June 1, 2016

Khan Academy – effective science video instruction?

Posted by Laura Guertin

Last week, I blogged about TED, a collection of videos that promotes “ideas worth spreading” (see blog post). This week, I’m exploring another set of online videos with the main goal of instruction. Welcome to Khan Academy (https://www.khanacademy.org/).

Khan Academy’s mission is “to provide a free, world‑class education for anyone, anywhere.” This collection of instructional videos and practice exercises ranges from math to music, and includes Earth science (included under their category heading for Cosmology and astronomy). The founder of Khan Academy, Salman Khan, was a TED talk about using videos for education. I have included his video here.


As with any educational technology tool, there are supporters and critics. Shiva Bhaskar blogs that, “Khan Academy holds considerable value as a supplement to classroom instruction, when applied to a subject one is already somewhat familiar with…” and “when it comes to non-math topics…Khan Academy isn’t quite so useful.”

Derek Muller completed his dissertation on “Designing Effective Multimedia for Physics Education” and produced a Khan-style video to discuss his thoughts and findings on learning science through video. I encourage you to view this 8-minute video.

If you don’t have time for Muller’s video, here is the summary from his YouTube page description (the emphasis is mine):

It is a common view that “if only someone could break this down and explain it clearly enough, more students would understand.” Khan Academy is a great example of this approach with its clear, concise videos on science. However it is debatable whether they really work. Research has shown that these types of videos may be positively received by students. They feel like they are learning and become more confident in their answers, but tests reveal they haven’t learned anything. The apparent reason for the discrepancy is misconceptions. Students have existing ideas about scientific phenomena before viewing a video. If the video presents scientific concepts in a clear, well illustrated way, students believe they are learning but they do not engage with the media on a deep enough level to realize that what was is presented differs from their prior knowledge. There is hope, however. Presenting students’ common misconceptions in a video alongside the scientific concepts has been shown to increase learning by increasing the amount of mental effort students expend while watching it. — Muller (posted in 2011)


In the end, some would agree with Bhaskar’s assessment: “there is no replacement for impactful, interactive classroom and afterschool instruction, which allows students to obtain the personalized guidance that is so critical to truly understanding a subject.” I encourage Earth scientists to take a look at the videos in Khan Academy that are being used to teach students Earth science, as these videos are what our future students are watching and learning from before they get to our classrooms.