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The Khan Academy is not that good

UPDATE (March 24, 2011): The Khan Academy has changed a bit since I originally wrote this. My original post appears right below, followed by some updated observations.

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It seems there are plenty of people, both students and parents, who are unhappy with our current education system, myself included. Unfortunately everyone seems to have different ideas of what exactly is wrong with it and how to fix it.

Google had a link on their homepage to their Project 10 to the 100, in which they gave millions of dollars to organizations that won voting contests. You can see they’re giving Khan Academy $2 million. A lot of people really love Khan Academy (including Bill Gates) and think that it is a great step in the right direction. [The Khan Academy is basically a large collection of cheaply produced educational videos. Being videos, they can only teach fact-based material, like math, science, and history. They can’t teach skills that require feedback.]

I don’t think Khan Academy is bad, but it’s not a replacement for our current education system. It’s not that good. It’s not worthy of praise from Bill Gates (or maybe it is, since he seems to have completely wrong ideas about what steps the education system should take), and it’s not worthy of this $2 million gift. Khan Academy is great because it makes a lot of educational material available for free. But education is not about just knowing stuff.

The big thing people seem to forget or ignore is that everything ultimately comes down to employment… whether or not you can do a job, and whether or not employers will recognize that you can do a job and hire you. Unfortunately people seem to think education is about getting a degree. But the only reason a degree has any value is because employers give it value. It has zero value by itself.

Or people think education is just about knowing stuff, and the more you know the better. The more facts you can cram in your head, the smarter you are. But knowledge is useless if you don’t use it. Oooh, there’s a profound idea! But people don’t always seem to believe it. Going through Khan Academy’s resource is just, in the end, really not that helpful. You’re just not going to use most of it in everyday life, even when you’re employed. It’s a nice resource to have available if it turns out you do need to learn some of it someday, which is the same reason it’s nice for colleges to have libraries. But it doesn’t replace or change anything important in the education system. It’s just a nice reference resource.

Which leads us to what is wrong with our education system. It’s become thought of as separate from the life you’ll live after it, and thus has little focus. Rich people and rich organizations can throw all the millions of dollars they want at it, but until there’s a widespread fundamental shift in employers’ and educators’ and students’ attitudes towards it, things aren’t going to get much better.

The Khan Academy does plan to expand and offer more than just videos, so we’ll see what happens with it. Ultimately it’s currently just a library. A library is a great resource because it means you don’t have to learn stuff; if you ever need certain info, you can go find it in the library when you need it. The point isn’t to try to learn or memorize as much of it as possible.

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Updated comments from March 24, 2011:

(Really this is just copied from one of my comments, but I thought it was important enough to move it up here with the original post.)

Since I first posted this, I think the Khan Academy has added practicing software and coaching abilities, so it’s no longer just a bunch of videos, but does include some form of feedback. If they continue this trend, adding more features that allow more personalized feedback, I think they can certainly come pretty close to replacing the classroom experience, maybe even making it better in some ways: no more needing permission to go to the bathroom, no more disruptive paper airplanes, children can work better at their own pace, etc. There would still be a great deal of challenges (funding probably a big one), but if Khan’s goal is to replace the classroom setting with something more personalized, I think it’s definitely possible with today’s technology and we only await someone with enough tech savvy, time, and money to get it going.

But making a bad education system virtual doesn’t really help. It’s like adding new fancy fonts and pictures to a poorly written textbook.

That is, my main criticism isn’t that the Khan Academy is (or was) just a resource. The specific information is still mostly useless to most students, no matter what form they learn it in, whether it’s a physical or virtual classroom.

If you’re just learning something so you can spew it back out on a test and then forget it next year, that information is serving you no real purpose. You’re just wasting your time learning it. (I shudder to see “California Standards Test” lessons now listed at the Khan Academy.)

The Khan Academy videos seem like Mr. Khan spent some time learning the content out of a textbook and then just regurgitated the material in video form. That *can* be useful in some situations, but to me it implies that Khan, like most public education systems in general, doesn’t really question the applications of the content, doesn’t question why or how that specific content is worth the teachers’ and students’ time and effort. In many cases, it’s just not.

Categories: Philosophy Stupid things

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S P Hannifin

88 replies

  1. It seems that your entire stance boils down to:

    Employers want degrees, Khan Academy does not give degrees, therefore Khan isn’t that great.

    Maybe there are folks out there that genuinely want to learn new things. What a fascinating concept that is; maybe some people want to actually further their understanding of the world. Khan is a pretty damn good starting point for learning about the subjects (esp. math) that are on it. Learning is not just a stepping-stone to getting a job for everyone.

    Speaking of learning, you suggested that most of what could be learned on Khan was useless in everyday life. Perhaps, but that argument also holds true for all colleges. Yeah, you can play the “but the social experience” game and talk about team building, etc.. but that sort of skill-building isn’t exactly specific to college.

    I have to cut this short, must go to work.

  2. Thanks for the comment!

    No, I did not mean the Khan Academy isn’t that great because it does not give degrees. I was only making a point about why Khan Academy won’t *replace* the modern day college system anytime soon. This is not a defense of the modern day college system. I think this whole degree system, used by colleges and employers, is awful.

    I said “everything ultimately comes down to employment… whether or not you can do a job, and whether or not employers will recognize that you can do a job and hire you.” What I meant was that this is what *college* is about. People go to college for degrees, and they get degrees for employment. That’s why parents want their kids to go to college: employment. Money to feed themselves. (Yes, there are other reasons, but this is the main one.)

    I think it’s awful that this is what “higher education” has turned into, but it has.

    You say: “Maybe there are folks out there that genuinely want to learn new things. What a fascinating concept that is; maybe some people want to actually further their understanding of the world.” I agree! And that’s why I don’t think the Khan Academy is bad. If you’re interested in the topics of the videos, it’s a wonderful resource to have available.

    The point of my post was that Khan Academy (in its current form) does not compete with the modern day education system. This is not to say that the modern day education system is good. It’s not. It’s very bad. But the Khan Academy is not a solution; it’s a great resource, but it doesn’t address our education system’s problems, so I do not understand the praise it gets in that particular regard.

    You say: “Speaking of learning, you suggested that most of what could be learned on Khan was useless in everyday life. Perhaps, but that argument also holds true for all colleges.” Exactly! That’s why colleges, and high schools, and middle schools, and even some elementary schools STINK. They spend way too much time and money forcing students to learn useless things that they’re not interested in and will end up forgetting with disuse. It’s completely pointless.

    But Khan Academy doesn’t do any more about this problem than putting text books online would do.

    It’s apples and oranges.

  3. Why would you want to have a discussion off line? Also, the issue isn’t about the medium through which to reach students.

    It’s about the *content.* What is being taught? Why does it matter? When and how will students use it?

    Not that medium doesn’t matter; it does. But the video medium itself won’t save the education system. Making a wasteful system “virtual” won’t make it less wasteful.

  4. Educatiion has maney facets to it and one individual cannot be expected to cater to all its needs! At least he has made a differenc ein some people’s lives and that’s what matters.

  5. Thanks for the comments!

    The main point of my post is that too many people have a flawed and wasteful idea of what “education” is — they think it’s just about knowing a lot of stuff. It isn’t. It’s knowing the *right* stuff.

    Making a positive difference in people’s lives is nice, but is irrelevant to the point I was making.

  6. I can’t comprehend how you could say that Khan Academy is not worthy of a $2 million gift. They already have 1900 videos and nearly 30 million views. This gift is a tiny fraction of the value that these videos have given to the world, and it will pay for future videos and translations to other languages.

    The criticism that it won’t fix the education system is just petty. Salman Khan never claimed that it would. But he has done something great that deserves our admiration.

  7. Thanks for the comment!

    That it “won’t fix the education system” is not a criticism of Khan Academy itself, but to those who *do* think it is a step in the right direction. I am saying to them “No, the Khan Academy is not that good. Just putting educational material online doesn’t address the bigger problems; it doesn’t replace or change anything.”

