The Khan Academy: Free Online Learning for Every Child

Whether you’re looking to help your child master difficult subject areas or you want to supplement your homeschooling curriculum, The Khan Academy just might be your new best friend. With over 2.5 million users already, the online educational resource aims to provide “free world-class education for anyone, anywhere.”

Through micro lectures in video format plus exercises and practice tests, The Khan Academy allows students to learn just about anything – whether it’s just to fulfill high school graduation requirements or to explore new passions from Asian art to electrical engineering.

From Humble Beginnings to Huge Support

What first started out as a series of instructional math tutorials to help his cousin, Khan’s ability to teach complex topics in an easy and digestible way soon gained popularity. Fast forward to today and you’ll find an impressive, non-profit educational company funded by the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Skoll Foundation, and Google to name a few. These backers have helped Khan provide greater variety in coursework that is also aligned with Common Core Standards and provided in diverse languages. The academy has also partnered with institutions like NASA, The Museum of Modern Art, The California Academy of Sciences, and MIT to offer specialized content for their videos and podcasts.

And did I mention that it’s free? Yes, FREE! They are pledged to provide free instruction to anyone, anywhere. There are over 2400 videos available now and it is growing every day.

Aligned with Common Core Standards

The Academy is fully integrated with Common Core Standards so students can practice what they most need help on, at their own pace. “Each student has their own learning dashboard that uses state-of-the-art adaptive software to identify gaps and show progress. Students also receive fun badges, energy points, and avatars along their grade-level mission.”

So let’s say your child is having trouble understanding geometry. A visit to the Khan Academy online will supplement classroom learning. She will experience a friendly cheerful voice, colorful artwork, and a careful, slow, gradual education on the basics of shapes and how to begin to classify them. Happy face rewards come from right answers, there are self-tests, and the offer of new ways to use the concepts you’ve just learned. Hints are available in case the answers don’t come easily.

Results Are Tracked

All results are tracked and put into your student’s private educational file. But wait a minute, did I just say “tracked and put into a file?” Yes, and that’s what's making some parents wary. The downside is that there is a vast pool of student information that is being stored by third-party vendors, companies that have nothing to do with education. That means it’s “out there” in a cloud somewhere. Privacy concerns can be a big issue with digital schools like Khan.

Professor Joel Reidenberg of Fordham University is a data privacy expert whose recent study showed that companies are mining student data for information about how individual students “interact with technology”. They use the data to develop commercial products and to assess teacher performance, as well as judge student achievement.

The Pitfall

The Fordham study went on to report that 95% of schools use third-party data companies to store information and only 25% inform parents they are doing it. The data companies aren’t necessarily required to practice the most basic online security, and some are even allowed to keep student information indefinitely. Imagine… your child has a job interview twenty years from now and they’ve got her 2nd grade arithmetic struggles to look at online. Your child’s information is out there and available for commercial use without you even knowing it.

These findings are now being talked about as one of the “pitfalls of digital education”. The video library of the Khan Academy is wonderful and the individualized learning programs can really take the pressure off, but be aware that you are leaving a very big digital footprint along the way.

Have you checked out the Khan Academy videos? How do you feel about their offerings?

Tags : education   school   

Maya Slavin
Interesting, but the privacy issue is very weird.