How the internet generation is changing the education landscape.

The race in technology advancement and our growing reliability on the internet has allowed pupils worldwide to expand their education base. Encouraging isolated learning and web exploration of this kind has become the norm in educational development, but websites such as khanacademy.org have taken this idea one gigantic step further.

Salman Khan, a former hedge fund analyst, created Khan Academy in 2006 after initially using YouTube as a place to share information while trying to explain different concepts to his cousins. Their glowing feedback has eventually led to Khan Academy becoming the highly accessible, one-stop learning shop that it is today. The vast collection of free narrated visual lessons on offer are mostly in maths, science and humanities, allowing the revolutionary website to live up to its slogan: “It is our mission to accelerate learning for all ages.”

Ever increasing in popularity, Khan Academy (KA) has reached out to millions of people and is even endorsed by the likes of Bill Gates who uses the “unbelievable” resource with his own children. In conjunction with Khan’s American voice-over, the visual aids breathe life into the otherwise static sources of information found online, adding the ability for pupils to leave comments and interact with their fellow KA users. In the interest of development, KA also provides test exercises and a “knowledge map” to guide you through your lessons and tests, with a service also allowing you to review your stats and monitor progress.

Recognising new media technology in education

While there is no doubt that KA’s virtual classroom methods would only stimulate and assist with individual-based learning and home schooling, is there room for the use of this new media education technology within the actual classroom and its teaching structure?

More and more studies are proving that educational development benefits from a varied learning diet both within the classroom environment and away from it. Although the current education system in Finland embraces this idea, online learning platforms like those of KA are yet to be thoroughly assessed and embedded into the structure on a wider scale.

As a result of class allocation, the unavoidable problem that some individuals do not respond to their teacher in the same manner as others is one of many that could be aided by media methods. Simple paraphrasing may be all that’s required for a concept to finally ‘click’ for a student, which is difficult to achieve when faced with an unchanged environment and teacher. KA can offer this alternative perspective and varied voice that could give these pupils the nudge and catalyst they need.

Developing equality

“This hybrid form of learning is better than either purely face-to-face instruction or purely relying on online resources,” explains Jouni Kangasniemi, Senior Advisor for the Development of Information Society for Education at Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture. “Today, students are more ready to seek and use additional resources for learning than that provided only in the classroom by the teacher.” Furthermore, Kangasniemi supports the idea that websites like KA “may help some students to better realise how they can learn on their own if they have difficulties in following the teaching provided by their own teacher.”

The most common problem arising from class division is that of varied speeds of development, and resources similar to KA ought to also be considered in the battle to deal with this. “One of the well known strengths of the Finnish education system is that it promotes equal opportunities for all learners,” Kangasniemi continues. “For some learners this means more individualised exercises and for others additional tutoring.”

It is inevitable that, within a group of twenty or so pupils, a handful of slower achieving individuals will manifest and prove a challenging balancing act for the teacher. With use of the relevant level KA videos the needs of these individuals can be successfully catered for alongside the more advanced learners, potentially taking away the embarrassment for slower developers, which in some cases leads to an unhealthy resistance to education.

This pause and rewind format would benefit pupils at many development stages and KA encourages teachers to integrate the online lessons into their methods by empowering them to keep track of their students’ progress on the site. With this in mind, should teachers be adopting this process and making their own lessons available to their students online, as well as in the classroom?

Since the mid-1990s the use of information and communication technologies has been promoted in education in Finland. According to Kangasniemi, the idea that teachers could enrich lessons in this way is already a reality in some Finnish schools, with many schools using different learning platforms to extend their classes into the virtual world and promote collaboration between the learners. “Schools just need to have to have a strong motivation to do so,” he adds.

The teachers’ perspective

Khan Academy by numbers
• Received the 2009 Microsoft
Tech Award for education.
• Hosts over 2,600 video lectures.
• 207 practice exercises available.
• 100 to 200 thousand
videos watched per day.
• Over 70 million lessons given
to date.

With some teachers seeing results from the practice of this technology already, there is a strong argument for its integration, but, nevertheless, conflicting issues are still arising. As teacher Angie Hämäläinen points out, while KA’s lessons are “clear and easy to follow, I don’t think they would be of help to someone having trouble with the underlying concepts.”

Many teachers would agree that the videos are not engaging enough to stimulate pupils into wanting more. “The main challenge for a teacher is to motivate the pupils,” observes professor Lauri Savioja. “To be really useful, the problems related to pupil motivation should be solved first.” Savioja goes on to raise the most obvious, yet most overlooked, issue: “From a Finnish point-of-view the main problem with Khan is the language,” rendering it inaccessible to those not fluent in English.

Though, regardless of the many arguments for and against the use of Khan Academy and other online learning portals, Kangasniemi offers some necessary perspective on the matter: “If it is helpful for learning, why not use it?”


Beth Morton