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Khan Academy: It’s Different This Time (mathalicious.com)
274 points by skrebbel on Feb 5, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 179 comments

To address our challenges, we need to do what every other successful country has done: invest in professional development; give teachers more time to collaborate; and provide them with resources that help them not only meet the learning standards, but exceed them.

You could have copy/pasted that conclusion without altering a word from the debate about every other educational reform: school choice/vouchers, NCLB, high-stakes testing, teacher testing, etc etc. It's invariant under every proposal because the goal is to employ teachers and education of students is a welcome-but-unnecessary industrial byproduct.

It is also just as false that the US lags peer nations in professional development / collaboration time / pointless frippery ("resources that help them not only meet the learning standards, but exceed them") than it was the last 47 times this was brought up as a panacea.

> the goal is to employ teachers and education of students is a welcome-but-unnecessary industrial byproduct.

This is pretty much exactly what I was thinking, albeit less eloquently, as I read this article. The entire article, while it made good points, always had an undertone of "Khan Academy is dangerous to me, therefore it's dangerous for everyone."

It could just be a difference of perspective - the author is a teacher and has been trained in a certain way of educating students, so any idea that isn't the way they were taught seems weird, scary, and wrong.

I'm not saying that Khan Academy is entirely the right direction to take - I haven't used it enough to say, and I'm too old to be able to stand in the shoes of its target demographic - but the entire time I read the article, I felt a bias underpinning the entire thing.

Been in the classroom for 17 years in higher education. I'm much better at my job now than I was 17 years ago. I've learned a lot in the intervening 17 years. Wisdom and experience count for something and imparting this onto other is useful.

Professional development can be helpful and to suggest that the goal is simply to employ teachers is ignorant and naive. I've never met a single teacher who has proposed an innovation with the goal of employing teachers. There are people who do care about teaching and some of those people are teachers and educational leaders. It does not appear to me that your cynicism is rooted in reality.

How do you know you're better at your job now than 17 years ago? Does an effective teacher evaluation system exist in your country that you can use as a reference to validate your claim?

Plus one for "how do you know?". My only caution to add in the case of teachers is that since the problem (or benefit) with standards is that there are so many of them, and since one corollary is that when a standard is chosen it's hard to change later and experimentation is rare, then the situation is doubly worse for teachers whose jobs revolve around a standard of performance because unless they have tenure the risk of a failed experiment aimed at helping the students learn (as opposed to only getting a high score with some performance standard) is too high. Anyway, your comment immediately reminded me of this anecdote I had saved in my quotes file that I thought was apt:

'One day when I was a junior medical student, a very important Boston surgeon visited the school and delivered a great treatise on a large number of patients who had undergone successful operations for vascular reconstruction.

    At the end of the lecture, a young student at the back of the room timidly asked, “Do you have any controls?” Well, the great surgeon drew himself up to his full height, hit the desk, and said, “Do you mean did I not operate on half the patients?” The hall grew very quiet then. The voice at the back of the room very hesitantly replied, “Yes, that’s what I had in mind.” Then the visitor’s fist really came down as he thundered, “Of course not. That would have doomed half of them to their death.”

    God, it was quiet then, and one could scarcely hear the small voice ask, “Which half?”'
Dr. E. E. Peacock, Jr., quoted in Medical World News (September 1, 1972), p. 45, as quoted in Tufte's 1974 book Data Analysis for Politics and Policy; http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/12...

Are you a better programmer now than you were 5 years ago? How do you know? Has anyone evaluated your work and told you are now 18% more efficient than 5 years ago?

It may not be 100% accurate (since we are all masters at deluding ourselves), however it is possible to self-assess. Speaking as a teacher I know that my work is much better than it was 7 years ago (when I started). Simply delivering the material so many times has meant that I now have far more effective ways of describing and teaching certain concepts. I know that 7 years ago teaching a 10th grader how to iterate over an array would have taken 5 false starts and 4 weeks worth of instruction (bearing in mind that many lack motivation). Now the same content takes half the time because I can anticipate what kinds of questions will arise and how to deal with them effectively.

Oh and teacher evaluation is hard. Teachers fear it because it's done by non-teachers to teachers. And as some comments on this thread indicate the world is full of monday morning quarterbacks who have lots of opinions without any real experience.

In companies of any size, programmers generally go through quarterly, biannual, or annual performance reviews where they are assessed by the manager and peers. Programmers who are overperforming are promoted and given more responsibility (and money), those who are under-performing get coaching or are fired. This is the same as virtually every other job on the planet.

You can argue this kind of evaluation is not fair (it is certainly less scientific then test scores), but the point is that on the whole it works. And teachers don't have it. They mostly cannot be fired, and receive compensation on a schedule based purely on years of tenure and education.

A good analogy would be if programmers were given tenure after two years at a company and then could not be fired regardless of productivity or any other offense other than gross misconduct. If the programmers then (unsurprisingly) resisted every attempt, no matter how small, to reward high performance and punish incompetence, we would have an equivalent situation.

I understand your points and they're all fair in the context of programming as a job. Code is code and can be evaluated in an atomic fashion, its objectively either good(correct, efficient etc) or not.

How exactly do you accurately assess teaching? Test scores? I've worked at very tough schools. High unemployment, high crime area. Good teaching in this context meant the teacher showed up, made it through the year without having a mental breakdown and student attendance was > 50%.

On the flipside I've worked at top tier private schools where success was gauged by how many of our students were in the top n% for the state.

Teachers fear outside assessment from bureaucrats. Here in Australia we even have league tables for schools, and there has been talk of tying teacher pay to student performance. Obviously a worry if you are a classroom teacher who understands the human component of teaching (ie it's more than test results in a spreadsheet).

In my opinion to truly assess a teacher you'd need to observe their teaching for weeks to see how they deal with the myriad of situations that arise in the classroom. What we end up with though is standardised testing which ends up telling us what we already know.

Yeah I am fine with doing in-class evaluations, but I think if you think that through you would admit that those are biased in a different way. My point is really more about the importance of doing the kind of evaluation and talent management that every successful private sector company does--figure out who is doing well, and reward them, figure out who is doing poorly and try to help.

Basically I think all this "it can't be measured" stuff is a bit dishonest. My wife is a high school teacher, and amongst her department everyone knows who is good and who isn't, same as any job. The only difference is that that knowledge can't possible have any effect on your career.

In any case, the point you are making about standardized testing is completely beside the point. No one who advocates using testing advocates using only testing for teacher evaluation. And no one advocates using the raw scores. Of course teachers with poor students in bad schools will have worse raw scores then teachers with rich students in good schools. The proposed measurement is virtually always some kind of "value added" score that attempts to control for these variables and measure the teachers impact.

I think we're in agreement. I totally agree that good teachers need to be rewarded and that and bad teachers need to be identified and helped or sacked. We owe that to our kids.

I never said that it cant be measured. It's just really hard to do it right.

The solution is not to simply use private sector type performance reviews since correcting for differences within the school is difficult let alone correcting for differences between schools.

Measuring teacher performance is a hot area of debate around the world, and a consensus for how to "do it right" hasn't yet emerged.

Lots of questions need to be fairly addressed:

-- Will testing be able to differentiate between school-based and non-school-based influences on student performance?

-- Will testing be able to differentiate between the influences of different teachers on individual students or groups of students? What might be the ultimate extent of increased standardised testing?

-- What criteria are intended to form the basis of a performance-based pay scheme?

-- If the predominant criterion used is to be student progress as measured by standardised testing, what measures will the Government take to ensure the implementation of valid and appropriate testing regimes and instruments?

These questions come from an issues paper published by Australian Primary Principals Association.

Also from the paper:

In jobs where pay is linked to performance: The criteria for determining the payment of additional rewards are to be objectively determined: whether in volume of product or sales, increase in profits, or additional hours worked. More accurately put, the context of the industries in which systems of this kind work well are those where outputs and outcomes are easily, and objectively, quantifiable. This quantification can usually (although not always) be reduced to monetary terms.

So how exactly to we quantify and reward the teacher who helps her students develop skills that 'are not quantifiable'?

PS: In Australia primary and secondary teachers can't get tenure, however given a powerful union it is difficult to sack teachers, and this admittedly is a big problem.

I don't think you understood the parent's points... First, the main point was that programmers were evaluated by their peers and managers, i.e. the people who they work with, not bureaucrats.

Second, judging a programmer solely (in an atomic fashion) by their code is the exact same thing as judging a teacher solely by test scores. How do you know the code was not written at 2am the night of a release to stop vital information from being deleted every time a user submits a form.

On the flipside how do you know that the elegant code wasn't the combination of effort and discussion of several coders all considered to be in the top n% of some mailing list.

I think my point is really that we all tend to rush to judgement of professions outside of our own, when in reality we share the same human problems that are incredibly hard to formalize and hence provide a systematic solution for.

As a matter of fact, I work in a company with a close equivalent: due to the worker-friendly labor laws and a very powerful union, if a worker stays with the company for three years, firing him costs the company a years' salary (unless gross misconduct is demonstrated), thus giving high-salary positions (like programmers) an equivalent to tenure.

On the other hand, programmers are rarely/never advanced, there's no career plan.

As you suspect, it discourages studying and promotes laziness and getting out of date with current programming pratices.

And it also raises a tough mental barrier to exit, I'm unhappy here, but I really like having a safety net and have high fixed expenses and there's no unemployment in my country if I quit voluntarily, so I'm reluctant to quit unless I make my nest egg, which I've been putting off for some time.

Back to teachers, if there are no incentives, I suspect it might make them less motivated to stay up to date and better themselves - of course there are always those that are internally motivated and will do so whatever the environment, but many will be discouraged by it.

Forgive if someone has already stated the obvious, but the difficulty of rating the teacher profession, as opposed to other professions, lies in the intended outcome. For an engineer, there are many objectives metrics to measure code work against. The same is true for many non-programming corporate jobs (usual metric is $$$).

But what is the intended outcome of teaching?

Better test scores? (Google Scholar 'standardized testing and success' and take your side of the argument, but at best the jury is still out)

The three R's? Social development? Curiosity for learning? All of the above?

I understand your underlying point, but it is dangerous to contrasts teacher evaluations with other professional evaluations, lest we find ourselves programming students a science) and not teaching them (an art).

Crazy idea alert! With intended outcomes varying so much for teachers and teaching environments, I'd offer that teachers should be only evaluated by fellow teachers, parents, and students themselves.

So, as asked earlier in this thread, how do you know it works?

"the point is that on the whole it works"

How do you know that?

In the same way that a bad parent who becomes a better parent knows they are now a better parent. Some things are not quantifiable. I know of no effective national evaluation system for parenting and yet some parents are good parents. I know that I am a better teacher now than when I first started.

I'm not claiming to be a good teacher. I'm just claiming to be a better one. It's common for a practitioner to get better over time so one should assume that I've gotten better and not worse. What is the point of disputing this claim or doubting its veracity? I don't know the purpose of your question?

I know that I am a better teacher now than when I first started.

Sure, you know that you're a better teacher than when you started. But can you prove it? What can you do that a fresh-out-of-college teacher can't? What can you do better? How can you show that you do your job better?

As a programmer, I have a similar problem. But I don't just throw up my hands and say, "Well, some things just can't be quantified." Instead, I try to quantify them. I try to show how my estimation skills have gotten better. I try to show how my code now has fewer bugs and requires less maintenance effort.

As a teacher, what can you show me to distinguish you from a wet-behind-the-ears graduate?

What can you do that a fresh-out-of-college teacher can't?

I can plan lessons that include activities tailored for the needs of specific students. Training teachers find this hard and tend to plan for the median.

I can plan lessons more quickly than a training teacher, thus liberating time for more tailoring. I can use technology to differentiate delivery and to save time.

My feedback to each student is more accurately geared to that student's 'zone of proximal development'. I can set targets that mean something to each student.

I can 'reflect in action' in the classroom. I can read the situation in the whole class, and I can understand the logic behind mistakes that individual students make, and suggest alternative approaches.

How can you show that you do your job better?

In the institution where I teach we have QA observations and peer observations in place. That gives me some kind of benchmark.

Education is fuzzy, hard to measure, hard to standardise and quite hard work if you do it properly. As are many human occupations.

