Case Study – Khan Academy

Khan Academy LogoSalman Khan identified a systemic problem of students being forced to move on to the next level in schools even when they possess huge gaps in knowledge. Pursuit of a solution lead ultimately to the creation of Khan Academy. Here at Digital Bridge we look to Khan Academy as an example of what can be accomplished by determined groups who set their sights for shaking up the education system, and who don’t shy away from facing big challenges.

What is Khan Academy
Khan Academy is a nonprofit educational service started in 2006 by Salman Khan. Their website serves a collection of more than 4,000 video lectures on a comprehensive range of subjects spanning from math, science and physics all the way to systematic methods for solving brain teasers. These videos are available fee of charge and are provided in 23 different languages.

As an alumni of MIT & Harvard, Khan is familiar with quality education. The videos on the site are each delivered with enthusiasm and follow a systematic structure. The service also offers progress tracking tools for students, and classroom data for teachers. To date Khan academy has delivered over 242 million video lessons to students all around the world.

Why it was built
The roots of Khan Academy can be traced to Khan’s early years as a tutor. Using available internet tools Salman provided individual tutoring for family members and clients. Through the testimony of those under his tutelage requests poured in quickly and and he eventually  found the need to distribute videos more efficiently, and his search eventually brought him to host videos on YouTube. Within a few years momentum was significant enough that in 2009 Sal quit his job as a hedge fund analyst and began working full time producing content for his site.

Future of Khan Academy
With its millions of global users Khan has become the poster child for a new type of classroom. Different from the Massive Open Online Courses we have covered in the past, Khan allows for individually paced curricula and the selection of courses, or individual lectures that suit the student’s needs.

Khan’s approach has spawned some inspirational stories from students everywhere who use the site’s tools to master new subjects, revisit old ones, and move their lives ahead through the benefits of education.

According to Khan their short term goal is to build a platform where the average student can go to become proficient in subjects where he or she has trouble. And as far as the long term, he is thinking even bigger. In a 2012 interview he had this to say:

“There is an abundance of opportunity for developing The Khan Academy,” Khan said. “In the long run, we envision being able to offer kids in rural Africa access to an education better than they could ever dream of, and enabling children with chronic diseases, student athletes, actors or prisoners to receive a free equivalent to in-person tutoring.”

Khan Academy has already benefited millions of students. The organization’s integrity and passion have caught the attention of Google and the Bill and Melinda Foundation, leading to the donation of million of dollars. Khan Academy has a strong model and vision for the world of digital learning. With their impressive track record and their ever-growing network of promoters they are well positioned to continue to be a leader in the educational space.

A multimedia way of learning

Learning Ever have a difficult time learning something? A lot of students suffer every day from the “One size fits all” model used by most educational institutions in North America. Teaching is a lot more complex than people think and educators can fall into the trap where they assume students aren’t learning because they are doing something wrong. The truth is that everyone learns differently, especially in our day and age. The traditional classroom model might as well be broken, especially in a society that is becoming increasingly interconnected by electronic means, yet we are forced to attend a physical classroom with examinations to ‘measure performance.’ Children are growing up surrounded by electronics with on the spot gratification of information whenever they want. So its easy to see how sitting in a classroom for 6-8 hours a day listening to someone lecture can be counter productive. The alternative? Online resources, more specifically, video lessons.

I grew up doing horrible in all my classes. Ever since kindergarten, you would often find me in remedial math or English classes. I was told I had a learning disorder, and for a short while I beginning to believe it myself. What a lot of young students face, is the inability to learn the way that the material is presented.struggling

I started programming when I was 10. At first with some basic HTML, and afterwards I progressed to other languages.  I would download instructional programming videos in a horrible 320×240 resolution, and mimic what the instructor was doing. I would re-watch the video again, only this time I tried to understand the conceptual aspect.  At the age of 16, I had dabbled in more programming languages than I can remember, yet I was failing my basic algebra classes. I came to the realization that at the rate things were going, I had to be a self learner if I wanted to do well on school exams. When college came around, I decided that it was time for me to pause programming and test my learning skills. First semester was an adaptation period, I had 8 am classes, and a horrible 2 month cold so my grades were mostly B-.

