Friday, March 11, 2016

The Khan Academy -- on the Internet or a LAN near you

The Khan Academy began when hedge fund analyst Sal Khan started posting short, conversational videos on YouTube to help his cousin with her math class. The videos went viral. Today there are 23 courses in math, 7 in science, 4 in economics and finance, 25 in the arts and humanities, 3 in computing and preparation for 8 tests like the SAT along with content from 25 high-profile partners.

The Khan Academy is a non-profit organization that promises to provide a world-class education that is "free for everyone forever," and their open source software is available on GitHub. Over 39 million "learners" have used the material and it is being translated into 40 languages.

As shown below, the courses are comprised of fine-grained modules focused on a single concept and each module includes a test of mastery. The modules are arranged hierarchically, and a student has not completed the course until he or she has mastered a module -- they encourage experimentation and failure, but expect mastery. (Getting a C in a typical college course means the student understood only about half of the material and will do poorly in classes for which the course is a prerequisite -- an effect that compounds throughout college and into the workplace).

Portion of the beginning arithmetic course knowledge graph

In addition to the teaching content, the Khan Academy software presents a "dashboard" that enables a teacher, parent or other "coach" to monitor the progress of a student or class. The red bar shown in the dashboard view below indicates that a student is stuck on a given concept. The teacher can then help him or her or, better yet, have a student who has already mastered the concept tutor the one who is stuck. (Research shows that the tutor will benefit as well as the tutee -- "to teach is to learn twice").

Dashboard with fine-grained progress reports

The dashboard enables a coach to adapt to the strengths and weaknesses of each student and spot learning gaps. They understand that students may be blocked by one simple concept, and sprint ahead once it is mastered. (I recall sitting in freshman calculus class, and being totally lost for half the term, until I figured out what the teacher meant when he said "is a function of" and the class snapped into focus).

Confusion on a single concept "blocked" this student.

The third major component facilitates community discussion among the students taking a given class, allowing for questions, answers, comments and tips & thanks.

Tracking student participation in the course community

But, what if you don't have Internet access?

Learning Equality grew out of a project to port the Khan Academy software to a local area network at the University of California at San Diego. Their version, KA-Lite, can be customized for an individual learner, classroom or school running on a Linux, Mac or Windows PC as small as a $35 Raspberry Pi.

KA-Lite is three years old and has been used in 160 nations by over 2 million learners from above the Arctic Circle to the tip of Chile and translations are under way into 17 languages. The following shows organizations that are deploying it and installations.

There is an interactive version of this map online.
To learn more, visit their Web site and contribute to their Indiegogo campaign.

See this companion post on MIT's Open Courseware, which is also available off line.

For the history, pedagogical philosophy, accomplishments and future of the Khan Academy along with a video collage showing examples of their content, see this 20-minute talk by Sal Khan: