread field of learning?

Perhaps more fundamentally: is a class teaching vlogging and "how to become a YouTuber" actually broken logic, because how can you teach the sort of online eccentricity and big personality that can cross the divide and become captured content?

Where George Bernard Shaw proposed the paradox that "youth is wasted on the young", is Glasgow’s latest course a paradox in reverse: the oldies just not getting what it’s all about, trying to teach aspiring YouTubers a set of old tricks that just don’t apply?

I’ll start with a bigger picture point. We should applaud any course that develops understanding and skills in how to interact with the internet and create for it.

Whether we attend a class in it or not, all of us (of all ages) should take the occasional pause and consider how we represent ourselves digitally, and how others may perceive us online. We upload-share-comment-like with daily enthusiasm, every online act saying something about us and adding to the self portrait.

Institutions offering courses that help young people consider how to fairly and healthily present themselves digitally is judicious and astute. 

Where growing-up naturally involves a few missteps, social media can become a mean-spirited companion. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off would have turned out seriously different if at any point he’d stopped to check in or post to his timeline.

The second point in favour of the course relates to "craft skills". Talking to camera, behaving naturally in front of a lens, communicating clearly to an audience – these are terrific skills to have, not ones that come naturally to all of us, and are of huge benefit in a whole host of present careers, as well as future ones that have yet to define themselves.

You talk to any headmaster today, and they’ll comfortably discuss their school’s role in terms of preparing for the unknown, in terms of equipping children for walking future career paths that don’t currently exist.

So the college’s latest curriculum addition is a new data-point in a trend line that shows a form of creative expression, and an industry, in evolution.

You can teach filmmaking, storytelling and screenwriting. You can teach acting and TV presenting and broadcast journalism. You can teach video editing and documentary-making.

Now you can also be taught vlogging and take lessons in how to become a social influencer – and while this might be something you already do and that comes as naturally to you as breathing, study and practice and the accumulation of experience can only serve to positively hone your craft and creative process.

All education is a potential path to something better. The Butler Act of 1944 is toasted by historians as a "triumph for progressive reform". It gave rise to the grammar schools, to open-opportunity for all regardless of social class or financial circumstance, inviting a post-war baby boomer generation to meritocratic rise, based solely on effort and ability.

Michael Heseltine described it more pointedly, calling the Butler Act a chance for all to "escape from mediocrity".

1944, 2016: there are parallels. The digital age is a liberating invitation to all to express, create and upload. It’s the opportunity for talent to out, creativity to find form and personalities to shine.

The digital age is an opportunity to trash some outdated paradigms, and find new ways of doing things. "How to advertise", "how to build brands" and "how agencies stay creative and relevant" are firmly included in this welcome "paradigm rebuild". Whether we take formal classes in this or not, everyday is a new lesson inviting us all to learn and to escape mediocrity.

Simon Pont is chief strategy officer at social video broadcaster Brave Bison