Back in the day, students of knowledge had three levels of studying. That still is present in many regions, but there are various other regions where this pattern is completely lost.
- The first one is As-Samaa’ al-Mubaashir (السماع المباشر ), immediately learning from a Shaykh. Those who are attending, that is as-Samaa’ al-Mubaashir. That is the best and the reward for that in itself is immense.
2. The next one is al-Waasitah (الواسطة ), between you and the Shaykh is a mediator. So if one of you goes and conveys this whole message to another person, that is Waasitah. You were the mediator between me and that person you taught. Some used to do that, especially business men or farmers, they would take turns in learning and teaching each other.
3. The third one is Wijaadah (وجادة ), to find a book written by a Shaykh and study from it.
Now where does learning for example, from a Shaykh on Youtube come in? In my opinion, it is a little higher than number two because you are not learning through a mediator, you are learning from the Shaykh but you are learning possibly through the internet. And it is definitely not Wijaadah, it is not taking a book and studying from it.
So it is really between the number one and number two. Through the internet one can even interact these days through emails or he can call the Shaykh that he is learning from, so in reality it has become a notch under as-Samaa’ al-Mubaashir. That is not to minimise going to a Shaykh. One should not resort to Wijaadah, Waasitah or any other means if he can find a direct Shaykh.
If you find a righteous Shaykh and he is in the end of the world, you pack your bags and go if you are able to go and learn from him.
Learning from a Shaykh in person has its benefits, like you see his private life, his manners, his attitude, his Ibaadah and you see how he reacts to things.
The Salaf used to consider it a negative characteristic for one to study from books alone. They said:
من كان شيخه كتابه كان خطؤه أكثر من صوابه
If your Shaykh is your book, your mistakes are more than your correctness. When Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen was asked about one who studies through audio tape, he encouraged it but he said learning directly is better because you can discuss and ask. So, try to learn from a Shaykh directly, else study from a teacher online.