It's interesting to me that all of your examples are also very important aspects of being an excellent Dungeon Master. I never made this connection between teaching and DM'ing before.

I'd expect similar skills are involved for coaching, directing, and executive management.

Patio11 made a claim that calls for reform, school choice, testing, etc. all had as their goal employment of teachers and that education of students was a by-product. Specifically he/she said this in regard to professional development.

I responded to the professional development aspect of Patio11's comment. My point being that seasoned professionals do have wisdom to impart on less experienced colleagues. I used myself as an example but the point made is clear (I think).

Even if I really am not a better teacher now than I was 17 years ago the point is still true. Well, in order for the point not to be true one has to believe that there is no wisdom gained from experience is teaching an that this is universally true. I know of no profession in which practitioners do not generally get better over time. Indeed,there is no profession in which no practitioner gets better over time.

So what is the point of requesting that I prove that I really have gotten better over time? It's not germane to my point unless one believes that no one ever gets better over time in teaching.

I know of no profession in which practitioners do not generally get better over time. Football players and Strippers don't automatically get better with time and despite learning new things their overall performance decreases with time. More generally any profession that deals with burnout either physical or mental has the same sort's of issues.

Look, my Mother has 2 PHD's in education and often does professional workshops for teachers. However, like most forms of professional development her workshops are both expensive and their value is hard to quantify. So it may pay better than her normal job but as she says it's of limited value.

Programming is a lot like teaching it takes a few years to get up to speed, but vary quickly years of experience stops being a useful metric.

The problem with thinking you're good at a non-quantifiable, hard to measure thing is that almost everybody thinks they're better than average at them. Are you sure you aren't just measuring your previous methods of teaching against your current methods? There's no way they can hold up if you use that measure, but that doesn't mean your current methods are better.

When I was a student I didn't notice much difference in teaching ability unless the teacher hand only been teaching for a couple of years.

"You should believe me because I say so"? Really? I'm not saying you are or are not, but this line of justification is an insult to anyone who considers themselves rational thinkers.

Not really. I would have though that: 'do it a lot and you'll get better at it' is fairly self evident. Obviously testing of some sort would help us to determine how much better one became.

I'd go so far as to say that it would be very difficult not to improve at something you were doing over a period of time.

I think the point they're trying to make (through this admittedly condescending questioning) is that when the institution is fundamentally wrong, elongated experience can only pervert rather than further skills. Or f it does further, it is only furthering a perversion of some concept of what's right. I think there's a degree of truth to that but but it's oversimplifying a bit.

the bottom line is that america's eternal quest for a teacher metric is failing in relation to systems like the (perhaps overly touted) finnish one, where the discriminating factor for teacher quality is much more a measure of trust in the intuition of experienced teachers.

I think the 'I NEED MORE NUMBERS' mentality of empiricism you're using here has neutralised the prospective utility of the intuition of experienced teachers who would make effective consultants, if they ever come across something that works that they simply can't explain. Obviously, questioning their suggestions and looking for answers is the next step, but to insult their ability to think and view their opinions with derison? How are you helping anything talking that way?

In the same way that a bad parent who becomes a better parent knows they are now a better parent.

That's not a great example. There are loads of bad parents who think they are good parents. There's a bit of Dunning-Kruger effect, and also some bad parents who hold beliefs about what makes a good/bad parent that differ from the norm (i.e. some parents think beating their children is OK and think that modern society is wrong to condem that practice. They think they are good parents because they beat their children. This is wrong)

I read this question as an insult. How could they not know they are better at their job after 17 years of doing it?

This is just my personal opinion but the true judge of a teacher's effectiveness is how much their students learned, and even that can only be used as a measure if the students were willing to learn in the first place.

Relying on some national standard to judge teachers hasn't seemed to help any country in history to have better teachers. I'd wager to guess that periods in history where education unilaterally improved are more due to the motivation of those being educated than anything else.

Are you suggesting that if they're in the United States the system is not effective and thus can't be used as evidence?

This is an incredibly depressing post. The discussion over educational reform has devolved into one side begging for teachers to stop being treated like cattle and the other saying, essentially, "if you cared about the kids, you'd be happy being treated like cattle."

Doctors go through significantly more schooling and receive significantly more professional development — yet they are still perceived with respect as professionals who care about their patients. Why can't we do the same for teachers?

Give it time. With the direction healthcare costs are going it's just a matter of time before the hate enters the profession. Soon people will see doctors, nurses, and administrators for what they really are: rent-seekers gouging taxpayers for enormous amounts of money by erecting barriers to entry, keeping accountability to a minimum, and charging endless procedures to the bottomless pits that are medicare and medicaid.

From my experience a significant percentage of the population already feels this way. Maybe it's because I have mostly dealt with the military health care system(which also uses civilian specialists), but most doctors seem arrogant, uncaring, and incompetent.

'... most doctors seem arrogant, uncaring, and incompetent' - it's unfortunate if this is your take-home from meeting doctors, but I have to say that is a serious overstatement.

Unfortunately this is the reality of healthcare for a great many of us in the states.

My experience with one of the larger HMO organizations here was very disconcerting.

I was bedridden with spinal joint pain for several days. They were unable to see me in a reasonable timeframe (2 week wait minimum), which meant by the time I was able to come in for a blood test the acute inflammation I was experiencing had passed, preventing screening for the condition I was concerned about (my dad and brother both have ankylosing spondylitis, making it extremely likely I do as well).

Worse than that, I found I had to educate the RN that was responsible for interpreting my test results (specifically that ankylosing spondylitis shows negative rheumatoid factor).

In addition to this, I've watched what's happened to friends with serious but not readily diagnosed diseases. One was in advanced stages of liver failure. In the end she only got a diagnosis by going to a hospital, making herself a bother and refusing to leave until someone took responsibility for actually finding out what was going on. The result was she avoided an unnecessary liver transplant. Her diagnosis was an uncommon but easily treatable autoimmune condition.

There's roughly 50% odds the transplant would have killed her by now (this was some 10 years ago). Taking an adversarial approach and having the support of a friend's mom who worked for the business side of the HMO in doing this probably saved her life.

It shouldn't have to be this way.

It's abusive to doctors that things are set up this way as well.

In any case, I don't mean to rant, but I just wanted to provide some counter anecdotes to to your feeling that the callousness and incompetence of medicine in the states was being exaggerated.

Wow, contrasting this with the latest 2 experiences my family had:

My stepfather went for a routine visit to the doctor in Vienna, Austria. They found a suspicious object, and decided to treat him immediately, and he was operated on the very next day. It ended up being benign, but I was amazed at their speed of treatment.

My uncle went for a cardiologist evaluation here in Montevideo, Uruguay (where we have a form of socialist-style medicine in the style called Mutualism). They found a suspicious spike in his heartbeat, which they suspected to be a treatable syndrome (Wolff-Parkinson-White), and decided to do some special evaluations. He was treated (with full anaesthetics) one week later (at almost zero cost).

Both were quite good experiences, times are a little slower in Uruguay but everybody has access to basic medicine.

That said, I suspect that for difficult-to-catch diseases, you have to make yourself a bother, otherwise you might slip through the cracks like your friend almost did (doctors here in Uruguay are heavily penalized if they take too much time with one patient).

Don't forget about the true rent-seeking, taxpayer gouging insurance companies. I find that by the time I've paid my $950 a month in insurance, paying another $40 copay to the doctor just makes me angry. When the cost to have semi-decent insurance is the same cost as leasing a BMW it's no wonder that people don't go to the doctor's.

[Note: I realize it might just be that my insurance is ridiculous. I'm looking into alternatives.]

Doctors go through significantly more schooling and receive significantly more professional development — yet they are still perceived with respect as professionals who care about their patients. Why can't we do the same for teachers?

Because peoplegenerally have much less exposure to doctors and when they are they're desperate for either treatment or hope. Both of these contribute.

Also, medical training is much harder than education. There are teachers at every average large high school who could have been doctors but they're a minority.

The study of medicine is grounded in hard sciences. There are many things that are known and many that aren't known but usually the line between the two is relatively clear. When something works or doesn't work, it is also often very easy to see.

The study of education is based on social sciences and everything is much more slippery. What is being taught to teachers right now is whichever theory is currently popular. When I earned my credentials to teach, it was quite frankly a joke most of the time. Getting an A was easy. Many of the people in my program were not competent enough to compete in a more difficult field or program.

In the years since, as my own children began working through the public school system, I am taken aback regularly by evidence that their teachers are poorly educated themselves.

I'm shocked that someone would be surprised that there is a gap between how people view doctors and teachers.

You seem awefully cynical considering that you sell software to teachers (which they themself pay for) so that they can teach their children more efficiently.

I mean I have no love for unions and I am well aware that they have no great love for the students but even so, isn't your point a bit to cynical?

One can have a lot of respect for teachers and still like education reform.

That said, I've also worked with big companies. This does not obligate me to believe that big companies are universally properly managed collections of competent, self-effacing employees who would never dream of advancing their own interests at the stake of the job. It also does not obligate me to believe that big companies cannot be improved, even radically improved, by measures which would discomfit at least some people who work for big companies.

Indeed, if I hypothetically believed either of those two things prior to working for a big company, working for them would have cured me of those delusions, rapidly.

Because this wasn't clear to me: are you arguing that his point is wrong, or that its amount of cynicism displeases you?

> you sell software to teachers (...) so that they can teach their children more efficiently

Does the whole "Bingo card" concept qualifies as efficient teaching? The word "gamification" seems to have been invented for it.

"the goal is to employ teachers and education of students is a welcome-but-unnecessary industrial byproduct"

For an example of this -- look at the amount of times the Student-to-Teacher ratio is brought up. Which is such an interesting statistic because it implies that time with a terrible teacher is preferable to having the good teachers handle a few more students.

No. It implies that in general having fewer students makes it easier to be a good teacher. And that being in a smaller class makes it easier to be a successful student. The importance of class size is well-supported by systematic reviews and meta-analyses.

The importance of class size is well-supported by systematic reviews and meta-analyses.

[Citation needed]

IIRC in disciplined classes between the sizes of 6ish and 40ish the results are very similar.

The US does not spend anywhere near tour nations in professional development nor build in the same collaboration time. It does not have as much coaching and other "frippery" . There is plenty of great research on this and while you are right that many pay lip service to improving these areas of US education, little is ever done to meaningfully invest in said improvements.

Also the article did not bring these up as a panacea. These kinds of complicated, cultural, and meaningful improvements will not be made easily, in a short period of time, etc.

Khan Academy provides a low-overhead, on-demand learning environment. The format is good, but it's not novel, and the format isn't the point.

Khan Academy allows me, with no overhead whatsoever, to pick (or refresh a skill), whenever I want. If my math skills aren't up to snuff for a hobby project I'm working on, Khan Academy is there. If I can't remember how a transistor works ... Khan Academy has me covered.

Compare this with the incredibly high overhead of high school and 4 year degree programs. If I just want to take a refresher engineering class at the local University or Community College, I have to go through the full admissions process, provide a full academic history, justify my reason for being there, and then work at a preset pace and on someone else's schedule. If I'm stuck at the undergraduate level, I have to take a slew of general ed courses totally unrelated to what I actually want to do.

Contrast this with frictionless learn on-demand education.

There are, obviously, downsides:

- Not all topics are covered.

- The depth of coverage is not on par with a university education.

- No access to very expensive university equipment

- No one-on-one access to a professor

- No student discounts on expensive software

Despite those downsides, the format has worked great for me.

In my ideal world, formal K-12 and college education would be comprised of:

1) Elective projects that rely on a broad swath of skills.

2) Courses to be taken in concert with the projects to provide requisite skills, as those skills become necessary.

Or you could just go at your local library/bookstore and get a book about transistors :)

I agree with your general sentiment but I feel like your premise oversimplifies the situation.

I think you're overstating the friction. After I graduated, I wanted to learn Mandarin. I signed up for a course at the University of Minnesota through the Continuing Education department.

I didn't have to apply, it was really trivial. I took one course, and they were happy to let me do so.

That's usually the case for most Humanities disciplines (history, languages, literature etc), because their overheads are really low and there is an abundance of teaching professionals compared to actual audiences.

