IF any evidence was necessary to point to a seismic shift in attitudes towards education, one trillion downloads on YouTube's dedicated education site last year should do it.

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The portal, which carries 900 channels and hundreds of thousands of video lessons, is part of a massive wave of free, high-quality offerings forcing a rethink of traditional education.

Mathematician Chris Tisdell, an early adopter, has been posting lessons on YouTube for five years. His interest was sparked when his employer, the University of NSW, was Australia's first university to set up a dedicated channel on the platform.

"I saw the potential for flexibility in learning," Dr Tisdell said. "I can post videos that are accessible 24 hours a day to a global audience."

It's a strategy that has worked; through his own channel, Understanding Mathematics, as well as UNSW's e-Learning, he has had more than a million views.

Dr Tisdell says three kinds of learners are drawn to his lectures: UNSW students who have it set as part of their course; external students who use it to supplement their own course and self-learners or educational tourists, who are "just interested".

Angela Lin, the Los Angeles-based head of YouTube EDU, says downloads of educational content doubled in just one year, 2011, when the one trillion downloads were counted.

"We think that hunger for education has always been there, but has never been satisfied," Ms Lin said.

"Now the technology has caught up. YouTube is ubiquitous. People have used it to help them finish high school, others use it for enrichment, some teachers use it as an ancillary to classroom teaching. We know of university students in Africa who are using it to access up-to-date content and information."

Derek Muller is also posting lessons on YouTube, through his channel Veritasium. The physics PhD, who once auditioned for NIDA, says he enjoys being able to create new ways of disseminating knowledge and making science fun.

Veritasium has attracted 74,000 subscribers and had nearly eight million downloads, making it the 48th most popular Australian channel on the platform.

"I watch the competition, and I'm aiming to be in the top dozen," Dr Muller says. His lessons take whatever form captures his imagination at the time.

Sometimes it's a song, sometimes a video, sometimes it's based on a drawing. "They come in all flavours," he said.

Ms Lin says YouTube EDU is different from massive open online courses primarily because no assessment is offered, even though many MOOCs courses can be viewed on the site.

She said YouTube had teamed with another free online education site, Khan Academy, to search for the Next EDU Guru. The 10 best content creators will get special training and promotion at YouTube.