Khan Academy

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It’s midnight.

The night before your midterm.

And at this point, the textbook has stopped making sense.

You’re reading and reading, but nothing seems to stick, so now what do you do?

Well, many students have started turning to YouTube to learn concepts that are just too difficult to grasp in text.

One of the most popular resources for this situation is Khan Academy. Khan Academy is a non-profit founded in 2008 by Salman Khan, which strives to provide quality education to people all over the world for free. The site offers a variety of subjects such as science, mathematics, economy, finance,  and even humanities. The programs target grade school students, college students, adult learners and even teachers. The non-profit got its start from Khan’s desire to tutor his niece, which he did using Yahoo Doodle, soon after he began to upload videos to YouTube.

Eventually Khan left his hedge fund job to take the leap of faith into education. Khan lived off his savings while making videos, before he got his first donation from Ann Doerr, husband of venture capitalist and billionaire John Doerr.

The venture has come a long way and turned into an organization that helps over 300 million students per month with a YouTube channel that has over 1.4 million subscribers. Beyond the more than 4,000 instructional videos KA offers, they also offer interactive exercises provided through a guided learning experience which they describe as the “Netflix” of education. KA has four principals that they follow to offer quality to their user’s personalization, mastery, interactive and data driven. The site boasts over 100,000 peer-reviewed practice problems, and 1.3 billion practice problems are completed daily. Signing up for the site is easy, all one needs to do is either log in with a Facebook or Google account. The account allows for a personalized view of the site that allows students to track their progress.

Most of the videos are of a black screen with Khan’s voice-over explaining techniques using Smoothdraw 3. Smoothdraw; a drawing application much like Microsoft’s Paint, allows for the instructors to use different colors for emphasis, the vivid colors are also more visually appealing and would lose much of its charm if it was monochrome. The colors also work for people who are visual learners and find it easier to see drawings of things while they are learning. The lecture style of the videos is also perfect for students who may have missed a week’s lecture, or overachieving students who wish to preview a scheduled lecture.

Ka wishes to stress to the press that they are not a replacement for teachers, rather a resource for both teachers and students to utilize, even going so far as to provide training to teachers around the country on how to use their program to better benefit their students.

“We strongly believe that teachers are essential in the learning process, teachers provide the human element to inspire, motivate and guide students through their learning paths. “Khan Academy promotes a model where teachers leverage our online resources to provide personalized, mastery‐based, interactive instruction. Our Education Partners hips team works directly with approximately 50 classrooms each school year and runs in‐person teacher workshops to train teachers on how to use our resources and shift to a personalized, mastery-based, interactive instruction model.”

The idea of free education has taken off in recent years with the addition of massively open online courses from Coursera, a website that offers free courses from some of the top universities in the world such as Princeton, Brown, Duke, Stanford and Yale University. Khan Academy actually works as more of supplemental education aid to matriculated students in need of a quality lecture in whatever subject they are studying, it claims.

With the variety of different subjects being offered, one would assume Khan is a true Renaissance man, but really there is now a team of people behind the videos. People assume that Khan only has only one limitation, the fact that the entire business relies on Khan himself. In fact, he is the face, founder and star of more than 3,000 videos specializing in math, biology, finance and chemistry. However, KA is slowly adding more instructors to their lineup. Beth Harris, Steven Zucker and Rishi Desi who are all well received by the KA community.

The site is popular with Mercy College students, especially ones taking courses with difficult to concepts such as mathematics, chemistry and biology. Khan uses a array of colorful elements to bring each concept life and make even the most boring subject way less painful. Other methods clear in his videos are repetition and the use of simpler terminology.  Many professors even advocate for students to go out and use other resources to learn, especially if they are not comfortable coming forward in class.

Professors agree that students must spend some time at home studying to really grasp the information, even if it goes beyond the text book.

“Never be afraid to use other resources instead of just the textbook. The textbook is good, but sometimes to fully  understand you need to find a resource that works for you,”  recommended a Mercy chemistry professor.

Fans of KA enjoy the laid back approach Khan takes in his videos, along with the ability to customize their learning experience.

“It limits the stress level when learning. You can go back and pause until you understand the concepts, it’s a huge help and it feels good to be responsible for my own education,” said Yesenia, a junior studying to be physicians assistant. “Sometimes the professor goes way too fast and you don’t even know what’s going on, and there are some days when they don’t even go over the problem and expect you to know it.”

The business model for Khan Academy is simple – it doesn’t have one yet. It runs off donations from users and donations from Google and the Bill Gates Foundation.  It currently has seven full time instructors. The site is also available all over the world in 216 countries and is being translated into different languages to reach a broader audience of students.