The opposite is true for "hard" sciences like chemistry, engineering or CS, where expensive laboratory equipment is necessary and where teaching resources are scarce (due to higher private-sector demand). There, courses are expensive, demanding and small in number, so they are usually inaccessible to the layman.

That's not really true. It's not challenging to find CS courses online, and the year I spent in a CS graduate program (through Colorado State), the cost per course unit for CS was the same as any humanities course.

I believe toyg already covered the split between humanities and science/engineering, but I'd also like to cover the Continuing Education departments themselves.

The course offerings are generally constrained, and the courses themselves are often lightweight versions of the university course -- assuming that the subject you want is covered at all. The facilities for continuing education courses are also often less robust.

Take CCA in San Francisco. This is a highly considered arts college, and they offer a small number of introductory extension classes:


Compare to their full course offering:


You'll have to drill down on individual categories to explore the full breadth and depth.

Continuing Education offerings are rarely a substitute for the quality of courses they offer to a matriculating student.

Given how often educational institutions have raised their tuition in recent years, I'd love to see them institute a program where they charge a (possibly large) fee to allow non-matriculating adults to audit a course, without limitation or requirement, and use those fees to subsidize enrolled student tuition.

However, this may be a shift too far in the "trade school" direction for their comfort.

Actually, it's very easy to 'take' courses (technical engineering or otherwise) in University/College. Just show up. Attendance is rarely enforced.

(Obviously biased member of KA here.)

"Khan Academy and its donors may preclude better products from coming along"

I just don't understand this. KA, Udacity, Coursera, Codecademy, MITx, teachontablo.com, this list goes on. I don't see how KA has done anything but prove the possibility of traction. When professors like Thrun and Norvig and investors like Paul Graham, Fred Wilson, and Peter Thiel are excited about the educational space, I believe the students will eventually win. It's no secret that many of the above have been inspired by Sal in one way or another.

The more products competing here, the better education will be. Yelling at Khan Academy because it's "the only thing that [exists]" feels...oddly misplaced.

I think it's a mistake for them to throw KA in the same category as traditional K-12 education in the first place. At least from my experience with it, people don't go on Kahn Academy to try to learn everything; it's more valuable when you're looking for knowledge about a specific subject, and you already have a reason for wanting to learn it.

The article's main criticism is that KA doesn't try to talk about all the possible uses of the subject matter. I'd rather they didn't, or at the very least kept it separate. Unless someone's being forced to sit down and watch educational videos, that doesn't add enough value to justify the time spent.

It may be that other competitors (including the ones you've mentioned) will try to fill the gap and take a more traditional education role. But saying something's bad just because it's not occupying the exact niche that the author wants it to? That's not a very useful criticism.

I feel like KA frees up some of the time constraints of traditional educators so that they can spend more time doing the motivation and the possible uses of a subject matter.

I'm no teacher but if I was I'd much rather spend my time getting kids excited about stuff and then point them to the resources they need to get going. I'd also have more time to answer questions so the kids wouldn't get as frustrated or stuck.

Replace "better products" with "the products I make" and it makes more sense.

Expect haters when you're doing something disruptive. The term 'disruptive' itself implies you're pissing someone off.

I'm sure Henry Ford had people who thought cars were a bad idea.

Carry on.

I don't mean to quibble, but you should really replace Henry Ford with Karl Benz. By the time Henry Ford got into the act, cars had already proven their usefulness. Ford's innovation was making cars cheap enough for the average person to afford.

Ford also wouldn't be happy about truly progressive, disruptive innovations like the rise of a strong labor movement.

What are you talking about? The labor movement in the US was stronger during Ford's lifetime than it has been since then, and Ford always had good relations with it.

But he also paid High wages.

Where Khan Academy has the distinct advantage to me is not in its content or teaching style (both of which seem good) but in the ability for the student who does not grasp the subject to be able to replay the lesson over and over without fear of holding up the class or causing the teacher inconvenience thereby allowing the students who do understand the ability to move on to the next subject without having to "read ahead". The overall content covered can be greater overall in a shorter amount of time.

Kids don't want to seem different from other kids. If a child has to ask the teacher to repeat the lesson or stay after for extra help he may be perceived by his peers (or feel as though he is being seen as) as slower or stupid. With KA on the other hand the student can learn at his own pace...something that just cannot be done in a class of 30+.

Khan Academy does not get upset if a student does a search and finds another method to solve the problem at hand (I don't know how many times I was told "I don't care if you are getting the right answer, we want you to do it our way" when I was in school).

To me it is not about KA at all...but more about self education. The best teacher is you, the lecturer may be giving you the information but how you perceive and use it is entirely based on you. It is a simple fact that teachers cannot at the same time be paid more and have smaller class sizes...the funding is not there. Students are going to fall behind unless they are taught early on to not rely entirely on the teacher to show them "everything". We have at our disposal the most powerful learning tool in the history of man...The internet. No longer are libraries bound to the confines of a building down the road that you may or may not have access to. This is the most amazing thing to me, decentralization of learning, and those who profit from learning in the old system obviously are going to be worried about their future income.

This. Right here. Upvote it now.

I work in a small start-up making educational software, and this is exactly the kind of thing I want to achieve.

A couple of months back I read John Holt's famous book 'Why Children Fail' which had a profound effect on me and my work. What he says, and what I agree with due to my own experience and observations is that school can be a fundamentally scary experience for children. Self-esteem is so central to learning, because how you react to failure and your own progress (or lack thereof) defines the way you learn. Kids who are afraid of looking stupid, of being compared to their peers, and of having to work hard without the promise of success are the ones who are branded as lazy, unimaginative, or just 'stupid', when in fact they are just afraid of trying hard.

The internet and self education offers an opportunity for kids to escape that fear, and to truly experience the joy of learning. I'm sure many HN readers will relate to my belief that the greatest joy of hard work is not when you appear smarter or harder working than others, but when you achieve something for yourself, or learn something new. Many programmers get to experience that joy all the time.

Holt became so disillusioned with the inability of schools to provide a comfortable and secure learning place for children that eventually he became an advocate for home schooling. I believe in schools' potential and what teachers have to offer, and my company's software is built accordingly, but we have reached a point where there is too much focus on comparing students; through frequent nation-wide testing, intense competition for prestigious colleges, and through insecure parents who push their children an unhealthy amount. To balance that, the schooling system has lost sight of the original reasons for its existence. The judgment-free zone of the internet and self directed learning is giving us a chance to undo the bad learning habits of our current students, and ensure that the next generation of students do not ever need to learn them.

The Khan academy is not about taking the power away from schools and administrators, it is about putting the emphasis back on why we have them in the first place; which is because for all the good of self education, the greatest help you can give a student is a teacher who understands them and the way they learn.

I used to tutor math at a community college. I did mostly the basics: lots of algebra, very occasionally a little calculus. I learned two things.

First, it was usually the assumed knowledge that got them. They'd mess up at calculus because of algebra; or get algebra wrong because they couldn't add. When you don't know the basics, you get the wrong answer even when you do all the new stuff right. The whole thing starts to seem futile, like climbing a mountain of sand.

Second, just as above. Most of my students had no idea that math, like weightlifting, is supposed to hurt a bit. They thought that heavy, stretching sensation you get when you learn new concepts meant they were stupid, that they couldn't do math. They didn't realize that every feels that, if only briefly. If you're in the bottom third of the distribution, and a third of people are, you never get to the other side of that feeling before the class moves on.

The answer isn't magic teachers. It's for kids to learn that learning is possible. You do that with practice, and feedback, until they get it right.

I tutored some adult basic education for a bit...helping people get their HSE/GED. Some of these people had tried to pass the pretest many times and were stuck at fractions. Over and over they failed the tests. I kept hearing "I just can't get this" or "It makes no sense". One of the other TA's and I were discussing it and we realized that a lot of these people were people who had "been around drugs" in their life. So we decided to handle things this way. We went to them with a problem like "5/8 + 1/4"...to which they would respond "I don't know"...then we said "You have bought weed before right?" "yes" is the response. Well...if you have 7/8 of weed and you add another quarter ounce what do you have. Every time...the got it immediately. The teachers came back to us and asked what we had done differently...we explained. They said they really didn't approve but it was working.

It is all about relating things and explaining in a way that can be easily referenced in your mind.

By the way...several of these people who could not pass the TABE tests at the time went on to get their GED's because of that one little step with fractions.

> Self-esteem is so central to learning, because how you react to failure and your own progress (or lack thereof) defines the way you learn.

See this BBC article, which is about a good school teaching pupils that it's okay to fail.



I think the best rebuttal to this article would be Sal's TED talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gM95HHI4gLk

In particular, he doesn't present the Khan Academy as a full replacement for primary education, but as an enhancement. In the second half of the video, he illustrates the teacher as maximizing the amount of useful interaction between themselves and the students.

Instead of spending class time lecturing and producing examples (things that technology can handle easily, and in some cases better than a human can), teachers use their class time to interact with students individually, helping them better understand the content and meaning behind it. This time becomes even more useful because the application gives statistics on how students are performing, and what directions they're moving in; it arms teachers with better data and more time to use it.

This is a good point that touches on what seems like a communication disconnect. While Khan advocates using it as an enhancement, many in education think it's more than that and use it accordingly (disclaimer: based on my experience, totally anecdotal). Perhaps decision-makers are viewing Khan Academy as THE SOLUTION, which is what the author takes issue with.

Silly article. It offers no proof to their statement that students learning through Khan are on a "wild goose chase" for correct answers except for a 1973(!) paper. I believe it to be the opposite, the chances of you just guessing 10 correct answers in a row is ridiculously low. It encourages you to make sure every answer is correct before submitting it, otherwise you would have to start over again.

It doesn't address the issue that each student can learn at their own pace, which is the main part of Khan. It ignores people that had success with KA except for a quick mention. It also ignores the fact that Khan is a great teacher, and with this model anyone can learn from the best teacher there is.

It ignores the tools it gives teachers to see the progress of the students. It ignores the fact that teachers can give personalized assistance. it ignores that more advanced students can teach less advanced students.

It dismisses the achievement system while every single educator knows they work and have worked since the first teacher decided to give students gold stars. It only mentions it in passing to say that it doesn't work without offering any proof.

The truth is: There are a LOT of people who have their own idea of what the "perfect" teaching system is. When something comes around that challenges that, as with everything else, those people will try to say that it won't work. Let it be field tested, let's see the results. THEN we can say if it works or not.

EDIT: I forgot to say that it also ignores the fact that students can only advance once they completely mastered the subject. It doesn't mention that it puts the power in the hands of the students and let them take control of their own education by deciding which classes to take and when to take them. And as someone mentions, the author is also biased.

> I believe it to be the opposite, the chances of you just guessing 10 correct answers in a row is ridiculously low. It encourages you to make sure every answer is correct before submitting it, otherwise you would have to start over again.

That's not the point. You can learn to solve ten math problems in a row by simply memorizing algorithms to solve the problems, rather than learning the underlying concepts. The author criticizes Khan Academy because its methods emphasize the algorithms, rather than the concepts.

There's a good bit of research suggesting that the ability to solve quantitative problems isn't necessarily related to underlying qualitative understanding. Students could benefit from teaching methods designed to promote understanding.

The article is pointing out that the Khan Academy is very similar to previous pedagogical attempts. You are also not presenting any evidence that the ways in which it differs are significant. I fail to see why you can claim that the article, which raises a valid objection to the Khan Academy, is silly, but your own arguments, also without data to back them up, are not.

But yes, let us get more data, that I can always get behind.

By the way it's written, it just seems like this guy is pouting about Khan Academy getting all the press.

This guy should probably come out and say Khan Academy is eating his lunch and he is pissed about it. The passive aggressive approach to talking about companies with better lessons and teaching styles gets completely undermined when you realize that this guy is selling math lessons[0] and you conclude that he thinks his stuff is better than Khan's. Yeah, maybe it is, but it looks really pretty weak to write an article like that and not mention the fact that you are selling a competing product. Where's the Chutzpah? Just say "Khan sucks, we are better, here's why".

Of course, the context is missing here in the writing, and Hacker News probably wasn't the intended audience, so maybe it was assumed people would make the assumption that Mathalicous' stuff was the better solution the author was talking about. But so far, the overall response has been pretty poor[1].