    I have no issue with Salman Khan or the Khan Academy itself; it is still a nice resource. But I don’t understand the enormous praise it’s getting. I don’t see its influence as being very remarkable just because a lot of people say they like it. It’s easy to look at the sheer number of videos and say “wow, what a resource!” But when are you honestly going to sit down and *use* the info from one of those videos? If you’re not going to use it, why make such a big fuss about it all the sudden being accessible in this sort of video form?

    I don’t think the educational value of something comes from its popularity.

    I am also only talking about Khan Academy in relation to the education system here in the USA. I think Khan Academy probably provides its greatest value as a locally-installed digital library in foreign countries where there is not enough money for an Internet connection or such a wide range of teachers or textbooks. I’m not sure that students knowing how to do sine functions or solve torque equations will help a poor foreign country grow economically, but it probably at least gives those students more opportunities, opportunities that most children here in the USA already have just with Internet access.

  8. I don’t have anything against Khan Academy. But, it really is just a resource: albeit a pretty cool one. Learning is social. I’m not saying it can’t be done asynchronously and online, but it does require feedback and some type of interaction. Just watching a video is not great teaching and/or learning — any more than simply reading a book or attending a lecture would be. It’s how we process new information that matters. That requires targeted feedback. And, that’s something Mr. Khan’s site doesn’t offer.

  9. Thanks for the comment!

    I guess I should update my original post. When I first wrote that post, I was thinking of Khan Academy as just a resource, like a library, something that could come in handy, but couldn’t so easily replace a classroom setting.

    Since I first posted this, I think they’ve added practicing software and coaching abilities, so it’s no longer just a bunch of videos, but does include some form of feedback. If they continue this trend, adding more features that allow more personalized feedback, I think they can certainly come pretty close to replacing the classroom experience, maybe even making it better in some ways: no more needing permission to go to the bathroom, no more disruptive paper airplanes, children can work better at their own pace, etc. There would still be a great deal of challenges (funding probably a big one), but if Khan’s goal is to replace the classroom setting with something more personalized, I think it’s definitely possible with today’s technology and we only await someone with enough tech savvy, time, and money to get it going.

    But making a bad education system virtual doesn’t really help. It’s like adding new fancy fonts and pictures to a poorly written textbook.

    That is, my main criticism isn’t that the Khan Academy is (or was) just a resource. The specific information is still mostly useless to most students, no matter what form they learn it in, whether it’s a physical or virtual classroom.

    As you say, “it’s how we process new information that matters.” Very true, but *why* we process new information also matters. If you’re just learning something so you can spew it back out on a test and then forget it next year, that information is serving you no real purpose. You’re just wasting your time learning it. (I shudder to see “California Standards Test” lessons now listed at the Khan Academy.)

    The Khan Academy videos seem like Mr. Khan spent some time learning the content out of a textbook and then just regurgitated the material in video form. That *can* be useful in some situations, but to me it implies that Khan, like most public education systems in general, doesn’t really question the applications of the content, doesn’t question why or how that specific content is worth the teachers’ and students’ time and effort. In many cases, it’s just not.

  10. “Since I first posted this, I THINK they’ve added practicing software and coaching abilities, so it’s no longer just a bunch of videos, but does include some form of feedback”

    Either you checked the site or you didn’t.

    The Khan Academy DOES have practice problems for mathematics and coaching capabilities. Both feedback and practice for the lessons are plentiful.

    In regards to your assumption that Khan read a textbook and regurgitated what he read into video format,

    He has an educational background in Electrical Engineering and Finance. Those educational backgrounds are from two excellent learning institutions, Harvard and MIT. Most of what he has been teaching come directly from his educational background. I dare you to find a video lesson of his that has nothing to do with his accredited educational background. Well, Biology may be the only subject that has little to do with Electrical Engineering and Finance.

    You cannot say he is merely regurgitating meaningless abstract content. Have you even bothered with going through his videos and practice problems?

    You ought to also consider that Sal Khan isn’t working alone. He has a team of people, a small team, but a team with backgrounds regarding the very lessons he is producing.

    I do agree with you that Khan Academy can’t replace learning in a classroom or some kind of social setting. We are social animals, thus humans ought to extend their learning to a social environment.

    And I agree that his videos and practice problems alone do not make a complete education. Knowledge has to be applied to practical problems at some point in order to fully realize the intuition behind knowledge.

    And I agree that an online education method won’t give you the best credentials for an academic background. College and high school degrees however, aren’t incredibly relevant to the job market as you think. A degree is often just there to show that you’re willing to jump through hoops and hurdles to reach a goal.

  11. “The specific information is still mostly useless to most students, no matter what form they learn it in, whether it’s a physical or virtual classroom.”

    True. A lot of what student’s learn may not be applicable to their future careers, Regardless, everything that they learn IS useful in respect to the development of problem solving skills and analysis.

    Honestly, how can information about how the world works be useless?

  12. ” Rich people and rich organizations can throw all the millions of dollars they want at it, but until there’s a widespread fundamental shift in employers’ and educators’ and students’ attitudes towards it, things aren’t going to get much better.”

    If you check Khan’s Youtube videos, you’ll see a “like” versus “dislike” statistic. Most of his videos have been “liked” by the people who bothered to rate his videos. Just saying. And there are the comments on Youtube raving about how helpful the videos are and so on and so forth.

    You can find other such statistics and feedback for all kinds of educational videos on Youtube.

    In regards to a widespread change in employers; and students’ opinions of education…

    Keep in mind that a Bureaucracy controls how education is done. Bureaucracies are difficult to influence if you lack money and reputation.

  13. To elaborate on my last post,

    Students and educators already know what they want to do in order to improve their education experience. The problem is that the bureaucracy in control of education is difficult to sway and influence if you do not have money or reputation.

    Both teachers and students utilize resources like Khan Academy, Wikipedia, Youtube, tutors, and online tutorials because these resources better fit their teaching and learning preferences.

  14. Thanks for your comments!!

    “Either you checked the site or you didn’t.”

    It’s a matter of how in-depth I checked the site. I saw that new features were mentioned, but I wasn’t interested in researching to what extent they were available or usable. Whether or not they were didn’t really matter to the point I was making. Saying “I think” was appropriate… I think.

    “You cannot say he is merely regurgitating meaningless abstract content.”

    Whether or not it’s “meaningless” is dependent on the viewer and what the viewer wants to get out of it. If a viewer is learning the content in pursuit of a grade or simply because the content is deemed “educational” by other sources, it can certainly be meaningless.

    Mr. Khan’s actual educational background is irrelevant.

    I said: “The Khan Academy videos seem like Mr. Khan spent some time learning the content out of a textbook and then just regurgitated the material in video form.” One of the key words is “seem” … this sentence is my opinion on the quality of the teaching method of the videos. Other viewers can have different opinions. I don’t care if they do; that’s not the point.

    A couple reasons for my opinion: 1) The material is taught very abstractly, just as textbooks often teach it; the student has to either suffer without knowing how exactly the material will be applied to real world problems that he cares about, or has to already know. The modern education system, and thus textbooks, usually don’t care whether or not the student will ever apply the abstract material. They either don’t question their teaching of the material, or say: “Well, *maybe* he’ll use it.” (I of course do not find this justification at all acceptable.) And 2) I know I could produce the same sort of videos if I had some textbooks, some time, and thought it would be worth anything.

    The reason for giving the opinion was to support my claim that Mr. Khan has (or had) the wrong goals with his Academy – goals that will not address the main problem I see with the education system.

    “I do agree with you that Khan Academy can’t replace learning in a classroom or some kind of social setting.”

    My updated argument was that the Khan Academy *could* replace learning in a classroom. The Internet, when used appropriately, can be just as social, if not more social (because it can be less disruptive and more comfortable), than a classroom. (However, my main argument was that just replacing the classroom won’t do much by itself.)

    “Knowledge has to be applied to practical problems at some point in order to fully realize the intuition behind knowledge.”

    Well… close, but it’s not just about “realizing intuition.” My argument is that *knowledge has to be applied to practical problems at some point in order for it to be worth learning in the first place.* In the modern education system, students don’t even know if what they’re learning is worth it or not until it’s too late.

    “Regardless, everything that they learn IS useful in respect to the development of problem solving skills and analysis.”

