But when I see him talk at TED, it makes perfect sense. Not only is he a superb speaker, he gets his points across clearly.
Probably the best point of all is this one:
"What I do is I assign the lectures for homework and, what used to be
homework, I now have the students doing in the classroom."
I am definitely going to hop on the bandwagon now and join everyone else in following Khan while appreciating his pure genius. In fact, the best way to describe him is to combine all the great things people here on HN have to say about him:
> He's amazing. (joshu)
> I really do think Sal Khan will revolutionize teaching. (solarmist)
> Hero material. (MikeCapone)
> Future of education. (omfut)
> Really wonderful reminder of what just one person can set in motion. (runevault)
> Simply amazing that a guy armed only with a tablet and a microphone can have this
much impact. (keiferski)
> He is a big inspiration for anyone looking to change the world. (omfut)
If people are saying it is amazing, then there's a pretty good chance that it truly is amazing.
Also, I remember when doing Economic Theory, I spent 40 hours reading/studying in a library per week and still couldn't get my head around some of the advanced math and game theory, and really wish I'd had a teacher to teach me those concepts before the tutorial where we'd go through the problems. It turns out I was lacking knowledge of some mathematical transformations that I hadn't been taught because I didn't specialise in double math when I was 16.
Nevertheless, I favour this form of teaching.
I think this point is actually addressed by the Khan Institute's method of teaching. Lectures are kept very high level, short, and tend to build on each other. So rather than learning in a waterfall fashion, you have the (encouraged) option to go back and learn fundamentals before proceeding. The comments section of his website is actually very good for this; for example, in your situation rather than reading a book in 3 hour stints to learn about, say, game theory, you'd instead be watching a handful of encapsulated 20 min lectures, during which, if you ever ran into trouble, you could query the community and get the more granulated information you'd need to be successful in learning the higher level concept.
> This is how we were taught at Oxford. The only problem was, the unmotivated/disorganised students (like myself) often didn't do the reading/studying in our own time and so had to have these extremely painful tutorials one on one with the tutor.
I actually think this idea (of which I am also a culprit) is also addressed by the Khan Institute. In normal lecture style learning environments this would happen to me, and the next day if I still didn't get the topic (due to a lack of motivation, aptitude, or both) the class would move on, and students like you and I either got screwed or forced into motivation - which one - screwed or motivated - was kind of random depending on the day. But in the Khan method, there's no reason for a student to move on if they don't get the topic, which still leaves the necessity for students like you and I to get motivated, but (in theory) completely removes the option of a student getting screwed by a class that's moving past said student's current level of comprehension.
This isn't exactly revolutionary - we have been doing it for centuries we call them tutorials.
First, I totally buy the argument that a YouTube video can be a better method of delivering content than a book or even, as Kahn says, a live teacher. However, learning is much more than that. Learning is about imagining, playing, creating, sharing and reflecting (Resnick 2007, PDF: http://j.mp/gqnc6f).
To say that learning math is about watching a video and drilling on some problem set, is like saying that learning Python is about doing a tutorial and solving some exercises. Hackers know this well. You don't really learn a programming language until you build some project, especially a personally meaningful one. Creating something not only helps you learn the language but also its community, culture, practices, how to ask questions and get feedback on your work.
Think about it, would you rather hire a developer that has finished some tutorials or one that has actually hacked some projects? The same logic applies to most other fields. Artists and scientists know this as well: you learn by doing in the social context of a community.
Unfortunately, schooling has taken the "hacking" away from learning and has focused on improving content delivery, artificial problem-solving and test-taking. Often using technology. I liked when he mentioned that the teachers have more time to mentor students. However, their mentoring is most likely still focused on the artificial and decontextualized approach of traditional schooling.
Initiatives like the Khan Academy will probably play a role in the future but to really improve education the system and the approaches should change. One should look at exemplar learning environments like the hacker communities or even the Brazilian Samba schools. Settings that are "real, socially cohesive and where experts and novices are learning" (Papert 1980, Google Books: http://j.mp/dLNbGG).
In 1971, Ivan Illich outlined an inspirational alternative educational environment where "the child grows up in a world of things, surrounded by people who serve as models for skills and values. He finds peers who challenge him to argue, to compete, to cooperate, and to understand; and if the child is lucky, he is exposed to confrontation or criticism by an experienced elder who really cares."