[0]http://www.mathalicious.com/sign-up/ [1]https://twitter.com/#!/mathalicious

For many of us teachers, this is somewhat disconcerting. Gamification is fine when students are trying to save Zelda, but it’s more problematic when math becomes an obstacle, and eighth grade just another “level.”

The author is delusional. That's exactly what 8th, or any other grade, is. Get enough points, proceed to the next grade. Score high enough on the leader board, proceed to the college you want.

Agreed, this was exactly where I started to get suspicious.

Author: "Gamification is bad when applied to eighth grade."

I kept looking for the support for that claim, didn't really find any. The IPI study was tossed in, but it dealt with a tangentially related educational program, and seemed to endorse methods focused education over memorization of answers. This article was attacking process focused aspects of Khan, so I'm not sure IPI was the best study to cite.

It's a drawn out article, and light on evidence. I wouldn't look to the author for advice on teaching others critical thinking.

Sadly the majority of Khan videos are not process focused but rather focused on memorizing procedures. This is a very big problem in math education traditional and otherwise. Hard to fix, but KA makes no acknowledgement that incorporating good mathematics pedagogy is even important. This is short sighted and could be remedied.

The problem here is that it's called "gamification." This view is an impoverished view of gaming that leaves out it's most important component: gaming is play.

Gamification of education would be wonderful. The thing is, it wouldn't consist of adding things like leaderboards and achievements. As people have pointed out, we already have those. Gamification should really be about the return of play to the primary role in learning.

> Get enough points, proceed to the next grade.

That would improve on the current system, which passes failing students along as well, right up until they hit university and find out they need a few years of remedial classes.

I disagree. Gamification is the application of game design techniques to non-game situations to make them more interesting and engaging, in order to encourage people to do things they might otherwise not do because they find them boring or uninteresting.

You can't just take something people don't like and don't want to do, and stick in arbitrary "levels" and have that motivate them. The levels have to represent some achievement that is desirable to the person.

The more invested and successful you are in some arbitrary game, the more you seek to justify the (nonexistent) purpose of the game. It's pretty scary.

I'm shocked by how often this needs to be pointed out.

There is one group of people who hardly ever need to have this pointed out to them: eighth grade students. They know how arbitrary it can be.

And not to mention, kids love games! If fun and play makes things more engaging, and we learn better when engaged, why not make school more fun?

Part of school is playing the game. But if you reduce education to a game, you are losing something of incredible value. School and education are not always the same thing. And education is not a game. It's purpose is freedom. And it is fundamentally important to the human experience in a way that points and rewards simply aren't.

I think this piece would be more effective, or at least somewhat effective, if its author had described a vision for online learning that takes the best of Khan's approach and combines it with, well, something interesting. The author never really explains what that something is. I don't think Khan Academy is perfect. Its gamification techniques will not work for all students. But it is an alternative for some students. If a kid who is ahead can stay with her peers at the same grade level while watching Khan videos at night, great. If a kid who is behind can stay with her grade level by using Khan to catch up without the shame of remedial math, even better.

Frankly its author sounds bitter.

Unfortunately all evidence so far seems to indicate that online approaches to learning, on average, do not work very well. To be clear, meta-analyses continue to reveal that schooling, as it exists now, works as well or better than tech centered or online education. I do not find this surprising, if you do not change the philosophy and pedagogy, no repackaging will overcome the serious inherent flaws in the approach. This is particularly pronounced in math Ed and I encourage anyone to dig into the research on what good teaching and learning of math is characterized by.

You wrote "...online approaches to learning, on average, do not work very well..."

Huh? Listen my good man, we aren't talking about the average online approach to learning, we're talking specifically about Khan Academy approach. And I know Khan Academy works for some kids because I've seen some kids using, and liking it -- both kids ahead of their peers and kids behind them.

Whether it works for all kids, on average, is totally irrelevant.

Very interesting and thoughtful. But I think the author gets it dead wrong.

"the budget cuts he seemed so giddy about invariably mean fewer teachers, and to argue that this is somehow beneficial to learning is to argue against years of research and practice" -- this is exactly the argument that Khan Academy is making: that we can cut teachers in favor of lessons taught by computer. The actual reason why "this time is different" is that we now have the power to create excellent lessons, through the power of computers, the internet, and crowds.

Maybe Khan Academy isn't good enough to replace teachers yet. (I would be surprised if it weren't already better than 75% of teachers, though. Most teachers aren't very good.)

Another claim the author makes: "Khan Academy makes it difficult for something better to come along" -- I would be SHOCKED if this were true. Sure, it's hard to compete with free, but KA is creating a new ecosystem of people who are looking to the internet for teaching materials! So if KA is really as bad as the author claims, then it's going to be MUCH easier than it is today to get better materials in the hands of kids.

Its weird that he complains that khan teaches the same that has been failing for generations, then goes and slams him for not hiring teachers (the people who have been teaching the same way for generations).

The article was super long and I bet most people won't make it down to the bottom where he goes on to explain that he actually likes khan academy and how it's a great thing. Too bad.

It's a contradictory rant and it's not obvious what the author wants from the reader beyond us purchasing his product. Ok, maybe that's a bit harsh but I honestly don't know what the takeaway is. Maybe it's the realization that KA isn't the answer to all our educational challenges, but that seems like a straw man. Given how many problems KA has solved for so many people, I think it has more than justified its existence, educational approach, and resource pools and funding.

The one concrete criticism I could see in the article (aside from vague handwaving about "pedagogical underpinnings") was about providing a step-by-step series of instructions for solving a problem without real understanding.

But Khan doesn't actually do that. In my experience, he's very good at emphasizing why something works. He encourages people to remember the "why" well enough to work out the actual formulas for themselves, rather than just memorizing the formulas.

Personally I don't understand how one would go about teaching math without using step-by-step instructions, especially considering his example of teaching slope. He never says what would be a better way to teach slope than the textbook/Khan methods, he just claims (without submitting any proof) that those methods are completely ineffective. Well, it seems to be working for KA students, and it seems to be working for other countries.

I agree with pinchyfingers: Students are getting worse at math because they don't want to put the work in. And I don't think it should necessarily be the educator's burden to make each individual math topic more fun and exciting to try and trick students into using their brains. We need to find a way to get kids motivated about learning in general again.

What's the difference between KA's videos and something written? If I don't know something, can't I just look it up on wikipedia or some other website? Or, a book?

Here's what I'm getting at: NOTHING about KA is revolutionary. Nada. You can read a book as quickly or as slowly as you like. If you don't understand something, you go back.

"Ah, but these are videos. It's an actual human speaking." Well, yeah, the recording of an actual human speaking. Problem is that there's no pedagogical theory that supports the idea that a passive recording is especially effective when it comes to learning.

People don't like being told that they have misconceptions, especially about subjects that they take themselves to be experts in. And smart people consider themselves experts about learning. But the truth is that there's a research science concerning learning, and there are some surprising findings. Further, the truth is that smart people are resentful towards this science, because it challenges their views, and that teachers are more likely to be experts in this science than anyone else.

Fact: Passive learning techniques aren't especially effective at the kinds of learning that matter most. Listening to a video is passive learning.

Important (free) reading: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=9853

The problem with Khan Academy is two-fold: (1) the pedagogy is lousy and (2) the delivery actually isn't that revolutionary. The ability to move at your own pace is provided by a book. To the extent that Khan's videos are easier on a person than reading, that's because they're less effective (because they're more passive).

There's a way to use the web to revolutionize education, but it's not by making material more accessible. It's by making people -- teacher, tutors and students -- more accessible to each other.

I've been wondering about this myself. Why are videos supposed to be better than the same content presented as a textual tutorial (with some multimedia content like animations)?

I can think of several advantages of textual content over video: - you can compare different parts of the text (for example, to discover an analogy) more easily - you can read at your own pace (you can't slow down the video) - skipping between different places is easier (just move your eye instead of using a slider) - it's easier to find the exact place you want to read - textual content can be easily revised by the author, which enables gradual improvement and error correction

Can someone please explain to me what the big deal about video is?

Easy. With video you're less likely to lose focus and drift off task. This is of no small importance when you get your material on a computer, with endless distractions at hand.

I haven't watched many Khan videos, but I did complete the Stanford ML-class that used a Khan-inspired format of short videos. To make an HN-friendly analogy, the use of video is like the various "lifehacker" tricks people use to get themselves to focus on written material they encounter online. Some people like Instapaper; I like the Readability bookmarklet and Chrome's Full Screen view with the text bumped up to +2 or +3 zoom. Sometimes I even (gasp) print things out to carry with me for when I have no Internet access.

Of course, some things are better as text. But video has its uses.

That's an interesting point. Why do you think it is easier to get distracted while reading a Web page than while watching a video? Do you think the argument still holds when you're viewing a page in full-screen mode?

With respect to video, I suspect that the answer is that video changes with time. If a video viewer's attention drifts off of the video, he or she is likely to notice being slightly behind when he or she does glance back at the video, and therefore promptly return to task. Whereas written material does nothing active to re-attract your attention.

I hypothesize that the attention-focusing effect of full-screen reading operates via a related mechanism. Online, there are many useful and/or time-wasting attention sinks just a click, or a glance across the screen, away. Normally this kind of task switching is so common you don't notice it, so it's very easy to fall into doing it when your attention drifts. Whereas when reading full-screen, task switching requires a certain amount of effort. Also the full-screened text is a big, juicy target for your attention. Therefore attention drifts are more likely to result in a return to the task at hand.

To return to mbpershan's great-grandparent post bashing Khan for bad pedagogy and in general dismissing people for not paying attention to the learning research literature, note that I work at a nonprofit that develops well-regarded modeling and simulation based learning activities in science, and we publish in this field. So, certainly I think learning research is important. But I imagine it would be tricky to find the positive effect of video, as outlined above, in "official" learning-science research.

The effect depends very much on the fact that I sought out the video and was motivated to learn the material, and on the fact that I have the freedom to procrastinate by freely exploring the web (including interesting material I have already saved for later reading), email, twitter, other work I have lined up, etc. (If you're thinking about 14-year old kids viewing Khan videos at home, substitute Youtube videos, games, and Facebook messages as needed.) But in the official literature, often you will find something like, a classroom of kids is given some mandatory curriculum content to study--which they may have no inherent interest in--and some are selected to read paper books while others are given video with a similar presentation of the material. They're pre-tested and then post-tested and the question is asked, "were the learning gains of the video group statistically-significantly larger than those of the control (reading) group?"

Well, I wouldn't be terribly surprised to find no significant difference for the video group because the video students didn't really care that much (and were therefore happy to "space out" while the video went by, or were willing to make only nominal efforts to keep up) and because the control-group students weren't really being exposed to all the distractions of a teenager's bedroom which might tempt an otherwise-motivated student far off-task.

This is all speculation, and the whole made-up study design is obviously a straw man. So take what I say with a grain of salt. But nevertheless, learning-science results come from studies in very controlled contexts--which often have to do with mass learning of material the subjects don't choose--and often the result is remembered as a quick shorthand ("so-and-so showed that video doesn't work") that may or may not apply to any specific situation (where the question may not be about the "average" student, where self-selection and motivation may play a critical factor, and where apparently rote learning may be acceptable because the students will contextualize and criticize in later months or years the material they just learned by rote.)

Thanks. That makes sense. The more you stand to lose by drifting off, the less likely you are to do it. Even if the cost of getting back on track is just pressing F11 or seeking back in the video, it can be a significant disincentive.

I think the whole computing experience -- sitting upright in front of a screen with a mouse in your palm -- puts your mind in "hunting mode". Web surfing is all about clicking, clicking, clicking. It's like a videogame -- a series of clicks produces a reward (or not): a funny video, a witty exchange, an interesting piece of news, an update from a friend.

I think this induces a certain state of videogame-style excitement, which is incompatible with "calm consumption", as when you're reading a book. On the Web, one minute you're playing "the Web game", the next you're supposed to read a serious text on math, history or geography. But you can't focus because your brain wants to get another dopamine fix. You need to calm down first, which takes time.

All I want to argue is that, at best, this is a slim advantage of a video over a book. So we shouldn't be saying that Khan Academy is revolutionary in any meaningful sense. It's a new medium for the same old content, and it's a medium whose advantages are pretty slim, at least for the way Khan is using video.