    Perhaps in some cases, but you could say that about plenty they *don’t* learn as well, so that’s not much of an incentive.

    “Honestly, how can information about how the world works be useless?”

    Firstly, you must realize the uselessness or usefulness of information is a relative thing. A piece of information is not just objectively useful or useless to everyone in the world at all times.

    So how can information be useless? Well, you don’t use it. You never partake in a physical or mental task in which the information has any practical application. (After all, for any physical or mental task you do partake in, only a select set of information has any practical use at that time.) If you are refridgerator repair man, you are probably never going to use information about the Krebs cycle. If you are a police man, you are probably never going to use information about Sir William Carey, the 16th century courtier. If you are a state senator, you will unlikely ever have any practical applications for calculating hyperbolic tangents. Etc. If these people had spent time learning such information against their will, it was a waste of their time.

    “Most of his videos have been “liked” by the people who bothered to rate his videos.”

    Yes; that is irrelevant to my argument. It would be more interesting to see a tally of everytime a viewer had watched a video and then applied the information to a practical (i.e. non-school-related) problem. Even then, it would be irrelevant to my argument, but would still be interesting.

    “The problem is that the bureaucracy in control of education is difficult to sway and influence if you do not have money or reputation.”

    Eh… that sounds like a blame game. I don’t think bureaucracies have complete power. Everybody in the system that simply agrees to it without challenge only adds to the problems. A teacher that complies with a system he doesn’t agree with because he feels he has to for a paycheck — he’s part of the problem. If all teachers who had problems got different jobs, what would happen? There’d be some major changes pretty quickly. If all parents who had problems with public school pulled their kids out of schools, what would happen? There’d be some major changes pretty quickly. If all students suddenly ignored schoolwork and homework, what would happen?

    You say: “Students and educators already know what they want to do in order to improve their education experience.”

    But as I said in my original post: “Unfortunately everyone seems to have different ideas of what exactly is wrong with [the education system] and how to fix it.” One teacher’s ideal education experience is not the same as one student’s ideal education experience.

    For instance, as far as I can tell, even among my prior classmates, I’m the only one arguing about there being “useless knowledge” – arguing that most of the stuff I learned in high school was a complete waste of my time. I can hardly find any other support for my argument, so it will probably be a while before anything is ever done about it – too few agree with it.

    So the big problem isn’t that Bureaucracies are hard to influence; it’s that there’s too much disagreement throughout.

    It’s like writing the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution – Once everyone has *agreed-upon* concrete ideas on what the education system needs to be like and what exact changes need to be made, change can be swift.

    1. Perhaps I am an outlier and not someone you considered but I believe there may be more of us than you realize. I am sixty-six and retired. I am using Kahn academy for the sheer joy of learning. High school was a horrific experience and I never enjoyed a day of it. Needless to say, I did poorly in school. I love puzzle solving and I am seeing Algebra as a series of puzzles. I try to solve the problems. If I can’t, I watch the videos.
      Do I expect to get a job from studying with Kahn? No.
      It’s value is in the joy it gives me .

  15. I think a fair discussion of kahn academy should be decoupled from larger philosophical discussions
    about what is worth learning about. You may argue that the largely math and science offerings
    that comprise the khan ciriculum are of limited relavance to many, but they are certainly relevant
    to those interested in careers in science and engineering.

    So, what is the value of the khan academy to math and science students? Could a sufficiently
    broad and deep library of tutorial videos replace classroom intstruction?

    I would argue yes. Left unremarked in your posts is the extremely high quality of the lecture
    material on the site. Mr. Kahn–who holds degrees from MIT and Harvard–is not “regurgitating”
    recently read textbook material, but is providing revealing insights and intuitions. That is why
    so many responders remark that the material covered was previously unintelligible in their
    textbooks and classrooms.

    However i would further argue that focused and multiple reviewable videos are a superior
    alternative to traditional classroom lectures. One cannot understate the value of repetition
    in learning complicated technical topics. Is a student better served by asking a quesiton
    in traditional lecture setting or reviewing related videos of a superior instructor.? I can only
    speak from own experience, and that is that between khan academy and itunesU i have
    gained access to an educational experience much deeper than my traditional classroom
    experience.

    The era of the ten pound calculus text and 50 person lecture class is drawing to an end.
    Niether will be missed. It is being repaced by virtual classrooms such as khanacademy,
    and numerous sites with example problems and fully worked out answers.

  16. “I think a fair discussion of kahn academy should be decoupled from larger philosophical discussions about what is worth learning about.”

    My original post isn’t about the Khan Academy just in and of itself. It’s about the Khan Academy in relation to people’s thoughts and ideas about the current education system (i.e. how the Khan Academy fits in with what we already have). The larger philosophical discussion about what is worth learning is vital to this. So your comments are irrelevant to my original points.

  17. The Khan Academy isn’t about replacing the classroom setting. Its about improving it. Giving teachers more tools to leverage and allowing students to have more personalized resources.

  18. I think my remarks are relevant

    You wrote: “I don’t think Khan Academy is bad, but it’s not a replacement for our current education system”

    Regardless of S. Khan’s specific intent for his project. i addressed the issue of video/internet education supplanting “bricks and morter” education, and providing a decided imporvement.

    Your wrote: “But education is not about just knowing stuff”; Math and the sciences are not collections of facts: they are comprised analytical techniques of complex pattern matching and problem solving. The skills of logical problem decompostion, and solution syntheisis seem universally
    applicable.

    You wrote “The big thing people seem to forget or ignore is that everything ultimately comes down to employment”
    I would say the value of a sound education is aquiring techniques of learning that can be used professionally or
    personally to enhance one’s life. Its disappointing that you denigrate abstract academic learning and then propose
    no substitute approach or ciriculum.

  19. “i addressed the issue of video/internet education supplanting “bricks and morter” education, and providing a decided imporvement.”

    If my argument was that the Khan Academy is “not a replacement for our current education system” and that was it, then your previous comments would be relevant. But my original point was in my reasoning: that the *medium* through which educational material is presented is not the biggest problem with the education system. Your previous comments are relevant to an entirely different discussion, perhaps with just the same premise. Similarly, if I say: “The sun is bad because it is too hot” and you say: “No, the sun is good because it helps things grow” — well, OK, but it’s still too hot, so you haven’t really addressed the issue.

    “Math and the sciences are not collections of facts: they are comprised analytical techniques of complex pattern matching and problem solving. The skills of logical problem decompostion, and solution syntheisis seem universally
    applicable.”

    That doesn’t mean it’s all automatically useful and worthy of being taught or learned. And I’d still put that all in the category of “stuff.”

    “I would say the value of a sound education is aquiring techniques of learning that can be used professionally or personally to enhance one’s life.”

    I agree. I will admit that when I wrote “The big thing people seem to forget or ignore is that everything ultimately comes down to employment” I was not being clear enough. By “employment” I mean “a means to live well” — that is, to be able to support yourself and be happy. If you were in high school and someone offered you $10 million a year to work for them on something you already understood how to do, would you say “Oh, no, I want to get a degree first”? Probably not. After all, it’s not like pursuing a degree is the only way to learn anything.

    “Its disappointing that you denigrate abstract academic learning and then propose
    no substitute approach or ciriculum.”

    Two things:

    1) This sounds like a politician’s argument. Proposing a substitute approach was beyond the scope of the original post. I have written another post elsewhere on the blog that begins to address the issue, but it’s not a topic worth bringing up if there is not first agreement on some fundamental premises. If someone says “2+2=5” and I say “No it doesn’t”, my statement is not invalid because I don’t give the correct solution. Whoever says “2+2=5” might not even understand the correction anyway. We’d have to start with more basic premises (e.g. what exactly the symbols involved in the equation mean).

    2) How am I denigrating abstract learning? I am making the argument that academic learning can be both good or bad, depending on the specific material involved and the goals of the learner.