Illich said that the four resources learners need are "things, models, peers, and elders". In his 1971 vision, Illich said that "the operation of a peer-matching network would be simple. The user would identify himself by name and address and describe the activity for which he sought a peer. A computer would send him back the names and addresses of all those who had inserted the same description. It is amazing that such a simple utility has never been used on a broad scale for publicly valued activity"(http://j.mp/hNUVV8). Sounds familiar? When I read Illich, I think of HN, StackExchange, and the larger ecology of spaces that hackers have created around social learning. My hope is that these and other similar approaches scale up and get adopted more broadly along with resources like the Khan Academy, OCW and others.
Learning math is not like learning programming. Math has a quantitative evaluation process.
The kind of scenarios you are talking about both have a quantitative and a qualitative evaluation process.
I.e. you can be creative in your programming and the "answers" but not so much in math.
Also I don't think Kahn Academy is in any opposition to Seymore Paperts "Mindstorms". In fact you could imagine the videos being used to teach children to get started before they go on to hack together their little programs.
What they have done is for the first time made a system that quantifies the learning process so that it benefits the student rather than the school.
Pretty significant if you ask me.
Real mathematicians have often lamented on the approach to mathematics that schools have taken. For example, this essay titled "A Mathematicians Lament" starts like this:
"A musician wakes from a terrible nightmare. In his dream he finds himself in a society where music education has been made mandatory. [...] Since musicians are known to set down their ideas in the form of sheet music, these curious black dots and lines must constitute the 'language of music.' It is imperative that students become fluent in this language if they are to attain any degree of musical competence; indeed, it would be ludicrous to expect a child to sing a song or play an instrument without having a thorough grounding in music notation and theory. Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very advanced topics and are generally put off until college, and more often graduate school. As for the primary and secondary schools, their mission is to train students to use this language— to jiggle symbols around according to a fixed set of rules: 'Music class is where we take out our staff paper, our teacher puts some notes on the board, and we copy them or transpose them into a different key. We have to make sure to get the clefs and key signatures right, and our teacher is very picky about making sure we fill in our quarter-notes completely. One time we had a chromatic scale problem and I did it right, but the teacher gave me no credit because I had the stems pointing the wrong way.'"
Consider complex numbers. You usually first meet them with imaginary numbers and polynomial equations. But they are extremely obtuse. But if you look at operations on them in terms of vectors, lateral extension of the reals to make the picture in terms of solvable polynomial equations complete, or in terms of polar coordinates, rotations, trigonometry, and e you start to get a fuller picture. But if you really want to get them you program a simple system (scaling and rotating triangles for example) that allows you to leverage all those properties. You build in the identities and operations. And then you experiment. Play with it. Play is vital to learning. With that, you get motivation and a fuller understanding than a mere that is just the way it is. With that deeper more intuitive understanding you are able to remember and internalize it better. Making the future topics easier but more importantly, developing the ability to draw connections rather than merely leaving each concept in isolation.
That is why maths is so hard. So much of it is completely divorced to how they were originated and completely unmotivated and magical. With no intuition future learning is further crippled, building apprehension via a negative feedback loop.
Again I am a big proponent of Seymores work but that is not the point here.
The point is that Kahn Academy allows you to learn math in your own tempo and that is the future of education. That doesn't mean that other things wont be important too but to say that it's not the future of education is simply missing the greater point IMHO.
People who have never been able to understand it before now suddenly do. We don't all need to be math wizards.
I also think, especially for learning kids maths, not to underestimate how powerful learning as playing is in motivating concepts. I do think such a thing done right, where you would replace a bunch of videos with one game would be even better than the videos as the future of education. As that type of active learning allows not just variable pacing but also variable exploration and creativity. And by building a repertoire of stories for concepts, it counters how alien and not straight forwardly relatable to real life experience more abstract maths is. A fact that makes learning maths hard.
As a first test of this idea I hope to someday make or see a game where kids program little battling bots and in the process learn concepts from high level physics and maths. as a side-effect. without realizing they are learning. I guess based on personal experiences, I feel there is still a class of kids that the khan academy style won't reach.
That kids learn concepts from high level physics and maths does not mean they learn formal math.
