Khan Academy Is On Some Kind Of Spending Spree

First Vi Hart. Now Brit Cruise, whose exemplary work with videos and math instruction was featured in these pages a couple of weeks ago. For me, this has all the drama of some kind of skin graft or organ transplant where no one has any idea if the host body is going to accept or reject any of it. In both its videos and its exercises, Khan Academy has a distinctive house style. So does Hart’s work and Cruise’s to a lesser extent. It isn’t remotely clear to me how any of those competing styles will interact with each other.

In news that’s much less exciting, though still related to Khan Academy, I’m working with my advisor and two other graduate students at a charter school in San Jose. We’re working with their teachers and Khan Academy to develop a blended unit on similarity, congruence, and trigonometry. (“Blended” is defined, in this instance, as a 1:1 environment that includes regular in-class use of Khan Academy.) It’s my first in-the-classroom experience with either blended learning or Khan Academy. There’s probably a lot that should be said about the experience but I’m still learning.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Agreed. it’s like a Cronenberg picture, at first it’s clear, simple and slightly foggy…then amputations, sexuality and genetic mutations somehow coalesce in an ending which makes you happy or sick to death….

    FYI: There is no immediate plan to “paste” or integrate anything…it will be a long exploratory process. Though, my personal long term view (10 years) of Khan Academy is:

    1. Inspire
    2. Teach via lessons
    3. Drill / Practice
    4. Apply / Create

    I think steps 1 and 4 will be the key steps…I hope to live somewhere in step 1 for the time being. I view my videos as one of those exciting initial lectures you may by lucky to attend on the “first day”, or an inspirational talk by a family member/counselor (though less probable!) …you walk away thinking “wow I see why _____ matters, how it mattered in the past and what I need to seek out next in order to become an expert at ______”

    Curious about your thoughts,

  2. I like Kahn Academy for what it is, video tutorials for students that are already moving along in math, but it sure isn’t a fix for students still struggling with the concept and I am afraid it is getting that kind of attention. And Vi’s self absorbed videos, while briefly entertaining, aren’t a fix for anything (anything mathematical that is, they are good videography however). I don’t see a match at all between Vi and Kahn (and was shocked when I first saw the announcement). I do see compatibility between Kahn and Brit though, more so than between Vi and Kahn, or Brit and Vi, or Vi and anyone.:) Brit’s videos open interesting mathematical doors and Kahn provides the practice to enter them. There is still a lot missing in that recipe, stuff only a live teacher can provide.

  3. we experimented with this quite heavily 3 yrs ago. caught the front end of Khan. what we learned and failed at and came up with, because it was all under the direction of kids, was a self-automated grid. so that the learner truly was the one owning whatever learning (and or memorizing) took place.

    we used different verbiage, but similar to Brit’s 4 steps. as an offering.. a space of gathering of potentially helpful resources toward the then end result, of passing state tests and pre ap alg 2.

    we were documenting maniacs.. so have plenty of trails if you’re so inclined.
    here’s our cyclic self-directed grid – lesson, visual, practice, assess:
    and here’s a doc on why/how we came up with and did it:

  4. I think this is could be a step in the right direction for Khan Academy. It will add a little bit of diversification to the website and make a rich resource even richer.

    This is the first time I’ve seen Vi’s videos, and I really like them because they’re very different from how I approach math. I’m a numbers/logic kind of guy and it’s obvious she’s more a visual artistic type person. Her approach is unique, and could potentially reach or inspire different types of learners than I could do on my own. Every little bit helps.

    Now the caveat, I still don’t think Khan Academy is a replacement for a teacher.

  5. Kathy Clark Couey

    January 14, 2012 - 9:12 am -

    I disagree with Robert; Kahn has the ability to help struggling students. I beleive it’s power lies with offering extra time to attack topics that are personal to the learners’ needs, the explanations are often different than that given by the classroom teacher, and there is some unexplanable motivation offered by the smiley faces and the points. I’ve seen it happen for my 8th graders.

  6. Here’s a side thought about owning one’s learning via video. Create a competition or portfolio process where students make their own videos of either problems, demonstrations or tutorials. Then a body of student advisors view the video submissions, offer constructive criticism and wonderings about the video based on specific learning and performance standards. This can be done via a post and comment environment, or in person. The creators then have a chance to revise or edit the videos and resubmit. The end goal would be to have the video posted to the math resource page on the school website (or whatever tool is used). The idea is that the video creators, while given creative license, are being held to specific standards such as math, ELA, sience, etc… They intern go through a learning process in the creation of the video, and also create resources for other students at the school to use when a learning supplement is needed after the initial instruction of the teacher has been done. Student advisors also go through a learning process when judging the videos while using standards based rubrics. They intern get to learn and disseminate the standards they are being held accountable for learning. I think this could create a rigorous process where students strive to understand the standards and content through their own perspective as opposed to only being told about the standards and content from the teacher’s perspective.

  7. Hi David,

    It’s a good idea in theory, but is it an efficient use of math class? See Dan’s quotient rule. To put it in my own words, Usefulness = Amount Learned / Time to learn…or something like that.

