18 December 2011

Reinventing Education with Khan Academy and AI Class

The Khan Academy and the Introduction to AI course at Stanford University are two examples of innovative use of the internet to increase access to quality education and challenge traditional educational  models.  Khan Academy is centered around a library of short videos on (mostly) science and mathematics.  The AI course from Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun at Stanford University attracted more than 58.000 students and 175 countries.

In this interesting 45’ video they discuss their experiences with online learning and how they see the future of education.  George Siemens, a lecturer from Athabasca University and pioneer of open courses such as the LAK11 course, provides some thoughts on the video discussion on his blog.

Elements that stood out for me were:

They expect a (further) decoupling of the teaching and the accreditation.  People will pay for rigorous assessment and subsequent accreditation, but they will have more options on how to prepare themselves.  They may enroll into a formal course, learn from work experience or use Open Educational Resources (OER).  This reminds me of the TOEFL test, which offers an internationally recognized accreditation for the level of English, but you can learn English in a variety of ways, not limited to the courses offered by the credentialing institute.  This tendency will force institutions to rethink their roles and business models, as their oligopoly on education and accreditation will be challenged.

One-shot high-stake game
Online learning opens up opportunities and removes stigmas for non-traditional student groups.  Many of the AI students and Khan Academy users are adults (as at the OU, btw).  Online learning enables combining learning with other commitments of life.  Also, online learning allows them revisiting concepts and asking questions that they might find embarrassing in a traditional classroom.  According to Sal Khan, traditional learning often is a one-shot high-stake game.  If you’re a bit too rebellious at 18 or have some personal problems, you may miss out on a degree with lifelong consequences.  Online learning makes that people can always start pursuing a degree, even if they-re 80 (as are some participants at the AI course!)

Online learning permits more easily ‘flipping’ the classroom. Students watch lectures at home, then work on problem sets in class, where the teacher can assist them one on one. More importantly though, students can work at their own pace. Khan is convinced that most students want to learn, as long as it is adapted to their pace and needs.

Both the AI course and the Khan Academy are creating tremendous possibilities for learning analytics.  The effect of small changes in content, learning experience or other motivating factors can be analysed or preference different explanations of a concept.

Science videos
I liked how Khan recalled the origins of Khan Academy and muses that the non-professional look-and-feel of the videos might actually be an important reason for their success.  The videos feel like it’s their elder brother explaining a concept to them.  Khan admits that if he would have received a million dollar grant to develop the videos, they would probably have looked like sleek McGraw-Hill videos with a polished voice-over.  In Cambodia VVOB has developed 185 short science videos, in which science teacher trainers explain low-cost science experiments.  In the programme we have given priority to quantity and content, rather than to production quality.  It would be great if some teacher trainers could continue the work and make their own short videos, explaining concepts or experiments, just as Salman Khan has done for his cousin and is now doing for thousands of students.
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