I am not saying that they need to learn formal math (in fact there are plenty of arguments against spending so much time trying to teach kids any math)
But it's important to understand that if everyone have to learn concepts in their own way they will loos the ability to communicate with each other.
The ability to transfer metaphors from something we understand into the world of Mindstorms and through that develop conceptual understanding of various areas does not necessarily transcend into understanding of math.
It might though create something else and quite wonderful. But formal math it probably wont be.
Likewise with math (and many other disciplines), there is a core set of skills and patterns that need to be mastered - once you truly understand those skills and patterns - you can then use them in creative ways to solve the problems.
Khan's great skill is in helping to explain those skills and patterns, leaving the teacher time to help the student master the practice of them.
That's where hacker culture comes from. People talking to each other, helping each other.
While I understand your concern in general, it seems unfounded in this case.
The week after that, he went over all the concepts again, but seeing the problem, then seeing the way to solve it seems better, to me.
Hearing this is definitely an ego stroke, but what the student really means is that he learns better by practicing problems than by listening to theory. I feel this is even more true in a younger school environment.
The teacher's and TA's roles are simply different in this respect, so I take no credit for "being better than the teacher".
But what Khan Academy does is really interesting, because now the teacher takes the role of the TA. I feel this is a much more effective way to teach. And ultimately the student will benefit. Thumbs up to this philosophy.
I love how the Khan Academy is institutionalizing that idea. I can't see any reason that lectures need to be done in person, but being able to work through sticking points with someone. Now that is valuable.
I really do think Sal Khan will revolutionize teaching. At least in the areas this model is applicable.
What topics do you plan to cover?
My goal is to cover everything. Yes, everything!
... My goal really is to keep making videos until the day I die
(which will hopefully not be for at least another 50 or 60
years). Should give me time to make several tens
of thousands of videos in pretty much every subject."
Isaac Asimov wrote either 506 books (or 515, say some sources) in his 72-year lifetime. (Jan 2, 1920 - Apr 6, 1992)
I used to, and still, treasure the books on science that Mr.Asimov wrote. It was fantastic. I just wish that he had lived to see this phenomenon taking place. I think he would be very, very pleased with Salman
However I wonder if he should be the only one making those videos for his new non-profit? I'm sure there are experts in other fields than science who could keep his "style" and make the whole "reinvent education" thing go much faster?
Its a pretty amazing idea and execution. From one basic subject, addition, they expand and branch out all the way down to basic calculus. It would be really amazing if they continued expanding this out to the point where all subjects where mapped out, even the less mathematical ones. Just to see the path from addition to trigonometry is a pretty good refresher of what the mechanics of the trig functions actually entail. Imagine seeing the path from addition to linear algebra.
More to the point, imagine a world in which a student uses this system throughout their educational career. I can't even fathom the difference that that level of tracking and relational mapping between ideas would have on a students understanding of material and motivation to tackle new subjects.
- MIT's OCW
- USNW eLearning channel on Youtube (esp Richar Buckland)
- TIMMS (Germany, possibly the first of the video resources)
- UCBerkeley youtube channel
- Dr. Adrian Banner (Princeton)
- Harvard (esp Michael Sandel's lectures, amazing)
A search of HN shows less attention given to these original sources than perhaps they deserve. In my opinion MIT OCW was the best known initiative till recent times and started this wave of online video learning.
BTW, I highly recommend Michael Sandel's lectures on ethics and politics, available on YouTube.
One caveat: I've been exposed to this material before in other contexts, so it's more like a phenomenal refresher. I can't know if this is a better way to teach from scratch. But, frankly, it's been long enough, or I was just that bad at it the first time, that it sometimes feels like I never learned it in the first place. This gives me some degree of confidence that it's at least one right way.
While KA is definitely well organized, esp. for kids, "miles better" is hyperbole. There are other resources for young learners such as mathvids, brightstorm.com (and others) with little or no mention on HN.
There are also cheap/paid/freemium resources for kids - eg. mathtv.com and yourteacher.com (I think yourteacher has been around for a while.
My overall point is that - regarding this topic, HN seems to have a rather narrow view or is completely unaware of existing resources.
One could almost try to extract a lesson out of that...
The desire to fit in and conform does not develop in the normal way, because we're not aware until later than neurotypical people of what other people are thinking and we never care about it quite so much. Normal children are obsessed with finding peer approval and young hackers stare in amazement.