Sure. I'd even agree. I would say that for certain use cases, the advantage of video can be large. Averaged over all use cases that matter, there may be no advantage at all. Of course that doesn't mean you shouldn't use it where the advantage is large (not that I think you're saying that!)

Khan also has tutoring section built in for interaction. You can also do active exercises rather than just watch videos.

Khan Academy blew my mind when I heard the TED talk on it, no doubt this and software like it has a massive part in the future of education.

More recently I started learning a different language (the human kind) and it drove home even further how much more useful software can be to pickup problems with my understanding.

Let's assume you have an A+ class teacher the best of the best. They still have limited time with an entire class of students. It's simply not possible to diagnose and fix the little or big parts individuals are missing.

An awesome teacher with infinite time could, but that is not a possibility, it just doesn't scale.

About the article, haters going to hate, sounds jealous to me.

Ok point about still teaching using abstract examples, but hell that's a simple fix, throw in some real life ones. How does he use "millions of students across the world have used it" in his opening paragraph and then go on to try and say it's doing it wrong lol.

I agree that KA is a wonderful site, but not a panacea.

What I miss from the article is to present the solution for it.

My girlfriend is a teacher and she tells me about her days. Generally it's like taming lions many times. Kid's don't get the stuff they are being taught, because it's endlessly boring and they don't care. Not a bit. I assume they generally hate math classes.

And I can see why: they don't actually accomplish anything, have no context, just pound on basic formulas (which the article actually highlights well in the beginning).

So, I think that the solution is to package the knowledge in creative tasks. Give the kids assignments that they can creatively engage in. Give some leeway on the solutions. Let them work in small groups. This would give a bit of cooperation in the groups and competition between. Give good grades to the most efficient solutions. Structure the tasks so that the students need a basic understanding of the current topic that has to be learned and add them the resources (like KA). Then you might end up with them actually learning something.

And knowledge that is acquired during the solution of particular problems actually tends to stick longer than the next test.

I'm in fulltime work, and for years have wished I could go back to university and get another degree. It isn't a qualification I want - I don't need it to get on in my career, for example - but knowledge. Now the internet is bringing me and thousands like me the opportunity to learn at our own pace for free.

I'm currently taking the Khan chemistry course and loving it. When you criticise Khan for not helping kids as much as a real teacher does, I think you miss the bigger picture. It's enabling people of all ages to broaden their knowledge, not just people in formal education.

This, to me, is the real revolution: free lifelong learning.

This is something I wish universities would provide: open enrollment for adults without the cookie-cutter bureaucratic undergraduate track and the 18-year-old-focused high-bar on-rails admissions process.

The "continuing education" programs that do exist are generally stunted and poor.

Would it be so terrible if I spent 10 years gradually taking classes in engineering and sciences, perhaps never earning a degree? Why is college something you do only once, when you're arguably too young to genuinely appreciate it or even know what you want?

This is why I find Khan Academy to be so fascinating.

If it helps, this is exactly what our school is built around. Every class we create is available both in a degree track as well as ala-carte to students exactly like yourself. You have the same professor and t/a support, grading and evaluation. You also have the same access to the resources in our learning system. We are tuition only (no fees) so we even charge the same amount as the degree seeking students ($100/credit, $400-$500 per class, $5k for masters). And, if you decide to go through admissions and seek a degree, any courses you take would apply towards that degree.

The only real difference between in degree and ala-carte is that degree seeking students will have more options for how to pay for their education. Once we are accredited, a vast array of financing becomes available for students pursuing a degree. Some are good (grants, scholarships, state subsidies) some are not (Student loans), but having options for our students helps a great deal. We structured our program this way because we come from your exact position: why can't I take the classes I want without all the BS?

I think the reason more schools don't do this is that it would expose the true cost of these classes, which at institutions like Stanford or MIT can easily exceed $5,000 per class. Actually, after fees, housing and books, $10k is closer to accurate. The market for $5k classes is not huge, and without putting everything on a gigantic student loan credit card, few rational consumers would pay the price.

The author dismisses Sal's videos as "ineffective instruction":

"This paint-by-numbers method of instruction emphasizes procedures — how to do math — but ignores the conceptual understanding that’s central to authentic learning: what math means."

This comment by the author is enraging. It is great to be able to understand things abstractly and use conceptual understanding to apply knowledge, but this rarely comes first.

- No one understands the nuances and implications of language and communicates with a high -level of skill without first mastering the basic mechanics of their native tongue.

- No one perceives a chessboards as a whole system and identifies critical components until they've mastered the basic movement of pieces and trained basic tactics.

- No one programs complex applications without first mastering basic programming constructs like loops and conditionals.

The fact is that understanding math takes work, and the real reason students perform poorly is that they're not interested in doing the work. This isn't a bad thing. Forcing children to be detained in all day in an oppressive setting is a bad thing. Actively stamping out imagination and then expecting people to want to learn is a ridiculous thing.

Sal's contribution to education is remarkable because he is empowering learners, rather than threatening them. Schools threaten students with poor grades and the implication that those poor grades will lead to an unfulfilling life. This fear-mongering stifles creative growth and doesn't mix well with a population that harbors an extreme sense of entitlement.

Not everyone is going to care about math for math's sake, but empowering resources like the Khan Academy are heroes in the uphill battle of encouraging intellectual curiosity. To call out Khan Academy as "the most dangerous phenomenon in education today" seems like a reactionary statement rooted in the author's self-interest and fear.

You'll notice that I didn't actually say that Khan was the "most dangerous phenomenon," but rather our own obsession with it, and the misinterpretation of what it can do. Khan itself is great, but using it for what it wasn't intended to do is a real problem...and one that schools & districts are beginning to pursue more and more.

I don't understand. Who is it that's danagerously obsessed with Khan exactly? My kids' public school teachers had never heard of it.

One thing I thought of: I think one way to really make education stronger, and cheaper, by utilizing technology, is to have your "point system" based on teaching people just under you. By teaching material, you also learn it more strongly yourself. And of course you have more "one-on-one" time with students while actually reducing the demand for professional teachers.

So maybe you could start with something like Khan Academy (it doesn't hurt to have the lines, dots, and steps documented somewhere). But then have some sort of social network (and I'm saying this as somebody who thinks that too many things have social networks) based on the ability to learn and teach skills.

I haven't viewed the KA videos yet, although I'm looking into them. So, while not versed in the math instructional set du jour at the moment, I have a vested interest in the subject -- my kids in 5th grade.

Several parents I know (and respect) have substituted the math instruction their kids are receiving from local schools to using the Khan Academy. While I would never throw my kids into any program without understanding it well ahead of time, I'm reasonably confident that KA would be a helpful addition to my kids' math instruction.

I don't claim to understand the best methods for learning math (or teaching it), but for my kids I follow simple results-based assessment with the eye test: do they understand problem sets, can they use math as a tool, are they confident when asked to do math-based exercises, etc. And, yes, do they score well when taking exams. In other words, while I care about the means...I'm really interested in the end.

In reading this article, I find someone critical of the KA approach on spurious grounds (very little in this critique is based on fact). That the original author also has a service that sells into the current education system that KA obviously threatens makes the argument that much weaker. I question the motivations of the author, especially with a comment like this:

"Of course, fans of Khan Academy — which, to be fair, includes many teachers, parents and administrators — say that their students are engaged and performing better than ever. Still, this may be a false sense of security."

Hmmm, where have I heard this pitch before? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear,_uncertainty_and_doubt

The truth is that Khan Academy is helping millions of people - and I'm one of them - to learn topic that seemed out of their reach. Maybe KA hasn't understood all of the pieces of the educational puzzle, but given their resources and trajectory I think they can have the same kind of profound impact as Wikipedia.

I doubt the author has watched many Khan videos; Sal consistently harps on understanding over procedure, while explaining both.

I started at pre-algebra and have kept going - geometry, trig, calc I, II, III, linear algebra - racking up 60 hours of video watch time. Due to lack of practice problems, I probably wouldn't do well on a test; however, I have no problems conversing and theorizing about what I've learned. Due to Sal's method of explanation, I understand the concepts. My entire perspective of reality has changed, for everything, from relationships to spirituality to basic mechanics.

Just a couple of weeks ago, my friend and I were discussing the basic nature of expectations in relationships, and I realized I could prove my points using calculus, and show her how relationships worked in terms of the fundamental theorem. The problem wasn't my understanding, but rather that she would not have understood the language.

Indeed, it seems to me the author has a peeve about a common educational problem, and has ignorantly and unfairly grouped khan with the rest.

The truth is, I would have never done this with any other available system. The overhead of every other method, both in cost and time, is too high.

Long live Khan!

It's another argument for constructivism, pointing out that Khan Academy is non-constructivist education on steroids.

As much as I agree with this argument, it underplays the fact that constructivism is a paradigm shift that will require gobs cultural readiness and energy that we don't seem to have. It's like, Why don't we live in domes? Well, because people expect houses to be rectangular, zoning laws assume they'll be made of sticks, and we don't have enough energy to blow past these things. Or, Why do we still use imperative programming languages instead of functional languages?

Once it was different: the constructivist program by Seymour Papert to put Logo (which, as it happens, is a functional language!) in schools. It was a fad in the early '80s and failed monumentally. So monumentally that today the power of computing is equated with making textbooks interactive http://www.apple.com/ibooks-author/ and backpacks lighter. Both Jobs and Gates criticized various 'computer in the classroom' initiatives in the '90s for this very reason, but they didn't mention (or didn't know about) Logo.

One constructivist aspect of Khan's program not mentioned in the article is the "flipped" classroom -- watching lectures at home and doing homework in class. This is a far superior use of classroom time that allows questions to come in the context of work, work to be a social activity, etc. And last I heard, K.A. were having real trouble selling the idea. It's too revolutionary for many schools.

What's often not understood is that schools are incredibly diverse institutions. The parents, the students, the teachers, the unions, the administration, the local, State, and federal governments... all sit in class each day. There is no way to improve classrooms by decree, or even by offering powerful alternatives like Khan Academy or Logo. The entire society must come along.

The article criticizes Khan Academy for not employing teachers. But failed to mention another constructivist act par excellence: they just hired Vi Hart! http://www.youtube.com/watch?&v=e1a6Bxc0OYQ

Khan Academy is a revolution in how lessons are delivered, not necessarily the content of the lessons themselves.

The author wants to take learn-math-by-rote to task, and that's fine, but that argument is no more specific to Khan Academy than any other math instruction.

Singling out Khan Academy is link-baiting. It's like if I were to bash the Nissan Leaf for not having the latest in, I don't know, tire technology or something. It would be a true statement, but the Leaf is notable for being an all-electric vehicle, and what I'm talking about is something completely orthogonal to what makes the Leaf noteworthy.

The problem is that KA (and as you point out, many others) believe that lessons are "delivered". This assumes what Paoulo Freire described as the "banking model" of education and it is fundamentally wrong. People do not learn through delivery and people or organizations perpetuating a banking model are misguided and should be challenged.

Is it an either/or proposition? Kahn has helped students pass their classes, brush up on subjects they're rusty on, tutor them through a tough unit and pass tests. I fail to see how this is a bad thing.

EDIT: I feel like I should expand on my initial reaction. Education isn't a product that you can sell, market or prepackage to have certain functionality. It's not a car or software. It's a process. You get out of it what you put in. No amount of great teachers, progressive curriculum or charter schooling is going to change the fact that the student still needs to participate.

Shoving students into holes and expecting them to learn this way is stupid. Expanding the ways in which they can engage their education is not. When we encourage people to exercise or eat better we don't expect that they will all do it the same way, why would we expect the same thing from education. I don't think Kahn Academy is the "Future of Education" any more than I think marathon running is the "Future of Fitness", but that doesn't mean it's bad for education.

I totally with the author's suggestion that we invest more in teachers. It's incredibly important.

But I hate, HATE, arguments of this form:

"[proponents] have been making similar claims for years, yet [outcomes] are as bad as ever"

It's absolutely just as vapid as "It will be different this time", yet I hear people make this argument over and over.

Things happen until they don't. Sometimes it's a tiny event that precipitates the change, sometimes it's a massive event, and sometimes it's the accrual of thousands of chancy occurences. Past performance is a useful indicator of future performance only if aggregate statistics are your sole concern. If you care about individual situations, like whether a single property of classrooms will change in response to a single new technology, past outcomes in similar situations tells you very little.