  20. The reason Khan Academy is so successful, IN MY OPINION, is that the school systems are indeed flawed and ask for students to learn material in this way. He just happened to offer an easier way to take in the surface information and equations and such. I myself have almost exclusively had terrible math teachers and only in college with the ability to talk to a graduate student TA have my math skills improved if ever so slightly. Also, math should be taught more like art in the sense that you let kids explore and experiment and along the way bring up and derive useful “formulas.” These formulas already exist, but finding them on your own makes it an adventure. Handing them a formula and saying, “plug these numbers into the appropriate places” will never work for real understanding.

  21. “Also, math should be taught more like art in the sense that you let kids explore and experiment and along the way bring up and derive useful “formulas.” These formulas already exist, but finding them on your own makes it an adventure. Handing them a formula and saying, “plug these numbers into the appropriate places” will never work for real understanding.”

    Yes, I definitely agree with you there! 🙂

  22. Your criticism of the Khan Academy, as well as the current public educational systems, all the way from elementary schools up to college is not entirely without merit. I agree with your major premise. However, it’s always easy to criticize, but much harder to solve a problem in a constructive manner. So, with that idea in mind, what would these systems look like, if you were the God of Education, and could tailor-make them exactly to your own whim? How would they be so different from what we already have?

  23. Thanks for the comment, Ray!

    “… what would these systems look like, if you were the God of Education, and could tailor-make them exactly to your own whim?”

    That is the question of questions, isn’t it? You are right that it is much easier to criticize than to solve such a problem, but that you agree with the major premise is at least a great first step. My answer will probably be a bit too verbose for a comment, and it will take me some time to organize my thoughts, so I’ll post it as a new blog post titled “If I were the God of Education” as soon as I can, hopefully this week.

  24. Khan himself remarks that a “B” level understanding is not what he or a student desires. Watch at least this snippet – it’s clear that skills without the ability to apply mean little to Sal. And that a B level of basic arithmetic to difeq can’t match the ability of someone who has the deep understanding (of just Algebra 1) it takes for his tools to grade him an “A.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1C7FH7El35w&feature=player_embedded#at=2035

    Without the skills, there’s little to apply. Like “sight reading” over phonics. Granted the outliers will always be with us, but the 20-80 rule is a marvelous multiplier. Name another innovator that has touched so many with so little (investment, effort, …).

  25. “Khan himself remarks that a “B” level understanding is not what he or a student desires. Watch at least this snippet – it’s clear that skills without the ability to apply mean little to Sal.”

    Yes, I have no argument with that. My post has nothing to do with the “ability to apply skills.” It has to do with the “need to apply skills.” Huge difference. It is a waste of time to force-teach skills that the student has no need or interest in applying to anything.

  26. The information isn’t useless. You are just like the kid in High School who says to the math teacher, “when will I ever use this?”

  27. Whoever in the education system approaches this issue with your kind of attitude is a huge source of our problems.

    The information can be useless if the student ends up never using it. And there are plenty of adults out there who never use all the information that’s taught in high school.

    “When will I ever use this?” You bet I’m just like that kid, and no one has given me any good answers. Unfortunately many math teachers don’t ask that question to themselves, and don’t know what to say. “It’s not useless” is not a good enough answer. When the teacher cannot honestly justify his actions and simply relies on them not being questioned, we’ve got big problems.

  28. When I was in high school, there were many in my class who questioned the need for English grammar lessons. They found the subject matter, most uninteresting and useless. If Hannifin was one of those students and English grammar was not hoisted on him by the failed education system, we would have missed his excellent penmanship.
    But we digress! This blog began with a bold statement that the Khan Academy is not great. Maybe the blogger can enlighten us if Khan Academy or its proponents has ever claimed that it is the sole answer to our failed education system. The methods of the Khan Academy work for a certain learning type but may not work for all. The latter conclusion does not give validity to the blogger’s criticism, unless Khan Academy has advertised a claim of equal success across all learning types.

  29. Thanks for the comment!

    You write: “Maybe the blogger can enlighten us if Khan Academy or its proponents has ever claimed that it is the sole answer to our failed education system.”

    The point of my original post was never about just the Khan Academy itself. As I wrote in the original post: “I don’t think Khan Academy is bad, but it’s not a replacement for our current education system. It’s not that good.”

    My original post is not really a critique of Khan Academy. It is a critique of other people’s viewpoints about what education is for and what an education system should be like, as implied by their opinions of Khan Academy. I hope the distinction makes sense.

  30. “The methods of the Khan Academy work for a certain learning type but may not work for all. The latter conclusion does not give validity to the blogger’s criticism, unless Khan Academy has advertised a claim of equal success across all learning types.”

    My criticisms would certainly still be valid. If I argue something like: “The government is partly bad” and you respond “well, no one has argued otherwise” that doesn’t make my criticism invalid.

  31. “The Khan academy is not worthy of $2 million dollars.”

    Yes, a resource generating thousands of hours of videos that focus on a thorough understanding of advanced concepts useful to students in a huge variety of fields is “useless”. In a culture where our athletes are paid tens of millions of dollars per year to play a game very well, someone who’s genuinely trying to do good in the world and has put in as much work as has been put into the Khan academy is “undeserving’. Wow. Just wow.

    You have such a utilitarian view of the world (“go to school, get a job, buy things, die’) it’s almost depressing. And it is directly against the spirit of learning; I can see clearly why you might be against the Academy with such a world-view. It is true that some of the stuff you learn in school won’t benefit you later, but it comes down to offering students the widest curriculum possible so that they CAN explore these areas and see if they do like them.

    Now you personally may not use, say, multivariable calculus in everyday life, but it does have a huge range of applications in Physics, Engineering, etc, etc. There are those whose lives revolve completely around advancing this field, because regardless of your personal feelings science and math are not “useless”. They produce the leaps and bounds in living conditions that you see around you.

    Granted- many students will not end up using every skill or concept that they will learn in school. They will get jobs in factories or driving taxis. The toughest math they might be responsible for in their everyday life could be giving someone the change from their big-mac sandwich.

    But this doesn’t mean those kids shouldn’t be exposed to the rich world of mathematics/science and given an opportunity to learn it. And THAT is why the Khan Academy is great. It puts out some of the greatest educational videos online, for FREE. It presents the information in a clear and concise manner, available for ANYONE to learn and progress upon. Rather than assuming prior knowledge or making a learner feel bad about their age, previous experience, the information is given freely and completely with plenty of examples and guidance.

    Those who missed the concept during their first go at education have a second, third, fourth (how many times can you press the “replay’ button?) chance and are not, as is true of the current model, lost forever. If even a single person comes to realize that they CAN do something better with their life than they ever thought they could as a result of the Khan Academy, by god I’d say it’s worth that $2 million. To make that difference to a person, the change from “oh I’m stupid I can’t do math” to “OH! I GET IT! I SEE HOW IT WORKS!!!” is worth it. And if you’ve read the comments on Sal’s videos, that is EXACTLY the response that he has been getting from people around the world since he started doing what he’s doing. And that’s the reason he kept on making these videos- the positive response and the change he was making in people’s lives.

    Your petty squabbles with the education system are not a grounds to attack Khan, and perhaps if you’d had access to such a resource when you were in school your views on learning would not be so jaded. The spirit and will to learn and acquire knowledge is what inspires kids to do great things in the future, and THIS is what the Khan Academy is all about. This resource IS great, and it IS worth it.

  32. Dave, you seem very passionate, but I’m not sure you understood (or even noticed) my main points. Perhaps you read the title, were quick to have an emotional reaction, and read through the post with a tainted lens? Could you perhaps respond to something specific I wrote (in context)?

    You can say “Learning is great! Knowledge is great! People can realize they can be more than they dreamed, yeah!”

    And perhaps most people would agree with you. I’d even agree with you in principle. But ultimately the statement is so vague, it’s meaningless. Learning *what* is great? Just anything? How is being something particular objectively better than being something else? How are we judging the worth of a life? Wealth, happiness, popularity? Context is completely missing.

    I have no issue with people adoring Khan Academy, as long as they are asking themselves these questions and being specific and honest with their answers, rather than just going through the motions because everyone else says it’s good.