The following semesters, I started studying for my classes the way I studied programming. I would scour YouTube for instructional videos on accounting and biology, and learn from them. Suddenly I was getting straight As and I didn’t even have to go to class. What did I learn? That the way classes are structured doesn’t take into account a students perspective of learning, and instead focuses on a standard one size fits all model, which does not work for me. I am naturally curious, so when I do go to class, I end up questioning the material that is being presented, and ultimately not learning things that I will be tested on. I want to know why A = B, not just that it does. Of course there are time constraints to go fully in-depth in a subject, which is why I find online video lessons the best. You can learn in your own time, on the bus, in bed, and even in the shower.

Alternative methods of teaching are being adopted by big educational institutions, and some are even offering degrees for an online education. MIT offers free online courses, which in comparison to the programming classes that I took at a four year University, offers a lot more in both content, assignments, feedback, and flexibility.

I would like to focus on the multimedia side of online learning, more specifically videos. Video learning has a lot of advantages on top of a traditional classroom setting:

  • Can be free
  • Choice of instructor
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Follow along with the ability to pause and skip sections.


There are free and paid services, including Khan Academy which makes use of Youtube, and Lynda.
Khan Academy has more than 3,000 Youtube videos, allowing you to “learn almost everything, for free.” Some colleges have explored recording the lecture and putting it online for students to review, or for those who couldn’t come to class. I have had a few classes that took advantage of this, and my experience was fantastic.

Walter Lewin, a famous MIT professor has become a YouTube sensation with his wacky, but very entertaining teaching method. Check out the video and judge for yourself. By searching Walter Lewin on YouTube, you can view his full physics lessons. offers thousands of video lectures.

Here is a list of popular Youtube educational channels:

Coursera receives approval for course credit

Coursera, one the leading providers of free online courses has announced that this week they have recieved approval to provide actual college credit for students who are taking some of their online courses. This marks the first time that a Massive Open Online Class (MOOC) has won approval for credit equivalency, which means that those classes can count towards a college degree. Approval came from the American Council on Education (ACE), and of now it applies to five courses:

  • Pre-calculus from the University of California, Irvine.
  • Introduction to Genetics and Evolution from Duke University.
  • Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach from Duke University.
  • Calculus: Single Variable from the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Algebra from the University of California, Irvine (but only as a vocational credit).

To be eligible for the credit, Coursera students must sign up for the course’s Signature Track, which requires is an extra validation step that attaches their user information to their real identity. Additionally  Signature Track students take an online proctored exam prior to completion. The Signature Track costs $60 to $90 and the proctored exam costs $30 to $99, bringing the cost of these credited courses to just under $200.

So far the partnering universities have been very forthcoming about promoting this announcement, and each of the schools have made announcements online and in the local press, echoing sentiments similar to this from Duke Provost Peter Lange:

“We are excited by this opportunity to experiment with new ways of using our MOOC  courses to extend our educational reach and provide credit for students who would not otherwise have access to our faculty.”

And, giving insight into the larger plan of the accredited course offerings, Andrew Ng, Co-Founder of Coursea had this to say:

“Ever since we launched Coursera, we’ve known that university degrees are important. We wanted a more systematic way for students to earn academic credit… This is just a step in that direction.”

ACE approval means that Coursera classes could be eligible for credit at approximately 2,000 U.S. colleges and universities. There are still many hurdles remaining, and schools are by no means required to accept the credits, but the possibility now exists, whereas before it could not even be attempted. This approval is a very significant milestone and it signifies that schools are in fact looking to embrase new means of learning, and that MMOCs are becoming more widely accepted and recognized.
Read More about the announcement here:

Online courses in higher education

online-educationTraditionally having a college degree is viewed at as the definitive gateway to high paying jobs and intellectual development. It is meant to provide an equal opportunity to all students yet there are some well known barriers that prevent this from being true for all people, two of the biggest barriers are acceptance to the school and ability to pay the costs of enrollment. Over the last 5 years a new approach has emerged that promises to address those issues. All around the country students are participating in massive open online courses (MOOCs learn more). These MOOCs are free courses designed to accommodate very high volumes of students, with some courses containing tens of thousands of people. The promise of MOOCs is that it equalizes the playing field of education, enabling anyone with an interest in a selected topic to study and learn alongside others who share those interests.

