Khan Academy: educational video done right

This TED talk, by the guy behind Khan Academy, is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while.  The basic concept is just educational videos… over 2,000 short lectures, all done in smooth but DIY style by Salman Khan.  His non-profit is now going from videos to an educational system built around videos.

That by itself is nothing revolutionary, but what’s inspiring is all the little things they get right.  The result is what seems to me like the first credible implementation for computers and the web really fundamentally changing the way we do primary and secondary education.

One of the big ideas is to flip the classroom/homework dynamic: students watch lectures at home, at their own pace, and spend class-time working problems and discussing the curriculum with peers and the teacher.  As Khan puts it, the basic lecture concept is “a fundamentally dehumanizing experience: thirty kids with their fingers on their lips, not allowed to interact with each other”.  And ironically, replacing live lectures with videos has the potential to humanize the educational system.

What’s really exciting, though, is the non-video components that Khan Academy is developing right now.  The curriculum is based on proving your proficiency in elementary topics before moving on to advanced ones that depend on what you already know.  And they are doing great things with video game mechanics: skill tree (similar to the tech trees of strategy games like Civilization; it hooked me right away), badges, tracking tools for teachers.

In short, I see a lot of inspiration for how Wikimedia projects should do things with video and interactive content.  Khan Academy has made a compelling system in a short time with just a handful of programmers, showing pretty clearly that great things along these lines could be within Wikimedia’s reach as well.  Sadly, what Khan’s team is designing isn’t open source, and the videos are CC-BY-NY-SA, a license incompatible with Wikimedia projects.