  33. Well…
    I just know I didn’t pay too much attention to math in high school and I wanted to get better at it. I don’t know why really, there will be no degree or monetary gain out of it. I just want to learn it in order to learn it. I bet there are some kids out there who struggle with math and this website helps them out a lot. I don’t understand why you are ranting about how the website doesn’t seem to fall into place in regards to the relationship of the education system and the workplace. It’s just a good, well excellent really, learning tool. Take it or leave it. I don’t think anyone was trying to reform the entire public education system in one fell swoop.

  34. I don’t think anyone’s trying to reform the entire public education in one fell swoop either, but I think they are trying to reform it. Right on Khan Academy’s About page, it says: “We’re a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.” They want to change education for the better, and they think this is the way to do it. They’re not trying to just provide take-it-or-leave-it material.

    Also, learning purely for the sake of learning doesn’t make much sense. I’m guessing you also at least enjoy doing math? Or you suspect you will be able to apply what you learn to something that interests you? I would think finding out why you want to learn math would be important to you, otherwise you might just be wasting your time.

  35. I can now see why the US education is in such turmoil. If the poor educational quality of the Khan academy is considered effective learning then unfortunately US students will pay the price in the future. Especially when students in other countries see past the hype . Teach students well with effective methods. Or what you’ll find is that the standards of other countries will accelerate even further ahead.

  36. My biggest complaint about the Khan Academy is that they lied to everyone on their website for like a year, and refused to answer queries … I tried to submit a lecture series on computer programming but they never responded, have no contact #. I also offered to mirror their videos, something they specifically asked for on the website, and they also didn’t respond. Finally, someone who isn’t directly involved in the academy responded on the Google Group they used as their main communication method, saying something to the effect of “Hey, they don’t respond to anyone so I guess you’re out of luck.”

  37. Khan academy for me is worthy of that 2 million because it allows it to stay afloat and improve itself which I am all for.

    The reason? Because I’m going to school for communications studies but I’m also interested in subjects not related to movie making like Chemistry and Math. Khan academy allows me to be taught these subjects and give me a basic jumping off point for these complex areas of study.

    Why am I interested in these subjects if it won’t let me get a job? Well because for one, I believe that knowledge in itself is a valuable thing and also because I ENJOY learning these subjects. I ENJOY Chemistry, this might be confusing because you’re saying… but.. Chemistry won’t help you get paid! Well no but will playing video games help you get paid? Will watching TV help you get paid? It’s a past time learning Chemistry and Khan is a great resource for it.

    Khan academy lets people who don’t have the resources available to them to learn about important things. And the subjects taught like Math and Economics are VASTLY important and not in any way useless.

    When you say this: “Knowledge is useless if you don’t use it. Oooh, there’s a profound idea!” you seem to imply that the subjects on Khan academy fit into the category of trivia or useless knowledge. You come off as one of those kids in high school who complain about math because they see it as just a set of useless problems when it’s really about problem solving and thinking logically. You’re missing the point.

    If you see something wrong with people knowing about subjects which won’t aid them financially but instead will give them a better understanding of our world then you are terribly mistaken.

    Also I should mention that I was hired by a production company to do work on set but have since been tasked with coding websites. How do I know about coding? Because a while ago I started learning it because I liked learning coding, at the time I didn’t care if it would or wouldn’t help me get a job. And now look what happened.

  38. “But education is not about just knowing stuff.”

    Also, education IS ABOUT KNOWLEDGE. It is about KNOWING THINGS, if you don’t know anything where are you? You’re nowhere. And yes it is also for social skills and sports and the like but predominantly when you go to school you’re expecting to gain some knowledge.

  39. Hi Dox! I don’t think you actually disagree with me that much, I think you just misunderstood some of my points.

    You wrote: “I believe that knowledge in itself is a valuable thing”

    What sort of knowledge? You could memorize phone books. Would that be valuable? You could study ISBN numbers on your books. Would that be valuable? You cannot place equal value on all knowledge; eventually you have to decide what is worth spending your time on and what is not. Saying that “knowledge in itself is valuable” is meaningless. What knowledge? You might as well say “a thing in itself is good.” What thing? Or “a decision in itself is wonderful.” What decision? How can you give value to something so vague? Knowledge in itself is not valuable or worthless, because it is too general a term to have any sense of worth at all.

    You wrote: “also because I ENJOY learning these subjects.”

    Then they are automatically useful. I never meant to imply that “useful knowledge” is only the knowledge you can use to make money. After all, the whole point of making money is to support your interests.

    You wrote: “And the subjects taught like Math and Economics are VASTLY important and not in any way useless.”

    I think you’re thinking of these subjects in a more general sense. My post was about the personal importance of learning certain material. It is not important or useful for everyone in the world to have a deep understanding math and economics. Of course math and economics affect everyone, but that does not mean learning about them will necessarily be useful for everyone. You do not have enough time in your life to study all the subjects that affect you.

    You wrote: “You come off as one of those kids in high school who complain about math because they see it as just a set of useless problems when it’s really about problem solving and thinking logically.”

    My point was not that these subjects are always useless or always useful. My point was that they can be useless just as much as they can be useful. The usefulness of knowledge depends on the individual and his interests and needs. In this way, no subject is either just useless or useful. It is subjective.

    You wrote: “Also, education IS ABOUT KNOWLEDGE. It is about KNOWING THINGS … And yes it is also for social skills and sports and the like but predominantly when you go to school you’re expecting to gain some knowledge.”

    I did not mean education was not about knowing stuff. I suppose I worded my thought too simply. My point was that education should not just be about knowing facts and figures you find in textbooks or Khan Academy videos (though those are an essential ingredient, of course); education should also be about practical experience, about what you do with what you learn, besides answering textbook questions.

    As I state in my post, I don’t think Khan Academy is bad in and of itself. It all depends on how and why the user is using it. If he just loves the subject material, then I might question his aesthetic tastes, but I don’t really have a problem. If he just thinks that he’s supposed to think the material is important because that’s what society seems to think and he wants to seem smart to others while not really wanting to think for himself, I have a big problem with that, because I have to share the world with him.

  40. I think that Khan Academy is neither good nor bad. It’s just a library of videos, as someone above noted, which give green light to the self-educating methods. Whether it is right or wrong, is another question, but I would like to take this chance to accentuate the true meaning, goals, and system of khan academy.
    First, the Khan Academy was founded with purely FINANCIAL interests. I tell you how it happened:
    1) Sal was teaching his cousin, nephew, or whoever, and made youtube videos.

    2) Youtube videos were getting attraction

    3) Very much attraction

    4) Then he realized that if he would open his own web-site with those videos, then he would get all the money instead of youtube.

    5) hundreds of thousands people were visiting his web-site over months and he was earning his money, very much by the way.

    6) then he realized that he would earn here more than at his job so he quit his job and began making videos.

    7) Now, the crowd who was watching videos was divided by those watching on youtube and those watching on khanacademy’s web-site.

    8) To attract all crowd from youtube, he made those stuff: energy points, badges, etc (which is useless in most case)

    9) so now, he is getting money from millions of students watching his videos and plus, the donations.

    In this way, I think that KhanAcademy is being created with PURELY financial endeavours.

    Also, the google paid 2 million $. Where did that money go? Sal told that those money will be used for translation projects, but as far as I know, he pays 0 $ for the person who would translate, who would waste his time, efford, and sal had all the money.

  41. Reading your responses to my criticisms of your article I think I’ve judged you improperly. The reason I’ve done that is mostly because of the following statements made in your post:

    “Going through Khan Academy’s resource is just, in the end, really not that helpful. You’re just not going to use most of it in everyday life, even when you’re employed.”

    You seem to be implying that for everyone that resource is not helpful and no one will use the stuff on the Khan academy site even though there’s no way to prove that. It seems like a sweeping statement even though it looks like, that as you say

    “the usefulness of knowledge depends on the individual and his interests and needs.”

    Then again you say this:
    “The specific information is still mostly useless to most students, no matter what form they learn it in”

    You keep saying the information is useless to most people but I mean, you also say

    “In this way, no subject is either just useless or useful. It is subjective.”

    Like, if you’re going to keep saying that “this knowledge is useless to most people” or “you will never use any of these things” when the knowledge you’re criticizing are things like Economics, Math, Chemistry, Computer Science, etc. then it’s going to frustrate a lot of people who read your article like me.

