Students often learn in the classroom, but online learning is taking on new dimensions, and Khan Academy has been at the forefront.

Since Sal Khan founded it in 2008, Khan Academy has been a non-profit organization focused on educating students aged 2-18. It’s grown considerably since then, covering subjects like math, science, arts, humanities, computing, economics and more. Rather than disparate parts, the subjects are made up of courses students can wade through to learn more about any of those subjects.

Being online also means that learning is interactive and mobile. Start a course on a web browser and follow up on a smartphone or tablet. That you can use it for free and utilize it as an additional supplement to school is all the more intriguing for students and teachers, alike.

What Khan Academy offers

Sal Khan started it all pretty inauspiciously by tutoring his cousin in math using a virtual blackboard. He posted the videos to YouTube, where he became something of an academic sensation. He soon quit his job as a financial analyst and has devoted his time to the platform ever since.

It’s important to note Khan Academy orients itself towards the U.S. education system. That means some features or subjects may not jive with what Canadian or other foreign schools might have in their respective curriculums. It may come across in different ways, be it what kind of math or science these online courses teach at certain grade levels, or whether arts and humanities have a decidedly American perspective.

Either way, there’s no harm in browsing through what’s available, as most of the content is easy enough to access. The platform is still strongest in all things numbers, like math, economics and finance, but continues to bone up on arts, sciences and computing. There are reading lessons from kindergarten to grade 9, plus separate ones for grammar and vocabulary.

These are complete courses, so it is a commitment to go through them, though you’re not obligated to. Start from scratch and you see how the course progresses from one lesson to another. As a non-U.S. student, you don’t get any credit for finishing a high school course with Khan Academy.

The “Mastery System” serves as a sort of alternative to a mark or grade by gamifying it through accumulating points. Quizzes and challenges come up to test knowledge along the way, with a total showing how much you’ve leveled up with skills throughout. The incentive is to score higher, much like a video game does.

Learning how to code

While STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects form the crux of Khan Academy, coding is where there’s room to do more. If you have zero knowledge on coding, or how to do it, the introductory courses are good starting points. It offers lessons on HTML, CSS, JavaScript, SQL, web design, cryptography and algorithms, among others.

Some of the lessons are at a college level, which is great for high schoolers wanting to try them out. From programming to data security and simulations, there’s good stuff to look at, even if the tools aren’t as extensive as what other specialized platforms might offer. The difference is these courses are free, making access equal for anyone who can get online, regardless of socio-economic status.

For students looking to get into engineering, or wanting to get a head start in coding at a younger age, it could be a good springboard. There are no textbooks to buy, or online assets to purchase. And since you can do it at your own pace on your own time, there’s no real pressure.

Some of the courses have a fun side to them. “Pixar in a Box” looks at how Pixar artists do their work, with lessons on how to develop simple animations. Disney sponsors the course, so it’s not without its biases, but the gist is that you get a foot in the door on bringing images to life onscreen.

What’s missing from Khan Academy

As deep and comprehensive as Khan Academy is, it doesn’t offer language lessons, unfortunately. That would be really cool to see, but instead, the only language element within the platform is that students and teachers who speak other languages can access the tools in their native tongue. It supports dozens of languages at various stages of site development.

The coding courses are largely preliminary and entry-level, rather than anything that dives deep. For that, you’ll need to pursue other platforms, like Codeacademy, to go into more instructive and comprehensive lessons.

It also doesn’t have the kind of tutelage and mentorship something like MasterClass has, where celebrities and experts share their knowledge and experiences in a learning environment. Of course, those platforms do cost money to unlock the content, so you do have to consider that.

Khan Academy has a better tack on lessons for younger kids. As an online learning portal for youngsters in elementary and middle school, it presents everything well.

Is it worth it?

The COVID-19 pandemic foisted home schooling on unprepared parents, and that’s why Khan Academy stands out as a facilitator. As a totally free resource, you don’t even have to sign up for an account to access courses and lessons. If you do, however, you can track progress much easier. Parents and teachers who join and have access to a student’s progress can also assign lessons and challenges to them.

The mobile app is also a nice extension of it all. There are over 10,000 videos and exercises available, with plenty more interactive pieces to help finish assignments or cram for an exam. You don’t need to be online at all times to work on lessons, as Khan Academy lets users download content for offline learning, too. Plus, there’s even an app aimed at younger children called Khan Academy Kids.

It would be overstating things to suggest that Khan Academy is an alternative to attending school. That wasn’t the platform’s intention, especially for kids who live in more affluent countries. But it does serve well as a complement to an existing curriculum, helping challenge kids to learn more at earlier ages. Investing in a child’s education is one of the most worthwhile, and it’s nice that you can contribute to that with a platform that doesn’t cost a dime.

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