Bean, E. (2012) Wrath of Khan?: Deconstructing the online learning academy Detroit Web 2.0 Examiner, March 12
Eric Bean is an educator who has signed up as a coach/volunteer for the Khan Academy. The Khan Academy has a library of over 3,000 videos covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history and 315 practice exercises, all free. The focus is mainly on k-12, supporting home schooling or providing additional support for students outside (and sometimes inside) school.
Bean has a number of criticisms from the point of view of a ‘coach’. (Interesting use of language here by the Khan Academy: why not teacher or tutor or instructor? Is there a difference in Salman Khan’s mind, and if so, what is it?) Bean’s main criticism is that the interface and navigation for coaches is poor, especially compared to the student interface.
I have another criticism. As someone who struggles with math, the Khan Academy would seem perfect for me. My problem though is I don’t know where to begin. Just jumping at random into a video suddenly makes me aware that I need lots of prior knowledge before I can understand this video, but there’s no help on that. Also, where’s the feedback? If I still don’t understand after watching the video several times and doing the exercises, what do I do?
Both Bean’s criticism and my confusion are clear indications of the value of good learning design, and the need for structure and management in learning. As a resource that can be embedded within such a managed structure, I can see that the Khan videos can be very useful. Also they will be invaluable for a student who has gone to a lesson in school and not really understood it, so long as he/she can find a video and recognize that it deals with the problem he/she is struggling with. The videos may also provide help to instructors who themselves are a little shaky in the topic (and there are plenty of those in math and physics teaching). And having available dynamic audio-visual teaching materials on demand for free is great.
However, with a little more effort, the Khan Academy could be so much more. Providing a coherent route through the material would be an enormous help. (This could also be said of iTunes U, incidentally, which is a mess in terms of organization of material). Connecting me to a ‘live’ coach or volunteer would also be helpful. I get the feeling that both the Khan Academy and i Tunes U are more about supply and ‘push’ of resources, rather than looking at the service from both the learner’s and the instructor’s viewpoint. Do I hear the word ‘instructional designer’? Where is learning theory in all this? It’s as if 100 years of research on learning has just gone down the toilet.