    It’s okay to have an opinion but don’t make statements that you think apply to everyone when they don’t. There’s no way to say that “most students” won’t do that or “most students” won’t use this.

    Your replies to my previous post suggest that you think knowledge is subjective, if you find Chemistry tutorial videos useful to your needs and interests then that knowledge is useful. But in your article it gives me the wrong idea about you.

  42. By the way, despite my criticisms of some of the viewpoints you appear to hold I appreciate the fact that you personally respond to many of the comments on this post as most bloggers would not have the courtesy to address their critics.

  43. Hi Dox!

    Yes, I don’t think I worded my original post very well for some of the points I was trying to make. As I wrote it, I was specifically thinking about the Khan Academy in relation to the American education system, which forces students to learn subjects like chemistry and calculus, which most students won’t need, at least not at the level it’s taught in high school. I mean, if you take a survey of all Americans, I bet most will not know the difference between covalent and ionic bonds. It’s just not important knowledge for most people. Even if they learn it in high school, they will forget because they never need to use that knowledge for anything outside of schoolwork. Why then are students forced to learn it in high school?

    So of course there’s nothing wrong with Khan Academy having a video about covalent and ionic bonds. But the worth of the video comes from the viewer’s interest or need in the material, not because it aids students who are forced to learn the material in regular high school.

    My fear is that people judge Khan Academy based on its general principle of access to a bunch of free knowledge, rather than the value (as subjective as it may be) of the specific knowledge it provides. After all, if one is super interested in chemistry, the Internet provides access to a TON of free resources about chemistry besides Khan Academy, and even before the Internet, there were libraries with books on the subjects, and books can almost always go into more details than YouTube videos.

  44. I didn’t read all the comments before mine, so sorry if someone has already brought this up, buuuuuut what kind of credentials does this guy have to teach? I watched my first Khan biology vid today: intro to evo and nat sel. He drew a tail on an ape. Apes don’t have tails. What other factual errors might he be disseminating? Yikes!

  45. I’m tired of you haters throwing salt in
    my game. I’m going to let y’all know my Mackin
    style on yo next video and shit.

  46. Seriously, a lot of teachers like and promote
    Khan’s thing because they are incapable of
    teaching the subjects. Now they can send their kids to Khans via the computes in the classroom
    and they can sit on their ass reading news paper, or planning their next carpet lying gig
    outside the school.

  47. I read the first headline of this article, I did not bother reading the whole thing. If you look at comments on the Khan Academy website, they are ones of praise and excitement. Plain and simple people are learning easier, yes it may take away from reading textbooks but it allows you to appreciate knowledge more. Your an idiot, find something better to do with your time, like Sal Khan.

  48. Why we are having this debate? As I told, Khan Academy is a FINANCIAL project which aim is to grab as much money as possible. Yet it is somewhere useful, it lacks some crucial topics. Moreover, his early videos were made using bad tools and as a result, he should supplant them with new 720-HD videos. Even though he does that, he is doing it very slowly.

  49. I find your comments in this article insulting.  Most of what anyone learns in school is not used by many after school but that doesn’t mean that this learning is without benefit.  Learning anything, studying, coping with pressure and getting practice in reading, comprehension and problem solving are just some of the benefits of education.

    I agree that our current educational system is terrible but the Khan Academy is certainly an improvement if we already agree that a certain level of Math is necessary for everyone.  He has never said that his course work is a replacement for normal education but a helping hand.  I agree and I think his approach is very good at teaching the basic, the tools, so that more advanced learning can take place in school.

    I am a computer scientist who thinks teaching syntax for computer languages in University is a total waste of time.  Syntax should be learned on a students own time and debugging techniques and approaches to classes of problems should be learned instead.  If class time is taken up with rote work (although you can’t program without knowing the syntax) then the more important aspects of programming can’t be taught.  This is where the Khan Academy comes in.

    Your criticism is totally without merit without you saying what would make a more useful educational system.

    And by the way, education is about way more than getting a job or socialization.  Your comments in this regard lead me to believe you are very ill-informed about education.

  50. I find your comments in this article insulting.

    Why?

    Most of what anyone learns in school is not used by many after school but that doesn’t mean that this learning is without benefit. Learning anything, studying, coping with pressure and getting practice in reading, comprehension and problem solving are just some of the benefits of education.

    That doesn’t justify teaching things that aren’t going to be used after school.

    I’m going to break down your second sentence into multiple sentences to reply to them. If I do this wrong, feel free to correct me…

    “Learning anything is a benefit of education.” So if students memorized phone numbers from phone books all day, that would be OK, because learning anything helps?

    “Coping with pressure is a benefit of education.” Learning to cope with pressure would be nice, if only to learn that pressure and stress is all in one’s head. To purposefully cause it in students is not only a waste of energy, it is morally wrong. In the real world, if you manage your time with discipline, or unless your are being abused by a company or a boss, there is never any pressure. I don’t think teachers purposefully try to pressure students, but they can indirectly cause it through their ignorance of what a students’ life is like. If it’s not a life they’d be willing to share, they shouldn’t be doing it. Many teachers, kind as they may be, don’t think like that.

    (I am not saying that teachers should not give deadlines on things; only that they should be aware that a student is juggling multiple deadlines. I’ve had teachers and professors who seemed to think the only homework we ever did was for them and that their subject of interest was the most important think in the world for us to be spending our time on. If a teacher doesn’t have to juggle multiple subjects, why does a student?)

    The pressure to be correct and not make mistakes (lest you be graded down) as motivation to learn is completely counter-productive. Learning is much more effective when making mistakes is allowed and welcomed as long as they are learned from.

    “Getting practice in reading, comprehension, and problem solving are a benefit of education.” Of course, but you can achieve these much more effectively through letting the student explore areas that interest him without grading and testing him.

    He has never said that his course work is a replacement for normal education but a helping hand.

    I never said he said that. But the only difference I can see between his “helping hand” and other helping hands that have been around for longer (websites, books, and other education videos) is media attention. It’s not as if supplemental educational videos are anything new. (And, yes, I know he never said that either; that’s not my point.)

    If class time is taken up with rote work (although you can’t program without knowing the syntax) then the more important aspects of programming can’t be taught. This is where the Khan Academy comes in.

    I think that’s fine. I don’t see how using the Khan Academy (or any other supplementary resource out there) to learn programming language syntax in any way disagrees with the points of my post.

    Unless you are forcing students to only use Khan Academy for learning syntax. I would think that would be limiting. I don’t even see many videos for learning syntax on Khan Academy’s site. I would think books and self-directed experimentation (trying out and playing with the books’ examples) would be much better and more comprehensive for learning syntax.

    As a teacher, all you have to do is make it clear to students before signing up for your course that knowing syntax is a prereq, and that you won’t be answering questions having to do with syntax. How the students learn syntax is irrelevant (as long as it’s correct, of course). If the students are expected to learn syntax and higher level programming techniques in the same course, that’s just bad course design.

    (This is a bit beside the point, but since I majored in Computer Science myself, I think it’s important to understand that the student should have an idea in mind of what exactly he wants to program. Programming practice problems that have been programmed countless times before (like linked lists or sorting algorithms) is a waste of time if the student isn’t interested in programming (or helping to program) anything in particular. The programming classes I took in college were a huge waste of time because my professors seemed to only teach aspects of programming I could’ve gotten out of my textbooks in much less time, and made me program things I had no use programming, like binary tree traversals.)

    And by the way, education is about way more than getting a job or socialization.

    I agree. That was my point, though I’ll admit it wasn’t worded very well. When I stated that it all comes down to employment, I was talking about our modern day education systems. The entire point of parents forcing their kids to do well in high school and to go to college and get degrees has everything to do with employment, at least the hope for employment. I didn’t say that this was a good thing.

    But education is not really “about” anything in particular; that is, it can be about whatever you want it to be about. You use education to get something you want or need, or it is forced upon you as it is with our modern day education system.

    To get a bit semantic, the word “education” itself is too general a term to talk about it as if it’s only meant embody the ways in which you think it should be used.

