13
Jul 2011

Silly rabbit, the Khan Academy isn’t just for kids

POSTED BY: S. DOMAGAL-GOLDMAN
 

If you haven’t checked out the Khan Academy before, you should. The story of its founding, and explanation of what it is goes like this: a calm, nice, whiz mathematician working at a hedge fund is tutoring some cousins, and decides to make some YouTube videos to help them out…. which then go viral because he’s really, really good at explaining things. So he keeps making videos, and they keep helping people learn math. Before you know it, he has a whole website built around the concept, including unique lesson plans, and tools for teachers to monitor students’ progress.

I had heard stories about the Khan Academy on NPR and a few other places. The other night, I finally decided to check it out. I loved it, and not just from a “one size fits one” is the future of education standpoint. I loved it… because it helped me learn new things. The site has expanded tremendously, and includes lessons and problem sets on everything from counting through Green’s theorem, and from python programming to economics to organic chemistry to history to the Drake equation(!). Now I’ve never taken organic chemistry, and have at times been confused by some of its terminology at astrobiology meetings, so I decided to watch a few lessons on the topic while doing some coding. I’ve picked things up pretty quickly, despite multitasking during the lessons… and I am very confident that I will have a good “generalists” fill-in of what used to be a gap in my knowledge-base.

The site has many advantages for doing things like this. I can do other things while watching the lesson. If my work or the lesson becomes too mentally demanding to multi-task, I can pause one thing or the other, or repeat the section of the video I missed. Likewise, I can skip ahead through the sections of the video that are going too slow for me. I also won’t have to be embarrassed by asking an expert about organic chemistry (or whatever else I don’t know). It’s just me and my computer, learning at whatever pace I want.

I think this is how I’m going to learn a lot more science, and fill in gaps in my knowledge base that currently exist. There are limits to what is posted on the Academy’s website, but keep a few things in mind:

1.) the site is continually expanding,

2.) this will almost certainly not be the only cite of its kind 3 years from now, and…

3.) there’s a good argument to be made for astrobiologists putting a site like this together ourselves. (Although that’s a topic for another day…. or year. The Primer is plenty of work for now!!!!)

But there’s lots to learn there. I hope you check it out, and know it’s helped me learn a lot already.

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