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2012-05-19 Steve Gardiner Online Education—Part 3—Khan Academy

In Part 1, I wrote about students using YouTube videos to assist them in their classroom studies ( ), and in Part 2, I discussed the OpenCourseWare concept that has made undergraduate and graduate classes at MIT available to the public for free ( ).

Part 3 will examine the Khan Academy (http://www.khanacademy.org/) and what its originator Salmon Khan is doing to transform online education. In an interview with Tom Brokaw (http://www.khanacademy.org/talks-and-interviews/v/tom-brokaw-interviews-sal-at-education-nation-2011), Khan recounts how he started the site by tutoring his nephews and nieces long distance and quickly realized that recording the tutoring sessions would be more efficient. He posted a few videos on YouTube and quickly gained a large following.

The videos on Khan Academy clearly reflect Khan's personal background. He has hundreds of videos on math concepts including algegra, calculus and geometry. Almost any ideas in those areas is explained in videos that usually last 5-10 minutes. They are a quick, easy-to-follow commentary which feature a screen showing Khan's mouse pointer directing the viewer to follow an equation or sketch of a concept as he develops it on the screen. Khan does not appear on the videos, preferring to keep the viewer focused on the concept being taught.


For several years, Khan was a financial analyst in Boston, so there is a large section discussing financial concepts. He takes an idea such as how term life insurance works and explains it in basic terms for the viewer. In the science sections, topics such as conservation of energy are his focus.


In the interview with Brokaw, Khan stated that he intends to continue expanding the offerings (currently there are over 3,000 posted on the site) to include more topics in the humanities and other fields that have less representation at the moment.


According to Khan, the benefit of this method of learning is that every students can work on a concept as long as he needs to before moving on. One student told him that he watched one video 30 times before he finally grasped the idea, but in the end, he did understand it and could then move on to the next ideas. The student commented to Kahn that he would never be able to pay a tutor to sit with him and explain the concept 30 times without judging him. The strength then, said Kahn, is letting each student move at his own pace through the course content when mastery of each concept is met.


One idea that I will look forward to seeing is a future project Khan wants to include that will focus on creative writing. He goal would be to have not only videos to help students work on their writing, but to have a platform so that students could actually peer review each other's writings and offer help as the writings are in progress.


The home page for Khan Academy (http://www.khanacademy.org/) lists all the videos available by subject area. The videos are mini-lessons rather than parts of constructed courses as was seen in the MIT OpenCourseWare videos, so students or teachers could use the Khan videos in a variety of ways inside and outside the classroom. A student could consult a video for a single concept, or work her way through an entire section of the choices to develop a full understanding of the subject area.


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