  51. What positive contributions have you made other than stuffing yourself full of beans. Time to get off the sidelines and contribute in a positive fashion.

  52. I think Khan Acad is worth its weight in gold. Thanks to the worship of the Gaussian distribution our public schools, how many Americans are stuck with the fixed mindset that “I can’t DO math”, or “I was never good at math” ? I would love to see a figure. I was one of those and now after aged 50 am learning math. Conventional thinking is that you want to always lets the students “figure it out for themselves”. Tell me again how many decades Leibniz and Newton worked on developing calculus ? The chemistry section of Khan, how many Nobel prizes went into that ?? Even after electricity was first demonstrated it took Oersted another twenty years to establish the concept of electromagnetism. Do students have to re- invent the math or is it ok for them to learn it for use as a tool. Those who choose can delve deeper if so desired. If I want a shovel to plant a tree, do I need to build a foundry and make my own shovel ? Can I just get a shovel to use as a tool. Problem is that far too many people miss out on math completely. I think the tutorials are great. Do they make you think and figure it all out on your own like public educators woud like ? Well, only an extremely small percentage of students ever did that in the classroom in the first place.

  53. I do not think that very many math educators just want to students to “figure it out for themselves” … otherwise why even bother pouring time and money into teaching it? That students get stuck in the mindset that they can’t do math or just aren’t good at it is, I think, evidence that many educators just aren’t very good at math education, not that they want students to figure it out for themselves.

    Why are you finding Khan Academy better at teaching math than your childhood education? It’s probably not just the source of education that has changed for you. Your learning environment has changed (you’re not being forced to hand in homework by specific deadlines, or to study at a specific time, or to be tested or graded or judged at regular intervals), and you’re mindset is different (you are studying math because you want to, because you want to get something specific out of it; not because some adult forced you to with little explanation of why).

    I’m not sure why Khan Academy gets credit for these changes any more than any other free educational resource out there. It’s not as if Khan Academy was the first to give birth to the rewards and benefits of self-directed education. It is good that it’s a resource that allows and perhaps even encourages it, but it’s not that good when compared to the vastness of all the other free educational resources out there.

  54. I don’t really understand why Khan deserves to be beaten up for developing this program. People have different learning stlyes and I like his approach. He starts from scratch as though you have no background in the topic. Much of math IS just mechanics. Only when you know the basic mechanics can you build greater understanding for higher mathematics. Someone using a coffee pot may not care to understand all the electrical components of the tool; they just want coffee. It smells like “opinion” to me that “conventional math students” are gaining some deep understanding of the logic of the universe whereas Khan’s followers are just learning how to manipulate the numbers to get a “correct answer”. I’m not buying it. I am also a member at Lynda.com because I like to follow the orderly tutorials all in one place. I am sure I could scrouonge around on the web and find bits and pieces of free info as well, but I don’t have the time or the patience. I have four EXCEL books but could not really work with the thing. These tutorials work very well for me also. I am studying math now because I have come to the conclusion that everything in the world boils down to 2 things: math and energy. Math is fascinating now. Why did I not get that in convention school. Aother secret: I home schooled my child for second and third grades and we very rarely did ANY school work. My child turned out to be a National Merit Scholar…..imagine that ! (In spite of missing out on that “special something” you can only get in public school !

  55. Yes, I agree with you!

    When Khan’s teaching approach works well for people, I think that’s great! I certainly don’t intend to criticize his teaching method.

    What I mean to criticize is the idea that the sheer vastness of what Khan Academy provides for free should be praised and rewarded for its own sake, or simply because it looks educational and is free.

    That is, your support of Khan Academy is justified: You want to learn math, and his approach works for you.

    Other people’s support of Khan Academy is not justified: They think people should know math, though they’re not sure why (or at least fail to communicate their thoughts very well), and praise Khan Academy simply because there are a lot of educational-looking videos there. That sort of thought will only hurt the education system more.

    On a side note: I’m not sure I’d agree that the world boils down to just math and energy (what about good and evil, for example?), but being fascinated does wonders, doesn’t it? I got pretty fascinated in math by reading Martin Gardner books; if you haven’t checked out some of his books, I highly recommend them. Sometimes he gets a bit confusing, but he’s very readable and his passion for math is often apparent and stimulating. I’m not very fond at all of how public schools often teach math; they struggle to relate it to the real world, giving the student no reason to be fascinated. The only incentive a public school teacher gives a student to do his homework is the threat of a bad grade. And then parents and politicians cry that we need better teachers. No; we need to change our mindset about why we’re even teaching math in the first place. I don’t think you can really teach anyone to be fascinated in something, at least not in any sure-fire specific way, but you can give him the resources to support his fascinations. When any resource can offer that, whether it’s a library or a website or a person or Khan Academy, it can be magic.

  56. Guys, have you ever looked at Sal’s face? It says one thing: “I want more money! I don’t care about your education”. What is funny–perhaps that is not the right word–is that he says that his “GENIUS” videos are “all free”: oh, hell yeah, THE VIDEOS ARE FREE NOT BECAUSE SAL IS TOO KIND AND GENEROUS BUT BECAUSE YOUTUBE MAKES THEM FREE!

    Khan videos are by the way very shallow and lack deep and solid explanation.

    Do you think that Sal’s videos on physics are good?
    Hell no, watch Walter Lewin’s lectures and then compare. Yeah, you may argue like “lecture is 50 min while Khan video only 15 min”. Yes, and that’s true; but if you really are serious about getting education then you will be “stupid” enough to waste 1 hour (what a big time, ha?) on learning deep and unforgettable knowledge.

  57. I guess it is kinda like first grade (there was no kindergarten when I was small). You have to learn the deep, dark meaning behind the alphabet and why each letter is made the way it is before you can use it to write a great novel. Can I not wade in the ocean if I have no intention of swimming the English channel ? The appeal of the Sal videos is that they ARE so simple to follow. I can go for the PhD another time. You have to walk before you can run… The Sal videos get people’s feet wet. Sure, people can find more advanced subject matter but without this simple-minded-ness (if you insist) how many would do so? Sal vids are a “do-able beginning”. Again, this is why so many people tell you they “can’t DO math”. I do think good and evil boil down to energy. Your “thoughts” are nothing but “biological microchips” with off and on, or like two electrons, with a spin up and the other, a spin down. Energy is all about Positive and Negative. Can evil be the absence of God, or being away from god, and “good” being “under the influence of God”, or near God ? (like the vine/branches thing) How can God “know” the thoughts and intent of the heart” if He can’t detect such ? He can because it is electrical in nature. When this world passes away will the whole positive/negative nature of things go with it ? (waves, electromagnatism, etc) I still don’t think poor old Sal deserves to be besmirched. If he had dropped out of high school and become a crackhead people would complain that he should have done something with his life. Maybe this is human nature to be gloriously happy with the status quo and mediocrity. God forbid someone do “nothing” or like Sal, “try to do too much”. Sal did not have to do all that. I frankly don’t care what his motivation was.

  58. “Your “thoughts” are nothing but “biological microchips” with off and on”

    This is all kind of a philosophical aside, but the true logical conclusion of this statement would be atheism and moral relativism (or complete immorality). My point was just point out that it can’t all boil down to just math and energy if we are also to believe in an objective moral difference between right and wrong; somethings are simply outside of math and energy. Similarly, what about the concepts of emergence or paradoxes or our very own consciousness?

    Anyway, I’m not sure if your comments about Sal not deserving to be besmirched are meant for me or another commenter, but my point is not and never was to besmirch or personally criticize Sal.

