WHAT: Khan Academy is a non-profit educational organization created in 2006 by educator Salman Khan to provide "a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere." Its website features thousands of educational resources, including a personalized learning dashboard, over 100,000 practice problems, and over 6,000 micro lectures via video tutorials stored on YouTube teaching mathematics, history, healthcare, medicine, finance, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, cosmology, American civics, art history, economics, and computer science. All resources are available for free to anyone around the world. Khan Academy reaches about 10 million students per month and has delivered over 440 million lessons.
WHO: Anyone can use Khan Academy, and you don't even have to sign up, although there are some benefits to creating a username and password. For starters, the site will remember which videos you've watched, reward you with badges for making progress, and help you track your learning. Additionally, it can point you toward practice exercises that test your knowledge of things you've learned.
Enrolled users can also access a "coaching" feature. Coaches are guides for learners, whether a parent, teacher, tutor, or study buddy. A coach can see a learner's progress and suggest other lessons the learner should watch. Coaches and learners must mutually agree to the relationship, so there's no worry that some unknown person will be able to see what you're learning.
Another neat feature is goal-setting, although it's still in beta. Both learners and coaches can set up goals for a learner, such as watch five consecutive videos or learn five new skills. Establishing custom goals, however, is by far the most interesting option, not because of the goals themselves (you basically just pick specific videos or video series you want to complete), but due to the way the selections are displayed. The possible options look like stars on a star map, with lines drawn between them to show relationships, giving you greater visibility into how subjects connect. For example, the mathematical topic "variance" branches down into "standard deviation" and "exploring standard deviation," which also both connect to two more topics: "Z scores" and "empirical rule." You can pan around the star map and zoom in and out to explore all the topics in a much more engaging way than scrolling through a bullet list. Because the goal feature is still in beta, custom goal content comprises math only. I can't wait for this area to expand.
Non-native English speakers and hard-of-hearing or deaf learners will be happy to know that you can turn on English transcriptions or subtitles with one click. Subtitles in other languages also appear, but their completeness and quality varies video to video and language to language—it's all supported by YouTube and Amara, which relies on crowd-sourced contributions to improve. And leveraging those existing technologies is the right approach to take, especially for a non-profit organization. It lets the people who run Khan Academy focus on what matters: content.
HOW: Students can make use of their extensive library of content, including interactive challenges, assessments, and videos from any computer with access to the web. All learning is online video based learning. What makes video-based learning unique is that the learner can go at his or her own pace, re-watch videos or pause them to think through an idea, and fit it in when it's most convenient. Khan Academy just gets it, keeping the actual videos frills-free and the material approachable. If you are a student, parent, or just a life-long learner, Khan Academy will become a household name. The site has been expanding rapidly, but
has shown vast improvements in the last year alone. Khan's content is phenomenal, and that is what matters.
WHAT IS TAUGHT: The subject matter taught at Khan Academy varies widely and is expanding all the time. When the site started, it focused on economics, math, and some of the sciences. But now you'll find prep material for standardized, art history courses, content to learn how to computer animation, as well as explanations of current affairs, like a thorough explanation of the Greek debt crisis or the Geithner Plan.
For the most part, the content is aimed at upper grade school and college-level students. But the beauty of free online learning is that anyone can attempt to learn, and indeed nothing restricts a user of any age or background from working through any of the material.