The Changing Rules of Education – Reality or Hype?

16 Sep

In my previous post, Is This The Future of Learning, on The Khan Academy, I’d raised a question – “Are these videos really going to help kids learn science and math? Salman Khan and Bill Gates certainly think so. So do many other people, including academicians. Do you?”

There have been plenty of discussion happening, both for and against using the Khan Academy model of using videos for teaching kids. Supporters say that with the cut in school budgets and laying off of teaches, these videos are a low cost alternatives, and can serve as a very useful tools when integrated with the classroom. Sounds perfect. However, the critics argue that the videos are not going to be effective because there is no interaction and engagement. This sounds true too.

But are the videos changing the rules of education, as some have predicted?

Here are my arguments.

  • Videos are usually engaging when compared to a talking teacher in class; however, a teacher can gain and sustain the kids’ attention for a long time whereas a video will just go on an on regardless of the kids’ state of mind.
  • Little kids have a very short attention span. Even when they are watching the videos, it doesn’t mean that they are paying attention to what is being taught. Cartoons on TV are very animated and hold the kids’ attention, but it has been proved that TV makes the kids’ brain numb.
  • The Khan Academy videos are very engaging; however, it seems difficult to believe that kids are going to sit in front of a computer and keep absorbing information. It doesn’t happen even with a teacher in class. The “sage on the stage” model of teaching has been popular for thousands of years, but it has not been found to be a particularly good model. We don’t learn this way.
  • People learn by doing things, not watching things get done. The videos do not provide the kids an opportunity of apply their knowledge. Without proper avenues to apply and being able to transfer their knowledge to other contexts, they are not going to learn.
  • There is no social context with these videos. What if someone has a question? What if someone is perceiving the instruction in a different way than intended? How do we know if,when, and how much they are learning?
  • The videos can be used to complement a teacher. The teacher teaches in class, then asks the students to watch a few videos for some time, and then do exercises, all under the teacher’s supervision who is always present to answer questions and guide the students.
  • The kids can use the videos anytime, anywhere. That’s a great benefit of these videos. Learning alone can be good, without any distractions, if the student is highly motivated to learn. One the other hand, a highly motivated student can learn from a number of other sources too, not just these videos.
  • There are skills that need offline coaching – such as reading and writing – that are the foundations of further learning.

My first grader son is highly attention deficient, just like most of the kids his age. Can I ask him to watch the Khan Academy videos and learn to read and write, science, and math? One-word answer – Impossible!

But this is not to say that these videos are worthless. I can see their use by older kids and adults who understand how the videos can be valuable to them, are motivated to watch and learn, and would prefer to learn at their own pace and time and place.

Suggested readings:
Wired – How Khan Academy Is Changing the Rules of Education
Hack Education – The Wrath Against Khan

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4 Responses to “The Changing Rules of Education – Reality or Hype?”

  1. Purav J Patel September 20, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    Clearly, Khan Academy can’t teach reading and writing. I expected that to be obvious. As for your claim that younger viewers would not benefit from the videos, I encourage you to check out

    http://lasdandkhanacademy.edublogs.org/about/

    5th and 7th grade classes have made good progress in math by using a self-paced Khan Academy curriculum. I’m awaiting an upcoming randomized controlled trial to take a position of its true effectiveness, but let’s not dismiss the site just yet.

    Also, in response to your points that

    “People learn by doing things, not watching things get done. The videos do not provide the kids an opportunity of apply their knowledge. Without proper avenues to apply and being able to transfer their knowledge to other contexts, they are not going to learn.”

    Technically, that’s not true. I learned rote arithmetic and higher math in school and apply math pretty well. Even so, I’ll add that Khan’s ideal classroom (as he’s mentioned in interviews) is that students do self-paced video watching and online exercises to gain proficiency and LATER apply the skills of a similarly self-paced or group/teacher-led application project. Khan is actually a huge fan of project-base learning. For more information, read http://www.khanacademy.org/about/blog/post/6844033473/bringing-creativity-to-class-time-by-sal-khan

    You also wrote:

    “There is no social context with these videos. What if someone has a question? What if someone is perceiving the instruction in a different way than intended? How do we know if,when, and how much they are learning?”

    Good question. There IS a social context to the videos in two forms. The first is an online community of other Khan Academy users who answer other users’ questions. The teacher and peers are obviously the second. If a student at home doesn’t understand a video, they can still ask peer or the teacher in class the next day. Moreover, this is effective because the teacher isn’t lecturing to the entire class, and can answer specific questions when students have them. As for your claim that we don’t know how much they’re learning, that’s completely false. The website is equipped with a sort of “dashboard” or real-time digital report card that visually represents/graphs video-watching and exercise completion. Read more here http://www.khanacademy.org/profile?k

    • Deepak Kumar October 3, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

      Good points. Thanks. I agree with some of your assertions. These videos are being used/piloted, but we have yet to see their effectiveness. Do keep me posted if you come across any research studies that show how people are using these videos for learning effectiveness.

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