And yes, if someone tells you "things will be different solely because of X", where X is something that's happened dozens of times before, they are full of shit.

But anyone who tells you "things will be the same because X happened before too" is just as misguided.

"When Bill Gates and others generously donated millions of dollars to Khan’s organization, he immediately turned around and used this money to hire an all-star team of…computer scientists. Of the twenty people who work at Khan Academy, none has ever taught in a K12 classroom in the the United States. Zero."

When you look at it like that, you never got it; leading to erroneous conclusions.

Its easy to ignore all the thousands of students, like me, who have improved and understood concepts I hadnt learned before in formal school. We arent really visible, its like we dont exist.

Just as I havent seen anyone improving their understanding of mathematical concepts from the mathalicious school.

"Khan Academy and its donors may preclude better products from coming along: products built by experts that actually can improve how students learn"

So - what was stopping those experts from doing that already?

The author doesn't seem to have watched many of the khan academy videos, what KA excels in is in fact precisely what he's criticizing it for not doing: explaining what maths means.

I agree. The exercises are a bit lacking but the videos are top notch. They are far better than any other instruction I've received.

Khan Academy helped me recover from a subpar high school education and gave me the tools to excel in college mathematics.

The blog post author is a provider of educational software sold to schools, writing to identify problems that he thinks arise from the Khan Academy approach to online education. I'll respond to what he said now that I've read the blog and the earlier thoughtful comments on his blog and here on HN.

1. It is hard to compete against free, especially in education.

Adam Smith pointed this out a long time ago: "In modern times [as contrasted with ancient times] the diligence of public teachers is more or less corrupted by the circumstances which render them more or less independent of their success and reputation in their particular professions. Their salaries, too, put the private teacher, who would pretend to come into competition with them, in the same state with a merchant who attempts to trade without a bounty in competition with those who trade with a considerable one. . . . The privileges of graduation, besides, are in many countries . . . obtained only by attending the lectures of the public teachers. . . . The endowment of schools and colleges have, in this manner, not only corrupted the diligence of public teachers, but have rendered it almost impossible to have any good private ones." -- The Wealth of Nations, Book V, Part 3, Article II (1776).

Thus the only way to compete effectualy against the current system is to offer something free-to-the-user as part of the mix. The current system of public schools in the United States gains revenues of more than $500 billion dollars per budget year for government-operated elementary and secondary schools.


The blog author seeks to sell products for money to schools, and decries Khan Academy being provided directly to learners for free. Many other providers of educational products and services are doing what is REALLY hard: providing products and services to primary-age and secondary-age learners directly, on at least a cost-recovery basis, attempting to show a value proposition for products and services that families have to pay for after already paying their taxes.

Moreover, the monopoly or oligopoly the government-operated schools have on offering certain kinds of educational credentials ensures that Khan Academy and all competing providers of educational services have to rely on more than just price to win over users.

2. It takes guts to be an entrepreneur.

For anyone attempting to sell a product or service, the first challenge is competing against everyone else providing a product or service (including consumers who do it themselves). One of the entrepreneurs I most admire in the educational products space is a homeschooling materials supplier that has for more than a decade hosted a webpage called "27 Reasons NOT to Buy [Our Product]."


That takes courage and honesty. Rather than FUD, a stand-up entrepreneur lets prospective clients know what the competition offers. Clients are happier if they can shop and compare what's on offer from competing providers.

3. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.

Khan Academy is provided over the Internet, entirely for free, but not everyone who has an Internet connection makes use of it. (Some readers who have commented here have suggested that the blog author should watch more Khan Academy videos before making a global evaluation of the quality of Khan Academy instruction.)

The public school system is free (that is, tax-subsidized) for all pupils, and the pupils are compelled to attend in default of government-approved, parent-funded alternatives besides. Even at that, teachers can't count on pupils being engaged in their lessons. It's not clear that providing this or that new lesson material will bring about more learning in a compulsory attendance environment, as another reader here pointed out while mentioning the interesting writings of the late John Holt.

4. Khan Academy leaves a lot of room for a better service.

I have watched SOME Khan Academy videos, including some of the most recently revised videos. My children have watched others. We have also done various Khan Academy online exercises. My homeschooled children's main online mathematics course is NOT Khan Academy, but ALEKS,


which to date offers much superior exercises (which are more like open-ended problems than mere exercises), much more relentless focus on steady skill development of learners, and a more complete and articulated curriculum for precalculus mathematics. I have urged the Khan Academy collaborators in past replies here on HN basically to reinvent the research ALEKS has done on knowledge spaces in K-12 mathematics


and eventually to build a comparable framework to integrate all the Khan Academy exercises into a coherent curriculum.

Anyone can try out ALEKS for an unlimited number of free, time-limited trials. (I'm not paid to endorse ALEKS; I learned this from a local friend who telephoned the company and asked about this.) So you and the blog author and any member of the Khan Academy staff and any other person with an Internet connection can try out ALEKS and see what is like. What ALEKS conspicuously lacks compared to Khan Academy is audio explanations, and what differs from Khan Academy most conspicuously about ALEKS is that ALEKS costs money, but I'm happy to spend money on ALEKS for four learners in my family.

An even better source of videos on prealgebra topics than the Khan Academy videos are the Art of Problem Solving videos by Richard Rusczyk,


also free and worthwhile for mathematical accuracy and engaging presentation, with very challenging problems. Art of Problem Solving links to other videos, some produced in-house and some from other providers,


that are also very good.

Competition is good. I like the public school system, the lessons I teach locally as supplemental classes for advanced elementary-age learners, and Khan Academy and Art of Problem Solving and ALEKS all to be subject to competition, the better to have incentive to improve and to do better.

5. There will continue to be an important role for in-person teachers.

Khan Academy will not make in-person teachers become obsolete. I tell all my prospective clients for my own local in-person math classes about Khan Academy before the first day of each new term. A good classroom teacher, who knows the latest research on educational effectiveness,


will take care to form a community of shared curiosity and reality checks on one another's thinking while teaching. There is an abundance of research on effective mathematics teaching,












and much of that research has yet to be implemented in most classrooms in the United States. It's even possible to compete with wholly free services and provide supplemental classes in mathematics that families pay for willingly and without compulsion. The key thing for a teacher to do is build a class that is engaging and that welcomes curious learners who are willing to challenge themselves.

See an earlier HN comment


for a bit more on the distinction between problems and exercises.

I wish the blog author, the Khan Academy developers, and everyone teaching mathematics well in spurring the development of better materials and teaching practices so that more mathematics learners learn more mathematics better.


It's great that you're contrasting Khan to ALEKS. I'm not drinking the Khan kool-aid; my kid just started using ALEKS in the last month and I agree it's terrific. It's really puzzled me why Khan is getting all this attention when ALEKS has been around so much longer (and seems to be better in many respects -- just lacking instructional video). It would actually be terrific to have some kind of integration between ALEKS and Khan -- to be able to see a video lecture on a particular topic would be quite useful for the student.

Because KA has had a much bigger impact, millions of people are using it.

You have the tail wagging the dog there.

KA had a much bigger impact when it was growing word of mouth, long before it got publicity.

ALEKS is awesome, I used it 10 years ago to refresh on some math topics. I should try it again just to see how much has improved since then.

Look, Sal just hired Vi Hart to do more cool math stuff, the exact opposite of "wild goose chase" math.

Exactly. Vi isn't a teacher, either. Khan hired her to continue doing what she's been doing for quite some time: Make math inspirational and interesting. She didn't even take any math courses at university. She's just incredibly passionate about its odd applications.

I know more than a few artists who self-describe as math haters who changed their tune (if only briefly) and searched their souls for the true meaning of shapes after seeing a few of Vi's wonderful videos.

This article is a joke. There is no evidence offered to support his conclusions, it's basically a long slander article that his peddling his shitty startup.

This was a terrible read for me. The author sounds like a stereotypical parent telling their child that they can not succeed where the parent failed.

His article is a list of arguably failed teaching techniques that our current education system has implemented and khan academy is currently implementing. He then draws the conclusion that since institutionalized education failed with these techniques so will khan academy.

But he ignores the biggest difference and promise of Khan Academy vs Traditional Education, which is focus on the individual vs focus on the masses.

I think the biggest difference from traditional education is that Khan Academy is making the focus-on-the-individual approach scale to an arbitrary number of people.

I don't think the problems that inspire education reform will go away until a large number people with clout re-conceptualize the whole notion and function of education. Education ends is too conflated with nationalist and career ambitions. If students were given the encouragement and support to complete relevant projects that can translate into attractive college applications or on-the-job skills, students would be better served to enter the workforce and would probably more effectively see the relevance of their actions. It's difficult to test student success and standardized tests, organized by specialist subjects, become irrelevant.

Marshall McLuhan (in the sixties) talked about how instant access to information made specialization in education less relevant. He predicted that schools would cease operating under the industrial assumption of specialization. In fact, many other hard boundaries - work/leisure, education/employment - would become blurred and resemble more pre-industrial, and even pre-literate, sensibilities. Unfortunately, technology moves so much slower than ideology, and people are treating the "jobs of the future" as if one learns math, and then one can work in some math-making factory, or something, for the rest of their life.

The dichotomy the author presents is irrelevant. Khan academy and mathalicious.com would both serve a project-based curriculum quite well.

This doesn't have to be an either/or conversation about the relative importance of teachers vs technology.

Teachers will always be needed and valued (above everything else, someone has to create content for technology to disseminate).

The thing is, not all teachers are created equal. I'm sure we can all recall certain teachers that were obviously not concerned for the betterment of their students. Hell, some are downright hostile. Then, there are those teachers who really do care- the ones you remember for life.

Likewise, technology isn't created equal. There are some downright terrible online learning courses.

The difference between now and a few years ago, is that the education system is finally seeing the value in online technologies to aid in the classroom.

Ideally, you have a synergistic effect. A good teacher aided by a curriculum we can actually track and measure on an individual scale.

The students are happy because they can learn at their own pace (or not- you can't win them all over), and the teachers are freed from having a one-size-fits-all solution to a problem that requires a more nuanced approach.

What about this is negative? Are jobs at risk? Probably. They have been for a while now, but not because of technology. Our public schools are just plain underfunded.

In the end, technology will actually create MORE jobs- as I said, someone has to design and teach the online courses too.

Khan Academy isn't designed to replace teachers, it's designed to aid them in the classroom and free up the time and resources to provide that QUALITY education we all desire so badly for our children.

Access to education is the problem Kahn Academy solves for me. I changed schools a lot as a kid and was kept back to repeat classes I had no problems with because the new school would teach classes at a different rate or in a different order.

Even in classes that I didn't have to repeat I was board a lot in class. (Bio, Physics, Math) I wasted a lot of my youth that way and while it was annoying then, it angers me now. Getting 100% on a class or test wasn't hard and shouldn't have been the limit of my education.

If this was available then I would have pounced on it and tried to test of classes. (If that was available of course, but that's another topic for discussion.) If my parents had some other way for me to get out of grade and high school they would have taken it.

This style of learning wont be for everyone. But it works for me.

On a side note, I've personally used Khan to teach my friends, my siblings, and myself the basics in subjects we've gotten rusty in or never covered growing up. I quite enjoy it.

The biggest problem with this rant is that it's attacking a strawman version of Khan Academy, pretending that it's only a website with some videos and exercises. It's not. KA is actively developing and testing an in-school curriculum that focuses class and teacher time on intensive small group and individual development of the concepts covered in the videos. The main insight is that one-size-fits-all lectures delivered at one pace represents a payment of a large opportunity cost that hurts both ends of the bell curve. If you offload that responsibility to videos that kids can watch outside of class and/or at their own pace, class time becomes an opportunity for kids to work together to understand the concepts and gives teachers the opportunity to figure out how to best reach each individual child. Khan Academy doesn't replace teachers; it frees them up to actually teach.

I think this link is a much better treatment of the famous "Benny" experiment: http://blog.mathed.net/2011/07/rysk-erlwangers-bennys-concep... (with a bonus of less conflict-of-interest.)

