The Khan Academy: A New Approach To Online Learning

You may not think of hedge fund analysts as harbingers of an educational revolution, but one such professional, Salman Khan, has taken steps to change the way we learn. Through a series of YouTube tutorials, Khan has benefited millions of teachers and students. Read on to learn more about his efforts and philosophy.

The Khan Academy

Salaman Khan was working as a hedge fund analyst when he started posting YouTube videos in 2004. Rather than the typical self-indulgent or frivolous content that's usually front and center on that site, Khan's videos were math tutorials for his young cousins who needed some extra instructional help. With a bachelor's in math from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he was plenty qualified to explain basic math concepts to young students. But Khan's impressive academic credentials go further than that. In addition to the B.S. in Math, he also has a second B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT, a Master of Engineering from MIT and an MBA from Harvard.

khan academy homepage

Those impressive academic credentials reveal Khan's skill in a variety of fields, and eventually, he began YouTube-ing lessons in other subjects as well. Soon, he had enough material and viewers to found the Khan Academy, a totally free, all-online educational resource. During a TED talk in March, 2011, Khan said that a million students use the site every month, and that 100,000-200,000 videos are viewed a day. In addition to the videos, the Khan Academy site (pictured above) provides interactive problem sets for students to practice the concepts outlined on videos. Practice problems are generated until the student establishes understanding, which is defined by ten correct answers in a row.

The Benefits of Video

In his TED talk, Khan notes that, in response to his first videos, his cousins said they liked him better in that format than in person. Though this initially seemed a bit insulting, he says that it ultimately made a lot of sense. Watching a tutor on video can feel less intimidating. Students can stop a video, rewind it and fast forward countless times without feeling shy or guilty about asking for instructions to be repeated. Putting the lessons on video allows students to move at their own pace without embarrassment if they're a little behind on their knowledge, or boredom if they're ahead of the game. With a video, there's no pressure to respond to the question 'do you understand this?' - instead, students can evaluate for themselves, in private and without scrutiny, whether they actually understand material.

As another example of the benefits of video, Khan said that he's heard from teachers who use his lectures to 'flip the classroom' - rather than lecturing in class and assigning problems as homework, the lectures become the homework, and the problems are done in class. That way, students can ask questions after viewing the lectures, and have the benefit of working out problems while supervised by their teachers. Since the videos are already made and are readily accessible on a popular website, teachers can focus on making sure each student understands, instead of worrying about that on top of trying to create a lecture. Plus, having the silent lecture portion take place at the students' homes gives rise to more interactivity in the classroom. Peers can work together in solving problems instead of having to practically ignore each other while the teacher is lecturing.

A New Model for the Future?

The model provided by the Khan Academy could point the way toward a new future in education. By incorporating this type of education into the classroom, cumulative topics like math and science no longer need to be crammed into a one-size-fits-all format. Because the videos and website exercises allow students to move at an individual pace, they can feel comfortable reviewing material and working at concepts until they understand them. There is less pressure to move forward than there is in the typical learning environment, where lack of understanding surfaces in the form of classroom questions, and one student's comprehension may have to take a backseat to the class schedule. With this use of video technology in the classroom, teachers may have a way to tailor lessons to every skill level without having to worry about ignoring high or low achievers.

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