  8. monika – Thanks so much for sharing this I’m reading it over now. I love the student centric approach. I would love if the ‘inspire layer’ of Khan Academy was somehow modeled as a series of paths/doors students could explore on their own.

    David – I love that idea. Everyone would agree that if you take the extra step and try to teach something you’ve learned, then it forces you to strengthen your initial understanding. This would make for an interesting exam model in school.

    Maybe Khan Academy could hold mini film festivals on a number of topics (concepts, or famous experiments…etc). Schools could get involved and it could be fun way to spread the word nationally. I’m not sure what “class” this would be for….but when I was young I was very lucky to spend some years in a gifted program which allowed me to use video for my essays, assignments and almost everything else I did (for science class I made a video on Newtonian physics…etc).

    This was before the ubiquity of video, so I was a bit of an aberration – now everyone can do it. As soon as my assignment became a “film”, the work aspect melted away and I would spend hours at night working away at what felt like “play time”….every concept I’ve turned into a video is now deeply engrained in my mind….However I don’t think it’s fair to assume this model would apply to all students, of course.

    Final thought, I also belong to the pencil and paper school of learning. Though, if we are going to use technology we should use it in a way that is creative and open ended.


  9. After viewing Monika’s links, I can see that she has already come up with some great student produced tutorials and lessons.
    Monika – Would you be willing to share some of the process? I’m very interested in exploring this with my students. While video is a great medium for modeling thinking, there are many other ways of modeling mathematical thinking or demonstrating real life problems where math can can be applied. This year, I’ve been getting some of my students to use ACSLogo for discovering and modeling geometric relationships. It has also helped me understand why some students have such a hard time breaking away from iterative thinking and moving into functional thinking when describing patterns.
    James – I think the question is, does the work get the students to think about what they know, what they don’t know, and how they going to get to the knowing? Sure, content retention and instructional efficiency are important, but metacognition in students is invaluable. Processing and struggling through a problem, math or tech, can only bring one closer to the type of thinking required to understand and appreciate the beauty formal languages.
    Brit – I fully agree. I am also of the paper and pencil school of learning. I took notes and solved problems while other students used to gossip through notes, and now it’s email and texting. These tools have so much more potential. Students just need to experience that there are more creative ways of modeling their thinking beyond textese.

  10. Khan Academy won’t being to truly tap the power of video until they can democratize the video production and sharing among its users, so learners can create their own videos in response just as they could on YouTube. The idea being that those video interactions, and connections, would be within the Khan ecosystem so that you can truly begin to build relationships and get past the “sage on the stage” model.

  11. That presupposes that each video submission is of some value. I find that the internet boots opinions which, in the aggregate, are either liked or hated. It (crowd-sourcing) gets rid of the junk, but also misses the very best. A video is functionally equivalent to a text based comment, a sound clip, or any other chunk of user feedback. Video is a unique challenge in that it if filled with so much junk (YouTube adds 11 hours per minute?)

    IMHO Khan is currently lacking (in terms of a 50 year outlook) in that it is not as dynamic as Wikipedia. Wikipedia will always matter, and that is a function of its user base’s interaction with the content. If we gave “everyone” the ability express themselves in a medium, we will ultimately be limited by the message – and the constraints of how that message is delivered. How would a wiki-video look?

    Working at Codecademy taught me that content is key…no matter how low the barrier to entry. So content must be carefully weighed in terms of it’s relative ultility.

  12. @Robert: I’m talking about turning Khan into a learning network, not just the video equivalent of a textbook, which is what I feel it is now in many ways.

    @Brit: Each and every attempt by a learner to express and/or share how they’re synthesizing material is always valuable. If Khan’s ultimate goal is to just create content in video form, then I’m not sure that’s terribly exciting.

    My guess if what you’re thinking of Khan becoming is very different than what I would like it to be. While you’re talking about an authoritative and exhaustive collection of high quality learning videos, I’m talking about creating a learning network of peer tutoring and support.

    As for a video wiki, that sounds like a pretty interesting idea, would love to see what it looks like as well :)

  13. I agree, peer support network, and innovative software (especially when it comes to training) is the exciting future of Khan. As mentioned above, I also think the act of creation (video or otherwise) is a powerful pedagogy in itself. My only hope is Khan sticks to it’s mission. I want ‘badges’ to become diplomas in the future. This might be the (ironic?) result of partnerships with MIT and others happening now…I’d love that to happen.

  14. response coding via word recognition.. all a form of that convo.. that communication that perhaps is missing. combine with the trailings left on open source yet curated spaces such as Wikipedia.
    I’m thinking it’s not the badge idea, but the trail idea… that will be the credentialing of the future.. how well have you left your community.. be it khan or Wikipedia or YouTube. what have you shared that endured the curation of others of experts… and better.. what have you shared that is used by many when learning is not per compulsion, but rather per interest..which leads to the ultimate rigor, to the best questions, the best convos. what if the videos we are after are the ones representing or actually are… those convos, with tech, via some sort of tagging, pulling out just the pieces of several videos, of tons of footage, that are relevant to that particular

  15. I agree: Khan’s ultimate goal can’t be just making a repository of videos. Their math exercises are really great and I consider them essential to the learning experience they provide.