Are we sure that this isn't the same guy who just attacked Amazon? His arguments are equally off point and equally worthless. And that is without taking into account that the arguments come from the side that is losing! I no more think that Khan Academy has a lock on 'the one true way' than any other approach to the problem of education. What I do think is that for what ever reason the approach seems to be working and that is a great deal more than than can be said for the system currently in place. I will also point out the number of top end colleges that are beginning to think outside of the box in ways that greatly resemble Khan's---something that I don't think is an accident...

We're hating on this article, but you know what, I really like it. It covers a one sided view, but it makes some solid points.

That Khan Academy is free WILL prevent some innovative paid for solutions entering the market/being created. The "learn this, now do this test" methodology is indeed flawed as I've found myself recently. Yet it does make adaptive learning systems easier to build.

There must be a better way to do it and I'd be open to suggestions anyone may have on a computerized learning system that just works. Links and ideas welcome.

The mathalicious site this is a PR piece for does look nice and I clicked around, The vids look good, but what's their testing system like? Adaptive?

Sal didn't start the Academy to change the way children are taught math in school. He made it to fulfill a need he saw in a majority of student -- the same thing the article points out.

That being said, I think Sal's TED talk (mentioned in another comment here) really hits the nail on the head. I do believe that education in its current North American form is flawed. I don't think exams are a proper way of testing anything more than memory retention and ability to perform repetitive tasks (do this, then this, then that, etc).

Khan Academy fills a void within the current education system. Yes the system is flawed, but that's beside the Academy's scope.

Education is already structured like game with every every feature of gamification like points(scores) and grades(levels) and Leaderboards and so on... But it is a very boring and badly designed game.

Playing a physical game like football and maintaining a good physique for winning a football game seems a lot more fun than exercising to not be sick. Same thing could be said about khan academy. Would it not be awesome that a student can learn 50+25=75 without having to pull out an iPhone to calculate the same... Does it matter whether he did it for energy points or self improvement. A student with good "skills" will likely find it easier to navigate more meaningful content in the future like graph interpretation without even noticing that "the algorithmic skill" came in handy. I totally agree that something like KA is not a solution but just piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

One of the students of the stanford online classes ended up making a cellphone powered self driving car by going through the online class. While the student got the basic framework and ideas from the class, he must have learned a huge amount of stuff putting it all together. Learning is very human no doubt. But it can happen in the minds of the learner. Thrun or Andrew Ng do not need to actually talk to the student by standing a few feet away. They just need to empower and inspire students to work on awesome projects. The students can learn by themselves and each other.

Parents need to understand that KA is not a substitute for the teaching paradigm, but rather introduces a great tool for self-enrichment - as the article suggests, a "supplement" to homework and education, KA is great. But the "education" itself is a varied and dynamic system that cannot completely rely on a child to be self-motivated. Few 7 year olds are self-motivated to master math, and gamification is just another arrow in the quiver, but not the panacea. Learning is IMO at least a 2 step process, requiring participation beyond simply multiple choice and listening, it most importantly requires exploration and deep problem solving skills. For example, being assigned a math word problem where the child must read, re-read and attempt to find the answer using at least 30 minutes of analysis before realizing the true nature of the word problem. That 30 minute process is an important mental exercise that cannot be circumvented. KA is a great way to quickly understand a concept, but true mastery requires application, and having a teacher present to gently guide without revealing the answer is an art.

Being a parent that closely monitors his child's learning process, I'm very careful to never give my child the answer, but just enough hints to keep him from being frustrated - ultimately, HE must figure it out, never me. KA is a great way for my son to learn about a subject, but the next stage is when I take him away from KA and start applying those concepts to real life problems.

Parents need to understand this 2 step process.

My idea on how to fix High School math. Spend the first 3 years doing nothing but mastering basic algebra.

I've seen from tutoring my siblings that basic algebra skills are what they lack. They concepts of trig and calculus aren't that difficult, it's the algebra that trips them up.

Leave the higher level math, for everyone but the most advanced students, to college. If I was a college math professor I'd rather teach a group of kids who have mastered algebra, than ones who've had a whirlwind tour of everything.

This might work for some people, but as someone relatively smart and good at math, this would just make me want to cry myself to sleep at night. A smart student can master algebra/algebra 2 curriculum in a couple of months. A problem with a lot of high achievers is that they already feel like they are wasting time in high school, this just aggravates that problem.

My suggestion: Not everyone needs to learn that much math. Classes up to algebra 2 and also an intro to statistics are probably enough for most people. Note that this can be in high school or college. However, for those who want to be mathematicians/scientists/engineers/technical people, math education should diverge probably around 7th grade. Rather than teaching pre-algebra or algebra or whatever they do now, they should start teaching the students how to do proofs. The best thing about Ma 1a at Caltech (http://www.math.caltech.edu/~2011-12/1term/ma001a1/) is that about 60% of the material could be taught to a smart motivated 7th grader. Making the students do proofs with help everyone figure out either that they love math and its beautiful or that they aren't really that interested in math. With a more rigorous understanding of basic math, learning applications like calculus is a lot easier.

The about the product slide show appears to use stolen preview images from shutterstock.com.

Disappointing that it didn't even touch on what I see as one of the central items of Khan Academy: the "watch lectures at home and do homework with teachers" methodology.

That seems like the most interesting bit -- one that could get a great teacher to expand their influence across many more students than they could otherwise. (ie, they have more time for 1-on-1 help since they do not have to put so much time into lectures)

This is what one finds in the "About" page of Khan Academy:

> Sal also found time to get three degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard

> Shantanu (...) received four degrees from MIT

> Bilal (...) completed his MBA and MA in Education from Stanford and a BS in Actuarial Science from Urbana-Champaign

> Marcia (...) received her BS and MS in Computer Science from Stanford

> Jessica (...) is an alumna of Stanford and UC San Diego

> Desmond (...) studied mechatronics engineering at Swinburne University, Australia

> Charlotte (...) received her BA from Haverford College

> Elizabeth (...) earned a B.A. in Intellectual History at Penn

> Marcos (...) has an SB from MIT and an MFA from RISD

> James (...) received two degrees from CMU in Physics and Computer Science

> Minli (...) has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and M.S. in Management Science & Engineering from Stanford University


What's the point? If traditional education is irrelevant, why does it matter whether Khan Academy's people come from the most prestigious universities...?

1. Is anyone actually saying that traditional education is irrelevant? In particular, is Khan Academy (or Sal Khan personally) saying this? (I haven't heard it.)

2. Imagine that you're a possible user (or funder or ...) of KA, but you are not convinced that "traditional education is irrelevant" or that KA's variety of not-so-traditional education is going to be any good.

One thing you might look for, when evaluating KA, is whether the people who run it are any good by the standards you're used to. So even if the people operating KA thought that "traditional education is irrelevant" it might be eminently reasonable for them to parade their traditional-education qualifications, in order to help persuade those who aren't yet on board with the idea.

For one thing Khan Academy does not say it strives to solve the problems you discuss. It's only goal, I believe was and still is accessibility.

My feeling after reading the article is that he's link-baiting to make a valid point about trends in education in general. He gets demerits for the misdirection, but his fundamental question is essential and needs to be engaged.

Is he correct that education is fundamentally a human, not technological, endeavor? Is something essential lost when teaching is made completely abstract by software and engineering?

I say this as a home-schooling father of five that uses a lot of technology -- DVDs, online -- to augment our curriculum, and couldn't be happier that I'll be able to have my kids go through MIT, Stanford, Khan, etc., online content, and I think our options in the next few years will be even more amazing.

I'm in agreement with the author that human interaction has to be fundamental to the educational process, but technology must play a role. Books themselves represent arguably the most important mass application of technology in modern history.

So the question for me is: does Khan (or Mathalicious for that matter) attempt to become a replacement for human interaction in education? I don't think so. That is still left to the freedom of any parent or teacher using the material. If more context needs to be applied to a given technology-driven lesson, then the parent or teacher is certainly not prevented from doing so.

The more I think about it, the more I think the author is simply advocating one abstract technological solution over another: his particular brand of context-driven content vs. Khan's more conventional content. Nowhere is the question of actual human interaction broached, just the question of whether qualified "experts" created the content to begin with. He may be correct that his content on the whole is better than Khan's, but his invocation of the "human vs. technological" seems to me yet another misdirection.

The real human element of education takes place in one-on-one situations, with a teacher or parent who can intuit where the child's understanding is at, respond in real-time to the student's own reactions, and change their approach in real-time accordingly. Nothing can replace the give-and-take of face-to-face teaching. Every student is different and real teachers know how to change their tactics slightly, drastically or somewhere in-between to help a student make that crucial conceptual breakthrough.

So to me, "Mathalicious vs. Khan" is merely pitting one abstract set of materials vs. another, and has nothing to do with "human vs. technology." I may use one of them or both or neither, but I won't give up my direct interaction with the student, and, having been raised by a teacher myself, I know that real teachers understand this as well.

Interesting assessment of what I've always considered to be a successful learning supplement. Not an alternative, and certainly not a revolution, but something people of all ages and backgrounds can refer to when needed. It's a wonderful resource, and this article attempts to diagnose some sort of nonexistent problem with it. It even seems to back off at the end, as if the author realizes he's done little to identify a problem and less to propose an alternative (or even market his product).

Now, if he was going to complain about the "intuitive" approach of KA, he might've had something. Alternatives to KA like PatrickJMT have been successful (to an extent) because some feel that Khan is perhaps a bit too gentle with his teaching method. Baptism by fire certainly appeals to some.

I hate to say it, because comments like these always feel a bit hollow to me, but "Sour grapes" is all that comes to mind with this article.

I was hoping to find some sort of statistics showing how students are not better off after learning through KA, but I didn't find it. It would have been very helpful in minimizing the bias the article has against KA, because at least it would show a concrete evidence of the claims presented in the article.

KA applied Jane McGonigal's concept in her Ted Talk on game theory, where players are encouraged to continue with a quest through awards and points. This is lacking in traditional education, where only those on top get awards, and those on the bottom do not, perpetuating the problem throughout the lives of the students.

Also, there was no solution, except something around the line that this is not a panacea (nothing is) and that we should reconsider how we think of KA. An alternative or a better idea would have best ended the article that so criticizes how KA is so wrong.

While slanted I think it raises an obvious point that educators sometimes forget. Do not put all your efforts into one method of teaching. Procedure and habit is comforting and easy to plan for. But no one teaching strategy will work well with all students, plus many students will get lulled into boredom and disinterest after a while. KA might be one of your introductions to a topic (though it is sort of dull and non-engaging) or it may fall in the middle of teaching the topics. Maybe you can use it for remediation or for enrichment. But if one uses it as the sole learning method I think that is folly. The old adage is that people who do well in school go back and teach the ways that worked for them. KA might seem perfect to the people that it works for, but until we see that it works for 100% of students we can't sit on our laurels.

One thing I think gets left out of these discussions is how much of a teacher's job (in many districts, even good ones) is motivating his or her students. Most students do best when they respect their teachers and want to impress them. You can't really replicate this remotely. The human connection is largely reliant of being in the same physical room.

This fact does not fall on one side or the other of any argument I see here. I expect it is completely compatible with integrating KA into a school curriculum or not. I just think it needs to be kept in mind.

"And at its heart, education remains a fundamentally human endeavor."

This is not necessarily true. There may be a way for technology to facilitate the alternative learning methods that the author is suggesting.

This article has a legitimate argument of qualitative vs quantitive learning, however it has an undertone of resentment towards KA as a technology platform.

Pull vs push-based learning.. labor inefficiencies.. Disintermediation. Many markets will be disrupted, including the educational process.

For example, looking at iPads in the classroom, "HMH Fuse" students scored about 20 percent higher than students who used traditional textbooks.


I think the question is, what problem is it that Khan Academy seems to be solving? It may very well be a band-aid on the symptoms of our sick math education system. It might also be improving scores of students on exams.

I happen to be in the camp that HOW we are teaching and HOW we are measuring the learning of mathematics is the problem. We are teaching procedures simply to try to get the right data. We avoid actually teaching mathematics because the only real way to figure out what someone understands is to ask for an explanation and discussion and those results depend on trusting teachers to evaluate the understanding and assign a measure to it.

It seems that the best job we do teaching mathematics occurs at the lowest and highest extremes. K-3 elementary students, and Ph.D. Students. It's because at those extremes it's more about conversation than scores. Notice that no one gives Ph.D. students multiple choice quizzes.

