Learning through a “dressed up” YouTube channel?

Khan AcademyMuch has been written about the huge success of the Khan Academy, and how it has ‘revolutionised’ education and created a “self-driven, individualized curriculum that motivates students with immediate feedback and positive rewards” (Donaldson, 2012) with it’s simplistic and informative approach and yada yada yada.

No, I don’t buy it either.

But it wasn’t’ until I read Tom Barratt’s post this morning that I realised why – “Khan Academy Is Not The Progressive Model You Are Looking For”. With everyone talking it up and extolling the amazing virtues of using YouTube in this way I thought “yeah, so what”. Is it just that the Khan Academy was doing what lots of individual teachers are doing, but now at scale? Was it something I was missing?

Tom (thankfully) has helped me realise that I don’t have to jump on this particular bandwagon, I can have my own opinion. The videos of Khan Academy (notice I break the link here between Sal Khan and the Khan Academy) may work or help some children, they may not do much for others. It’s all in the choice of learning styles that each of us has.

“The Khan Academy is a dressed up YouTube channel and purportedly the statistical tracking and indication of “progress” is what is driving any sense of engagement. So are students engaged in the maths or the pointification? Well if the instructional clips aren’t edge of the seat stuff it must be the notional suggestion of a game that drives clicks and engagement.” (Barratt, 2011)

“Resources such as these will just make teachers think that they are taking innovative approaches to their teaching and learning. It will stall the changes that are needed in many schools across the world to make maths and other curriculum subjects more meaningful and engaging – we need more “problem finders“, critical thinkers and indeed children developing the capacity to become “patient problem solvers”. We don’t need games and points to bring rote, de-contextualised, meaningless styles of learning back from the abyss where they should rest – we should be kicking them back over the edge!” (Barrett, 2011)

I also couldn’t link the statistics that tell us that concentration and attention span online is getting worse (Ordioni, 2013), yet the hype around Khan Academy videos seem to miss this and are making education easier, and children are watching the whole of a detailed and often very complicated maths or physics instructional video? I agree it is making education more accessible, and that is always a good thing, but ‘better’?

It’s not just me, or Tom, or those who entered our twitter conversation earlier – Robert Talbert (2012) is also critical of the Khan Academy approach, that it is just a simple “collection of video lectures that give demonstrations of mechanical processes”. Talbart is happy to concede that, if this is the desired approach, then they fulfill their purpose well, but he goes on to criticise the videos and general approach to learning, that they are not a “substitute for an actual course of study”, that the learning may or may not have happened if the student has not demonstrated an application of this knowledge, they have purely learned ‘about’ the subject.

“Khan Academy is great for learning about lots of different subjects. But it’s not really adequate for learning those subjects on a level that really makes a difference in the world. Learning at these levels requires more than watching videos (or lectures) and doing exercises. It takes hard work (by both the learner and the instructor), difficult assignments that get students to work at these higher levels, open channels of communication that do not just go one way, and above all a relationship between learner and instructor that engenders trust.” (Talbert, 2012).

But perhaps we’re missing the point … what do children who need to learn about “Displacement from Time and Velocity Example” think … did the video help? What about those who teach displacement theory … do you use these videos, are they applicable, are they correct (?), have these Khan videos enabled you to cover other more advanced section of the topic as your children are learning this kind of stuff outside of your classroom … and how does that make you feel?

“I’m not jealous of, or threatened by, Khan Academy in the slightest. But I’m not an uncritical fan, either, and we need to look at carefully at Khan Academy before we adopt it, whole-cloth, as the future of education.” (Talbert, 2012)


Barratt, T. 2011. Khan Academy Is Not The Progressive Model You Are Looking For. edte.ch December 6, 2011 http://edte.ch/blog/2011/12/06/khan-academy-is-not-the-progressive-model-you-are-looking-for/

Donaldson, C. 2012. The Khan Academy: Changing the Face of Education? Education.com http://www.education.com/magazine/article/khan-academy/

Ordioni, J., 2013. Social Media and Short Attention Spans. ERE.net. February 5, 2013 http://www.ere.net/2013/02/05/social-media-and-short-attention-spans/

Talbot, R. 2012. The trouble with Khan Academy. The Chronicle. July 3, 2012. http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/castingoutnines/2012/07/03/the-trouble-with-khan-academy/