  59. You are obviously very bright. I, on the other hand, was always shocked and elated if I even passed any math course on the first try !
    I am delighted that I can learn from Sal. That being said, a “student’s” perspective as well as his fore-knowledge of the subject matter play into the learning/teaching process. If a small child were to ask why the wall is ” green”, you might respond that “Daddy painted it with green paint”. On the high school level you might respond that “the object is reflecting green light while absorbing light of the other colors. On an even higher level you might discover that there are around 15 different things that “cause” color. There is diffraction, interference (oil slick, soap bubbles), scattering, dispersive refraction (polarization, etc, rainbows, fire in gemstones), the vibration and simple excitation, incandescence, gas excitation, vibration and rotation of molecules ( water, ice, iodine, blue gas flame); charge transfer, doped or activated semiconductors, ligand field, and on and on.
    Soooo…my point is that if you are a serious math student, you might find Sal’s work to be crap and simple-minded. From my level, however, I can begin to gain an understanding of math that I can incorporate as a TOOL to understanding the things I AM curious about. I get very discouraged when I order several books from Amazon for a penny or $1.88 and they come and I can’t get past page ONE because I DON”T KNOW THE MATH. I have about six books right now that I can’t use until I get the math…frustrating… love Sal.
    For you people out there who find mistakes in his work….I am racking my brain but do you not think that this is true of most things you read. I bought an EXCEL book last month and found a major error in it. Please don’t believe ANYTHING 100 % .

  60. This man is making free videos, and explaining things that maybe we (highschool/college) students can’t comprehend on our own. I am in college taking organic chemistry and I think he is doing a fantastic job of clearing things up. In college, mos to the professors just “assign” things, and most would agree, we are just teaching ourselves. Salman Khan took the time to make hours and hours of helpful material learning this, so he could as you would say “regurgitate” it in a way we could comprehend. I like it, and I’m for it. And, I definitely support his cause, and plan to help fund myself.

  61. Every reply you make is stating to the commenter that he/she missed the point of your blog. Maybe you could learn something from Kahn on communication. If you are incapable of communicating your point to people, then perhaps writing isn’t a career you should be in…

  62. You’re missing the point…

    Oh, oops, sorry…

    In some comments, I fully admit that my original writing was not as clear as it could’ve been. In such cases, I don’t blame the commentator for missing the point, and the point of my comment is to make my points more clear.

    In other comments, it seems the commentator either wasn’t reading very carefully, or made a comment after rushing to a judgment too hastily.

    However, as in all debates, what is right and what is wrong is not changed by how well ideas are communicated.

  63. I also sometimes responded to comments thinking they were responses to my points, when some commentators probably just wanted to comment on Khan Academy in general, not on my specific views. I would not count those as communication errors, but rather comment-intent errors.

  64. What material hasn’t been “regurgitated”(relieving your chain of thought) since the beginning of time. It centralizes, localizes, and is cheap.
    Whether we like it or not, economic viability is a worldly virtue.

  65. I’m not quite sure what point you’re trying to make. I wouldn’t claim that knowledge “regurgitation” is always bad — it has its place — but I have to scratch my head when people sing their praises high to a regurgitator.

  66. I’m a college engineering student at a very large college that has tilted heavy toward research and away from teaching, it seems. The khanacademy videos have done what my statistics professor and linear algebra professors could not, deliver a lecture that I can understand and learn from. Without his videos I would be hiring a tutor. I find it odd that someone has taken the time to come down against the donations to khanacademy. Perhaps if your opinion had been framed as an argument against video learning in general, it would seem less a matter of spite or even jealousy. I don’t know, I’m all for people having odd opinions, but your blog strikes me as less well researched and news worthy and more knee-jerk pessimism. So there’s my two-cents in exchange for yours.

  67. I am not against Khan Academy. I am against a lot of people’s ideas of what our education system should be like as expressed through their praise of Khan Academy.

    It’s great that you found some of his videos helpful. I have nothing against that.

    But Google and other donators did not donate to Khan Academy because they like the idea that some free online videos can help some high school or college students with inept teachers. They see Khan Academy as a step in the right direction in the process of changing the education system. The site itself says:

    “We’re a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.”

    While I agree that our modern day education system needs changing, my argument is that Khan Academy itself does little of value in that regard. It’s just an extra speaker repeating things. If you like the speaker, that’s great, I don’t care; I have nothing against how well the speaker can speak. But I’m very much against the notion that a new speaker / lecture-giver is going to do all that much for the education system in general.

    Similarly, I have nothing against video learning in general. I use video learning resources all the time. But if people think all skills can be learned through just a bunch of video resources, there’s obviously going to be trouble. (Granted, Khan Academy eventually added more than just videos.)

  68. I wonder if Joe has ever used Khan Academy based on his comment below:

    “Comment from Joe
    Time August 5, 2011 at 10:08 am

    First, the Khan Academy was founded with purely FINANCIAL interests. I tell you how it happened:

    4) Then he realized that if he would open his own web-site with those videos, then he would get all the money instead of youtube.”
    ***

    This is where Joe’s premise fails. The videos on the Khan Academy website are just embedded links to YouTube video. There has never been any outside site hosting those videos.

    ****
    6) then he realized that he would earn here more than at his job so he quit his job and began making videos.

    ****
    I seriously doubt that Khan has any worries about money at all. I’m sure he made more than enough money as a hedge fund analyst.

    Once you have enough of something, you go looking for a new challenge. Maybe he didn’t feel the same satisfaction with his analyst job as he did with helping his cousins?

    ***
    8) To attract all crowd from youtube, he made those stuff: energy points, badges, etc (which is useless in most case)
    ****

    *sigh* Or you could say that is what a financial analyst who crunches numbers all day first thinks of in terms of incentives. Just like a musician thinks of notes and riffs or a doctor thinks in terms of symptoms.

    ****
    9) so now, he is getting money from millions of students watching his videos and plus, the donations.

    In this way, I think that KhanAcademy is being created with PURELY financial endeavours.
    ****

    The Khan Academy website has no ads or any other sort of revenue generator on it, so how does your idea of “1) Put up website. 2) ???? 3) Profit!” work?

    Just like actors say “I can afford to pick the jobs that interest me” when they reach the top of their career, Khan has the financial freedom to choose what is fun to him, rather than just chasing a paycheck.

    His enthusiasm of teaching what he has learned is infectious. It’s obvious that Khan is still learning how to be an teacher. But many students forgive him because he’s very excited by the subject in a geeky way and doesn’t hide his mistakes. He’s learning how to teach which his math students can identity with.

    Joe’s argument about money being the driving factor over the human trait to talk on and on about something they are fascinated about is too simplistic. If it was about money, then why doesn’t he take the old original videos off when there are new ones up?

    If he wants to make that argument, why not look at it from both sides?

    Rather than say Khan is aimed at making money (which is trying to paste one’s own worldview on it instead of taking it for what it is), why not extend past that to say that the $2 million gift was given to KA because the publicity drives more traffic to KA which drives more traffic to YouTube and makes more ad revenue for YouTube regardless of Khan’s intentions.

  69. Sean Patrick Hannifin=Boring Indeed
    Khan Academy is at the very least a more than viable addition to the archaic system we have in place. You Sean and your followers are a bunch of blathering idiots. There is nothing more scary than a bunch of opinionated, educated, eloquent speech makers going against something new with all your negative rhetoric. I have used Khan Academy myself, along with my daughter and son, and fellow students going through college chemistry. It has helped us all immensely. Is that what the problem is Sean; us low income folk should not be privy to such information? Does that scare you? You’ve spent a considerable amount of time here rambling on and on about your self-important opinions and completely false judgments. I double dog dare you to just shut the hell up and allow people to change and grow without your input or opinion. It scares me to think you could influence a single person.

  70. The author seems to refute all his talking points in the article in the comments below. Colleges and Universities aren’t great either. For people who hate going to schools because of the teachers and the system, in general, but want to learn still, Khan academy should be a wonderful replacement. More power to Khan Academy.

  71. The Khan academy is lame primarily because it is just a resource (videos instead of a textbook that one can read and learn from).

    As the authors states here, factual knowledge is of limited value in the real world. I can’t remember being selected for a job or being viewed as a valuable employee on the basis of my knowledge of facts.

    I think a huge part of the educational experience is socialization and the establishment of social norms.

    I’m not a full blown luddite, but I think the idea of young children learning from videos at their own pace is wonderful — if you want Americans to get even more emotionally detached than they have already become.

    The internet is an isolating place — the relationships forged in social media are a mirage, and it is unquestionably time to start seeing cars with bumper stickers that say “blow up your computer”, “blow up your smartphone” as we have completely gone off the deep end as a civilization.

    Learning has always been and must remain a social experience.

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