Now back to Khan Academy, so this is how we are going to use this powerful computational tool to teach Mathematics? Watch video and take multiple choice quizzes? Anyone who thinks that's revolutionary doesn't understand the history of educational technology. This has all been done before, just not free. Free is the only difference between Khan Academy and all of the other previous efforts of using automatic quizzing systems and pre-taped lectures to teach.

I be a jerk to criticize Khan without offering an alternative. There has been a project happening at the University of Illinois for the past 20 years that IS revolutionary and does use the full power of the computer to change the approach to teaching math, AND flips the classroom the way Khan speaks of. It uses content written in Mathematica to approach the subject from the model level rather than the procedure level. It's simply too difficult for most people to understand models by doing hand calculations. However, once the models have been well explored and understood the procedures become trivial.

I am part of a project called Making Math to bring the model of teaching using Mathematica to the web using modern Javascript techniques. We're adding all the communication and feedback mechanisms as well as authoring and editing interfaces. BUT our motto is "if a computer can grade it, it's not worth asking." We feel that way because we expect explanations, and because at the end of the day, students want feedback from mentor, both help, and a pat on the back for a job well done.

(the one thing I like about Khan Academy is the marginalization of the lecture format and the flipping of the classroom. I just happen to think we can flip the classroom by engaging students in better activities, and providing a mechanism to explore and explain mathematical models).

I don't see Khan replacining teachers - Henie changing what they do. Rather than lecture and quiz in the classrom, he enables the model to be flipped. Lectures and quizzes on your own time, come to class for help and interactive discussion.

Khan Academy is like Google Analytics. A great, free service. use it if you want to, don't if you don't. No one's ever forced you to. To the author: If you've got something better, bring it on. Don't try to pull others down.

Are the Khan tests really multiple choice? I don't think most of them are.

this is exactly how i feel about khan academy. a lot of how and no why.

Okay, so the consensus is that the article is a joke (khan academy helped me a lot couple of years ago in high school so I agree). Why is it on the front page of HN then?

So that it won't be again. Edit: Downvoting probably means that was not clear enough. I meant this will gather enough evidence for people to not post anything similar on Hacker News.

Khan Academy is providing an alternative educational path for students who want to learn on their own pace. And Khan Academy is doing this right!

WORST TITLE EVER. This is an amazing article, and it's point of view is so debatable, but the title doesn't attract as the article it self.

Some of the comments here indicate that the Khan Academy videos also include instruction on the meaning behind the math as opposed to the idea that it's just teaching rote memorization of procedures and applications without context. As a student who has recently taken math methods courses some of the arguments against this approach is the idea that students should be developing their understanding of the underlying meanings on their own. One resource I've used recently classifies activities into four areas: memorization, procedures without connections, procedures with connections, and doing mathematics. The first two are considering as having lower-level demands and the last two are higher-level demands[1]. Thus it is possible that the Khan Academy videos are actually a great resource for students as there are no guarantees that we're within the bounds of the lower-level demands tasks, and this seems to be possible considering the comments I've read and some of the sections of video that I've watched.

In contrast I've also looked at one of the mathalicious.com lessons[2] which if approached correctly can also fall within the bounds of the higher-level demands tasks. However, that is something that close attention must be paid to. We can always modify activities such that the level of cognitive demand is either increased or reduced. More importantly though I feel as though the mathalicious lessons have an opportunity to further make connections by having students do mathematics that is practical. The one lesson I examined seemed to not do this, which is disappointing. Granted I don't have my BS in mathematics nor my teaching certification yet as I'm in my final semester but I don't think this lesson represents any kind of activity that is realistic. I remember reading an article by IIRC Richard Feynman about analyzing textbooks for use in classrooms in California. This was one of the arguments he presented as well; example activities we have students do to learn the underlying mathematical concepts should be realistic and not contrived examples.

Overall, the key here is that students should be doing the mathematical work. Obviously I have a vested interest in the subject as I'm in the classroom for the majority of my week actually working with students to teach and help them learn math. Is it possible that Khan Academy can be ineffective if used incorrectly? Absolutely. But I feel the same can be said of the mathalicious lessons. If someone isn't there to correctly use the resources they can have a smaller impact than originally intended.

[1] 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions, Smith & Stein. NCTM.

[2] http://www.mathalicious.com/lesson/can-music-kill-you/

N.B. I'm also a little concerned with one of the sections in the Lesson Guide that I read through. It states the following:

Before we find the equation of the line, we want to focus on the meaning of slope. A helpful shorthand for slope is “y per x,” which is how we’ll measure slope (i.e. its units). In this case slope will be measured in “heart beats per music beat,” and will tell us what happens to Billy Jean’s heart rate when she increases the music tempo by one [beat]. By focusing on this real-­‐world meaning, we can avoid tricks like “rise over run.”

At first glance it seems to me that "y per x" is a trick too, which they're calling out "rise over run" for being. I feel that "rise over run" is closer to the mathematical definition that is presented in most textbooks which refers to the "difference in y over the difference in x" or "vertical change over horizontal change". While using "y per x" allows them to then refer to "heart beats per music beat" in this context, that doesn't get at the heart of the idea that it's really the ratio of the change in heart beats compared to the change in music beats.

I wish I knew more about the person writing it, its hard to contextualize their opinions as it stands currently.

Happy to tell you more. My name is Karim. I'm the founder of Mathalicious and the author of the blog post. I'm also a former classroom teacher and middle school math coach, where I worked with other teachers to help improve instruction by focusing on 1) conceptual understanding, and 2) relevance.

It seems like the anti-post comments fall in three categories:

1. Khan is great 2. Mathalicious is just jealous 3. The author of the post is part of the establishment and should be ignored

Let's take those one at a time.

First, Khan is great for what it is. It's a wonderful resource for homework help, for review, for a refresher, etc., and I said as much in the post. However, Khan Academy is not great pedagogically. It presents math as a series of steps, is entirely traditional, does not address conceptual understanding, and should not be the first touch-point for students learning math. Unfortunately, this is exactly what's happening in any number of schools across the country, and the worry --- and it's not just mine, but many in the education community --- is that it will merely perpetuate the problem.

Second, the "you're just jealous because Khan is eating your lunch" critique is a bit silly. Mathalicious provides lessons to classroom teachers, not direct instruction to students. If Khan Academy were effective at teaching students in a meaningful way on the front end, this would actually be good for us. Our lessons focus mostly on applications of mathematics, and in this sense are the yin to the yang. Regardless, the critique that Khan's style of instruction is ineffective and has been proven so has nothing to do with something so subjective as jealousy. It's objective fact, something I'd imagine would resonate with computer scientists. That said, would I like it if Mathalicious had Khan's millions? Absolutely. Not only would it allow me to have an income --- something I've foregone for over two years --- but it would more importantly allow Mathalicious to make its lessons free to teachers, something that we simply cannot afford to do. (Still, we do allow users to choose their own price, including $5/month: the price of a Starbucks coffee.)

Third, this issue of my being part of the "establishment" because I'm a teacher... As a teacher, I've seen first-hand how broken the system is. I've taught next to people who knew very little math, and that frustrates nobody more than the teachers who have to pick up their slack. Either way, the "change must come from outside of the system" argument suggests that teachers therefore have no role to play in education reform. If there's anyone who actually believes this, please raise your hand.

In the end, here's my argument in a nutshell:

1. We have a math crisis caused by ineffective teaching and an emphasis on rote skills 2. This style of teaching has been demonstrated by research not to work 3. Khan's style of teaching is the same 4. Cash-strapped schools & districts are beginning to adopt Khan Academy as a core tool 5. This won't work and risks perpetuating the problem 6. We know from observing other countries that, to solve the problem, we must invest in professional development and effective curriculum 7. In part because Khan is free, and in part because of a sycophantic media narrative, we are less likely to do this so long as we think Khan Academy is the solution to the problem

So, what part of that do people disagree with?


Let me try to crack that nutshell...

1. ...and several other factors, like requiring all students in a class to move at the same pace.

2. We all, including Khan, recognize there is a problem.

3. You gravely mischaracterize Khan's approach. Yes, the video you selected (out of thousands) does promote rote methods, as do many of the exercises. But Khan is also at pains to demonstrate mathematical reasoning from first principles, and to emphasize why we use the methods we do, why they work, and what relevance they have to the real world - in real world terms that make at least as much sense to me as those used by mathalicious. These 'reason' and 'proof' videos are judiciously interspersed with the 'rote' videos and taken together form exactly the kind of compelling mathematical narrative you complain is lacking from typical math curricula.

4. This is great. Students can view and review Khan's videos as their core learning material, help each other, and make use of the teacher's limited time according to metrics which continually and repeatedly assess their personal level of comprehension (which, as they absorb substantial portions of a playlist, will expand far beyond the memorization of rote methods).

5. Hard data will soon show if you are right, but it is my impression that thousands have already benefited.

6. The Khan model, taken in its entirety, only encourages this.

7. If you listen to what Khan actually says in his various talks, he is proposing that his site has a novel and exciting role to play as part of a general restructuring of math education along the lines your propose.

You could have taken the view that the Khan Academy is a useful tool and resource, yet to capitalize on it we must redouble our efforts to improve education funding, classroom teaching methods and better curricula. That sounds reasonable. Instead you wrote an article attacking the Khan Academy as being a direct impediment to this kind of progress. Few respondents here on HN have found your arguments persuasive, and instead of replying to the kind of points I make above, you tellingly characterize us as follows:

It seems like the anti-post comments fall in three categories: 1. Khan is great 2. Mathalicious is just jealous 3. The author of the post is part of the establishment and should be ignored

The discussion here has been far more nuanced and sophisticated than you allow for - kind of like the way you discredit Khan's videos.

Thanks for the comments. Very helpful. Again, to reiterate, I actually like Khan Academy, and the post wasn't critiquing Khan as much as it was our turning Khan into something that it's not. The post wasn't about Khan. It was about us. <br> Schools are experimenting with using it as a core instructional tool. That is not in question. Whether or not Khan himself is advocating this is besides the point (although they are involved in pilot programs). The point is that schools & districts are turning to a style of instruction that we know from research does not work, and that threatens to postpone the more important -- and necessary -- conversation about better teaching and better curriculum. <br> That said, I have heard what Khan has said about how he envisions Khan Academy being used. (Awkward sentence; apologies). He wants teachers to be able to offload skills instruction in order to be freed up to pursue projects and other applications. In theory, this is terrific. As a former classroom teacher myself, I know how much time we spend on basic skills. However, my concern -- and let's be clear; I say this as a teacher -- is that if students aren't learning the skills correctly in the first place, then they won't be able to apply them. <br> Finally, as someone who has spent considerable time -- and all of his savings -- trying to create a product that will help teachers teach better from the curriculum angle, I can tell you that Khan Academy has made it incredibly difficult to fund new projects in the ed space. Yes, there is more money than ever, but almost all of it is for platforms. Nobody wants to put money into effective content, because the media narrative has convinced them that the math problem has already been "solved." Having watched many, many Khan Academy videos, and having spoken to any number of teachers and school administrators, I have a difficult time believing this to be true.

Again, at its core, the blog post was about how Khan Academy was originally intended as a source for homework help; that we've begun to use it for much more than this; and that this risks perpetuating the underlying problem. &nbsp; This seems fairly straightforward, uncontroversial, and I must admit that I'm surprised by how energetic (and in some cases, vitriolic) the response has been.

I agree with you gomphus, as an outsider reading this article it did make me feel kind of crappy.

The main feeling I got was:

"Look at the King! Look at the the King! Look at the King, the King, the King! The King is in the altogether, but altogether, the altogether He's altogether as naked as the day that he was born The King is in the altogether, but altogether, the altogether It's altogether the very least the King has ever worn"

I am sure there are drawbacks and improvements KA need to make, no doubt at all. But an all out attack from someone at a similar space, to me, seems counter-productive.

"Khan Academy is not great pedagogically" Sal's greatest ability is his empathy. His identification with the kids and elders alike. People turn to Khan Academy after they fail to understand their monotonic Math professors. And they aren't disappointed, at least not me.

I agree that Sal's videos are very engaging and relatable. He comes across and very genuine, and that's a wonderful thing.

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