Learning using Khan Academy

Learning using Khan Academy

Jeff Mitchell

Learning is a key theme of this blog. To date I have focused on coaching and coach development. In this article I want to show how learning concepts can be applied to learning any topic – in this case algebra and computer programming. I will do this by discussing Khan Academy.

I have been interested in computers ever since my parents brought home a Commodore 64 in the mid ’80’s. Playing games on this was how I spent most of my time, however, I also started to teach myself how to programme using BASIC, from the manual that came with the computer. The programmes I wrote were certainly basic – mostly text-based adventure games – but even at this early age I really enjoyed learning to programme.

After the C64 we upgraded to an Amiga 500. Unfortunately, while there were some awesome games on this computer, it did not come with any ability to write programmes. So my fledgling programming career came to an abrupt end around the age of 12. Over the years I dabbled briefly with learning programming out of a PC Magazine, but waiting a month to get the next bit of code caused my progress to be very slow, and my motivation to peter out.

Fast-forward to 2014 and I have decided to have another go at learning programming. This is partly as a hobby and partly to develop a marketable skill. Mostly it is to do something that I enjoy and that challenges me to learn. After looking around for a while I decided to try learning Python by working through a couple of books and a course on Udacity (it was free then).

I did this for a while and learnt a bit, but as work got busy and other things cropped up (including jaunts to Singapore and Europe), the study fell by the wayside. One thing with programming, (like a lot of other skills), is that as you are learning it you need to practice it regularly. Otherwise, your skills quickly erode and you forget how to do what you have learnt. And so I found that I was struggling to do enough to maintain what I was learning. I also realised that my grasp of mathematics (now over 15 years old) was holding me back from writing proper code and managing to solve problems. So it was time to do something about it.

I decided that for me the best approach was to enroll in some study. This would provide me with regular contact and deadlines, and also help me to learn in a logical progression. One of the benefits of formal study is that they break the subject matter down into foundation topics and build on these. It can be difficult to know where to start and what is important to learn when you are new to a field. So I enrolled in a Graduate Diploma in Computing through Unitec.

Knowing that I needed to brush up my mathematics skills prior to starting the course, I looked around for a way to do this online. This is where Khan Academy comes in. I found the site and started working through the algebra courses to help improve my understanding. I was quickly impressed by the site, which uses a number of effective techniques to increase learning. Many of these techniques have been covered in our Learning Edge series of articles. Some of the features that I really like about the site include:

  • It makes learning simple through a combination of short video explanations, worked examples, problems to solve and hints to help you if you get stuck.
  • It is delivered in bite-sized chunks making it easier to tackle and less intimidating, allowing you to progress at your own pace.
  • It allows you to track your progress through badges and completion percentages, which increase your motivation.
  • It is structured so that you practice a concept several times before being declared to have ‘mastered’ it.
  • The Mastery Challenges allow you to test your understanding and identify those concepts that you have a good handle on.
  • You are able to ask questions in the forums on each page and to also provide feedback on others work (such as with the JavaScript tutorials).

I will continue to use Khan Academy to support my learning of algebra and computer programming. The website is free and recently completed its 3 billionth problem, so it has a growing community of users. I highly recommend that you check it out and if you have any suggestions of other resources for increasing your learning that you note them in the comments.


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