I failed to grasp the basic mechanics of marketing until a kind MBA recommended "Crossing the Chasm" by Geoff Moore, after I had told him I didn't really see the use of sales and marketing. One of the ideas in the book is the need for marketers to convince different market segments that this product is suitable for them. A huge part of that is convincing them that they are not alone, that the product has already sold to a lot of other people and that they are not going to be doing something risky and independent by buying it.
This herd mentality, which dominates mass market sales, had not really figured in my earlier understanding because I am not in that same category. I'm in Moore's "innovators" category. It doesn't matter a bit to me whether anyone I know of has chosen some product or idea.
So I think many hackers have a poor grasp of marketing because it doesn't really work on them and they don't know how unusual that is.
But all those sites are evolutionary not revolutionary. They would never inspire the kind of use that Khan Academy has seen.
I think the one of key's to the Khan Academy system is the short 5-15 minute "lectures" that only teach a single concept at a time. That makes it more approachable and easier to go right to where you need to be; rather than a 50 minute lecture that covers a dozen different things at once.
Teaching it like a tutoring session may not seem like that big a change, but when you combine all the little differences from the traditional model it become something totally revolutionary.
If we consider views proportional to impact, then a glance at the viewcount of some OCW or Richard Buckland's lectures on youtube show they're in the same popularity range as KA.
Also, I should've mentioned the Stanford youtube channel in my list. Its pretty good, covers several undergrad/grad courses and also available via iTunes.
While Khan academy is targeted at a mass audience. I think both serve their target audiences very well too. I'm nearly addicted to OCW, but it's heavy stuff, not something you can sit down with for 10 minutes at a time and make progress.
In regards to your comment on impact. Khan academy in its current form has only been around for months while OCW has been around for over 10 years. In my daily life I've only met one or two people that have even heard of it, while the Khan academy is already being mentioned by people I know independent of my experience with it.
Also, I've been following KA for a while and its definitely been around a lot longer than a few months, its form has changed a couple of times, much improved now. IIRC Sal originally started by posting on youtube.
But what this video especially pointed out is that Khan Academy is not just great content, but an extremely innovative system.
I haven't looked at it for a while, maybe they've fixed it. But Khan Academy hit the ground running. I originally found him a few years ago when he didn't even quite have a hundred videos up. It blew my mind, I was just looking for some help with algebra but instead I found a rabbit hole of knowledge.
That is so beautiful.
Edit: Ignore this, read your blog, very insightful.
Also is the youtube video a strange colour red for anyone else?
> The traditional model, it penalizes you for experimentation and failure,
> but does not expect mastery.
> We encourage you to experiment [and fail], but we do expect mastery.
Imagine a world where the baseline level of education is produced by a Khan style system. Schooling wouldn't be as tractable (i.e., it might take 2 to 6 (or more) years to go through high school instead of a nice predictable 4), but everyone that would come out of said system would have the same (ideal) level of knowledge needed in order to move on to the next best thing (e.g., college, work, life's passion, etc.). There wouldn't be kids competing for GPA's or stuffing their resumes, and there wouldn't be kids who didn't know how to tie their shoes; there would be kids who KNOW calculus, kids who UNDERSTAND physics, and kids who GET American history. The variation would be in the idiosyncrasies of the topics, as opposed to the core concepts.
Now imagine further to what this does for higher education. In this proposed system, it would simply be a fact that graduating kids would know - at mastery level - what their school's curriculums listed off; it's the equivalent of everyone having a 1600 on their SAT's. College acceptance becomes less of a selectivity problem, and more of an efficiency problem; where are all these geniuses going to study!
Ahhh, the potential is so exciting...
That being said, as sort of an aside I think it's noteworthy to say that the idea of fixing the tuition-based University model is a bit more complex than the high school model, but as user arjn said bellow, there are plenty of free lecture repositories out there already; perhaps if prior educational systems encouraged and indoctrinated students to be more self-proficient (as in the Khan system), University learning becomes more about educating yourself, and those free lectures will (naturally) replace the pay-to-learn model. I don't know, but it's a thought...
I've met at least a few people who, being charitable, I would be extremely hard pressed to see passing a calculus exam. I'd agree that for some it's down to motivation but the motivation may come 20+years later or not at all.