Who provides these courses

Online-only education is viewed as a new model and providers are rushing to it without having clearcut business models or even a consesus as to why they’re doing it. Despite being free, MOOCs are known for having exceptionally high quality content from big name instructors. Most interestingly, many of the free courses are being provided directly by some of the most prestigious universities in the country. In fact, 22 of the 25 schools listed in US News’ top 25 colleges offer free courses online including the following:






Carnegie Mellon

Among the top and middle tiers, Universities not previously interested in open coureses are As quoted from a New York Times article:

“There’s panic,” said Kevin Carey, director of education policy at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group. “Whether it’s senseless panic is unclear.”

Some online offerings are funded through venture capital, some directly from the pockets of the institutions, and others through philanthropy.

Third Party Platforms
Independent sites have emerged that arrogate course listings available from many different universities, providing learners a single location from where they can participate in lectures regardless of school. The most popular of these is Coursera, Udacity, and edX.


Originally a Stanford project, Coursea now has 33 university partners, including many Ivy Leauge’s , Duke, California Institute of Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Berklee College of Music.

Courses: 197 in 18 subjects, including computer science, math, business, humanities, social science, medicine, engineering, education.

Assessment: Software grades quizzes, homework, problem sets; five other students grade written responses. Many instructors allow quizzes to be taken multiple times, with highest grade counting (a different quiz each time).

Academic integrity: Click a box agreeing to an honor code.

Social interaction: Online forums and study groups, meet-ups organized by students in about 1,400 cities.

Pacing: Most courses have start and end dates, though it’s possible to join a course after it has begun, as long as it is before the registration cutoff date.

What you get: Some instructors offer signed certificates of completion, but not from the university. Beginning next semester, Antioch University students can get credit at the Los Angeles campus for approved courses.


For-profit with Stanford roots but no university affiliation.

Courses: 18, in computer science, mathematics, physics, business.

Assessment: Software grades tests, problem sets, programming assignments.

Academic integrity: Proctored final exams at Pearson testing centers, for $89.

Social interaction: Online forums and study groups, meet-ups organized by students in over 450 cities.

Pacing: Courses taken at own speed.

What you get: Certificates according to academic performance: completion, distinction, high distinction, highest distinction. Colorado State’s Global Campus accepts transfer credit for a course in building a search engine. In a free job-matching program, résumés are sent to partner companies, including Google, Bank of America, Twitter, Facebook and TrialPay, based on their job openings and student’s analytics (grade, participation level).


Profile: Nonprofit run out of M.I.T. and Harvard; with the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Texas system.

Courses: 8, in chemistry, computer science, electronics, public health; plans for 20 to 30 in the spring.

Assessment: Software grades tests and homework.

Academic integrity: Some final exams are proctored, at Pearson testing centers for varying costs. To prevent copying, users get different, randomly generated numbers in their problem sets.

Social interaction: Rudimentary; only one course, given by the Harvard School of Public Health in quantitative methods, has regional get-togethers.

Pacing: Courses have start and end dates. Registration closes two weeks after start date. Students may miss a week but lose points if they don’t make a deadline for turning in an assignment.

What you get: Two certificates available, one designating an honor code, one a proctored exam. Both bear the edX and campus name — for example, MITx, HarvardX, BerkeleyX, UTAustinX.

Where does it go from here?

While MOOCs have captured the imagination of many, it is still a rapidly evolving concept. Some see it as a potential replacement for the traditional educational system, incompatible with the current model, while some see it as a supplement. The full range of possibilities remain to be seen, but as the level of public intrest continues to grow the one thing that seems clear is that this isn’t going to go away any time soon.