Online Education and Choice: Custom Tailored Learning

By Nathan Chang

More than an educational pedigree, curiosity and innovative entrepreneurship are the greatest skills that a person needs to cultivate in order to succeed. Today, the internet is making it easier than ever for an individual to obtain the knowledge they need to pursue their ends. Skillshare, Khan Academy, iTunesU, and the other initiatives that will be covered in the next post such as Udacity, Udemy, and MITx, are all attempting to move past the barriers to an education by making it more affordable and available outside of the traditional institutional restrictions. They are responding to demand and letting people take control of their futures and tailor their education to themselves.

Khan Academy
Khan Academy is one of the oldest and most important of the online education sites for several reasons. First, they are the largest and one of the oldest sites. Established in 2006, they have over 3000 videos on YouTube in a “microlecture” format in a variety of subjects from elementary math to organic chemistry and art history. Their goal is to make educational materials available for anyone of any age in any place.

Second, their testing model emphasizes learning at your own pace. You do practice exercises until you master the material then move on to the next concept. Further, the Khan Academy software allows you to track your progress and analyze your learning. This has been most helpful for teachers who have implemented Khan Academy videos in their classes. With the ability to track their students’ progress, they have “flipped the classroom” by moving instruction to homework (Khan Academy videos and exercises) and focusing on advanced techniques and filling in the gap in class.

Finally, it’s all available for free for anyone who wants it. If you want to hear more, their founder, Salman Khan has a TED talk where he shares about his experience with Khan Academy and the potential it has for classroom education. Also, gradhacker has a podcast and an introductory post about flipped classrooms in a university setting.

iTunes University
Apple’s latest contribution to education is their iBook textbooks for iPad. However, even before the iPad, Apple had iTunes University. iTunesU is a repository of materials, mostly videos of lectures, from universities and other educational institutions such as museums and even the Mises Institute. Through either iTunes or the new iPad app, a professor can make an entire course available with a wealth of integrated multimedia. Combining video, audio, lectures, documents, iBook textbooks, pdfs, web links, and more, you can transfer an entire course and make it available. iTunesU boasts over 500,000 lectures to date. With the addition of the iPad app, an entire college course at the university level can effectively be downloaded and taken with you anywhere.

Skillshare is not explicitly directed towards an academic audience and it isn’t really online. In fact, they are aimed at equipping people with what they need for work without a college education. With a tagline of “learn anything from anyone,” Skillshare’s ultimate goal is to provide an alternative to formal education and to harness the collective knowledge and comparative advantages of individuals in a community to teach each other. Anyone can teach a class on anything to local people who are interested in learning what they have to teach them.

Although Skillshare doesn’t fit in with the other sites we have looked at, they offer a model of alternative education that is part of the broader movement away from traditional higher education and increased personal choice. The reality of increasing student debt and unemployment brings into serious question the value of a college degree while more people are realizing that a diploma is not equal to an education. Skillshare seeks to fill in the void left by these two realities.

This is the second post in an ongoing series: What is Online Education and What Does it Mean for the Future of Academia? Part 1 can be found here