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July 16, 2014 11:53 PM Does Khan Academy Work?

By Daniel Luzer

Khan Academy, a non-profit educational organization that offers instruction via video tutorials on YouTube, is one of the newest exciting developments in education. So many of us today learn how to do things—cook food, do home repair, change the oil in our cars—using videos we found by Googling stuff on the internet. It makes sense to extend this to education.

Why shouldn’t we let people learn at their own pace? This is what spurred former hedge fund analyst Salman Khan to create the academy back in 2006.

But no one really knows how well it works. Sure, it’s cheaper than a real classroom, but we don’t understand how the learning part of this goes.

Well, soon we might have some idea. According to an article at Education Week, the U.S. Department of Education is spending $3 million to see how effective the Khan is.

Starting in the 2015-16 school year, California community college algebra teachers who are not already familiar with the program will be randomly assigned to either use the Khan resources or their regular practice. …Researchers… will track students to determine whether those in classes using the Khan resource or more likely to complete Algebra I, as well as identify teacher training, course structure and other factors that affect how mater the materials are integrated into the larger course.

The success of Khan so far (measured by people using it, people have watched Khan videos some 440 million times) has been impressive enough for many to conclude that something like this, learning “unbound” from institutions, might be the future of education.

Some teachers are already using the videos to supplement their classes. Students watch the videos at home, and then come to class and get the additional help they need to understand the concepts.

Here a Khan Academy video explains basic trigonometry

But is this more or less effective than real, classroom instruction? We’ll soon get to find out.

Watch this closely. Results should be available by 2017.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

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