    I also agree that it will be quiet a challenge for Khan Academy to coordinate to different video styles that are incoming in order to avoid messing up the learning experience and creating confusion and information overload.

    Another challenge that Khan Academy has is finding a way to create a learning network of peer tutoring and support. On this subject, I don’t think that democratizing the video production and ditching the “sage on the stage” model is the way (more on this subject later). I think there are the other systems that can also offer the additional learning advantages of video making, such as collective and creative problem solving, peer to peer collaboration and support, project building, among others. Two examples of such systems are:

    (1) the programming exercise model Proyect Euler has: , and/ or
    (2) online math exercise solving at Khan Academy as a peer to peer – student aided classwork

    This brings me to my next point, which is what I think is Achilles’ heel when we speak of Khan Academy: There is a lack of learning assessment (except perhaps for math, in which the exercises are great, although they could have an additional and very interesting section by using including Dan Meyer’s ideas). What I mean is that after being video-lectured on many semantic topics, such as American history, art history, or even less semantic topics such as biology or economy, users seem to forget these ideas if I don’t review the videos in a certain amount of time. Obviously video reviewing what has already been learned is extremely tedious and inefficient.

    There should be some sort of analogous form to the math exercises where one could practice what has been learned, such as for example or a modified version of that idea. However, I also do believe that the creative approach that Project Euler’s and Dan Meyer’s exercises have are essential to a real learning on any subject. For example, Dan’s excercises could be systemized as excercises in Proyect Euler are.

    @Monika I wil be sending you and email to join the conversation with @Brit on Wikipedia and Codeacademy, though I think it would be most interesting if we could hold it in a public place so everyone interested coud join!

  16. @Brit , I also think that virtual sandboxes are great! Would love to see what CS is about! =)

    BTY, I owe you guys some thoughts from my previous comment on the democratizing video discussion:

    Though I do agree that “every attempt by a learner to express and/or share how they’re synthesizing material is always valuable”, I don’t think video making it is something that could work on a permanent basis as a chosen pedagogical model for the Khan Academy website. Don’t get me wrong: I do believe that making a video is a great learning experience in many ways, but I think there is at least one fundamental problem to solve before thinking on video feedback: Information overload.

    In other words, video making as a feedback and a learning process is a great learning tool for the individual, but it’s kind of inefficient when you think about the masses. Take for example You-tube: I understand Google is trying to cope with annoyed users trying to find quality content in the site due to the enormous (and continously increasing) quantity of material available on the web.

    The comparison made between Khan Academy and Wikipedia is interesting because of the peer to peer quality evaluation and curation process on the enciclopedia’s content. However, though I acknowledge the possibility of linking text and the spoken word (aka word recognition), I believe that video and text have a fundamental difference, which is that videos also show visual stuff to the audience. Agreeing on what the text should say AND what images a video should show is much more difficult than just agreeing on what a text should say, like in Wikipedia.

    So, allowing all learners to upload their individual video-feedback or even learning material to the site could generate the same problems we already see in video sharing sites as youtube. Whilst, allowing all users by peer to peer colaboration create a single content for a single topic (i.e. 1 official video for one official topic) would be really tough and could create frustraion in users, but would be really interesting as an experiment.

    As I mentioned in my previous post, I think designing the correct kind of excercises and semi-standarized projects for the rest of their content should provide the fundamental value Khan Academy is lacking to offer a really complete learning experience.

  17. My main issue with Khan Academy is that mathematics is not something where there are loads of little areas that are apart from everything else, it is the fact that almost all areas of mathematics are intertwined with all other areas. It is the linking of knowledge together and synthesising of ideas from this that helps pupils progress. Everything in Khan academy seems very ‘standalonish’ – the best mathematics resource I have ever seen is the ‘Improved Learning in Mathematics’ package produced in the UK. This moves completely away from teacher instruction, soley onto paired discussion and feedback.

  18. If the future of teaching math is monitoring a bunch of students to blankly stair at computers all day, then I suppose it will prepare them for a future in the corporate world. But all sarcasm aside I see video only replacing one old fashion role of the teacher: the lecturer. Teachers will still have to be masters of their subject, able to address a class and control class room culture, consider individual student needs, &etc… But it’s hard to beat a lecturer who has a script, took as many takes as necessary, got props, and, most importantly, can be paused, rewinded, fast forwarded, and stopped all according to the individual abilities and prior knowledge of the student. Being able to assign homework such watch one of a list of various styles of presentation (Khan, Hart, Brit, etc.), whichever floats your boat, and either 1. be able to explain the content, or 2. form questions about what confuses you, so that come class time the teacher becomes becomes a discussion leader and project manager instead of 18th century German professor wannabe. Sure, giving a lecture can be a rush and a facet of great teaching, but the best teaching comes from interacting not presenting.
    I currently take classes at one of the adult versions of Khan Academy called Coursera. I have learned a ton there, but there has been many a moment where one question to a knowledgeable teacher could have saved me a lot of time and trouble sifting through old videos and text only to find the information I needed wasn’t even there. Forums help but not a fast and can even be intimidated for some.