Certainly though I'm extremely wary of declaring that all people can attain the same intellectual level which appears to be what you claim.
I'm not going to say it's impossible but I think you must have missed a step where you do some sort of brain augmentation or injection of nanobots to build knowledge pathways without any need to apply a learning process ...
Regardless, I don't think the existence of can't-be-motivated learners compromises the ideals of a Khan-like system. Sure there are kids that aren't going to get it no matter what, but their productivity in any system is going to be nill, Khan, tradtional, or otherwise.
he was very good at explaining and teaching, and liked analyzing data.
Personally, I found school boring and tedious (and got pretty average grades) until going to 6th form college where I discovered something amazing - learning isn't defined by a failed teaching system - learning done right is a joyful and wonderful thing (unsurprisingly my grades significantly improved at this point).
The fact that learning is a joy is one of the most important discoveries you make in life (or don't, unfortunately I think most people don't) and anything that allows people to discover this is a vastly important thing.
(It's important to note that learning, as with everything else, isn't 100% joyful all the time, but that the joy of it infinitely outweighs any difficulty and pain encountered along the way).
I've noticed a pernicious worship of ignorance that pervades, at least, my country (the UK) - the idea that learning is boring and there's something wrong with you if you seem to enjoy it - that alone is to my mind incredibly dangerous. Nothing could be further from the truth, literally. This is nothing, though, compared to countries where ordinary people are simply unable to access quality education or even any education at all where the Khan academy is an example of the internet at its democratising best.
I really admire Sal for what he's doing with global education. He is a big inspiration for anyone looking to change the world. Specially hackers.
If I listened hard, I wonder if I could hear paradigms shifting.
Today teaching is an art; this could turn it into a science.
That I started my own channel for Programming in C++, for my students... I have 74 videos already... (in Spanish, sorry)
Either of these reasons would have been sufficient excuses for him to not help his cousins. Lucky for them and for all of us that such an amazing talent was so generous with his time and insistent on using technology to overcome the distance barrier.
I hope this spreads like wildfire.
I find the exercise dashboard kind of strange. Is math the only available subject? And do you have to go through all the prerequisite exercises to progress to the next ones?
You can jump to any area or exercise you want at any time. We suggest exercises, but I've seen plenty of 5th graders jump to Calculus and play around with Limits just because it's interesting/challenging and they saw their friend try it.
One thing you guys might be interested in:
Daphne Koller is a Stanford CS professor who has been teaching her course CS228 on Probabilistic Models in a similar format for a couple of years. She has the lectures online by chunks of about 10 minutes and then uses in-class time for more interactive sessions. (I'm not sure if you can access the videos if you don't have a Stanford login though)
I really think this method of learning makes so much sense for any level student. Can't wait to see it progress!
There are a lot of problems tangled up in in this that also need to be solved. His model relies on students watching lectures at home. Not everyone has broadband; some don't even have a computer. What do you do for those kids? Do you send home DVDs? What if there is no TV? (probably rare in the US, but still) Do you give every student a free laptop? I understand Los Altos is a pilot program, but quoting Wikipedia: "It is one of the wealthiest places in the United States." What do you do in the inner city or in very rural areas?
Obviously the people behind this are very smart and I'm sure they are considering all the issues involved, this is just my brain dump after watching.
I like the lecture-as-homework idea. It seems that less of everyone's time will be wasted with that method. Teachers/parents will have a much better idea of how long the "homework" will take, because the video is a fixed length +/- the rewinding/fast forwarding. In the classroom, everyone gets the attention they need.
Things I'm curious about:
What about the students who work faster than the rest? I guess they eventually reach the end of the curriculum for that particular course. Do they move to the next classes' topics or is there some set of optional topics that they can choose based on personal interest?
What kinds of tests are there? He talked about the current models shortcomings(some student fail the test, but the class moves on anyway), but are there any big tests or final exams on the model? Or, is it entirely "quizzes?"
Have the teachers noticed an improvement in student behavior? Do they spend less time on disciplinary action due to the more interactive sessions?
A compelling argument, and a great method! I can't count the startup ideas that could come from this.
By giving alway classroom tools like test management and monitoring, he is also equipping teachers to become more scalable and as he described - data driven.