Showcase Post: My Reflections on Khan Academy’s Strengths and Weaknesses


Sal Khan, image from

Last summer, I wrote the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). MCAT scores are used in the medical school application process across North America. The test covers a multitude of subjects from biochemistry and biology to sociology and reading comprehension. To study for this standardized test, I used a wide range of resources including online videos, in-class lessons, and plenty of textbooks. Out of all the resources I used, Khan Academy was the most useful. Khan Academy has a series of videos specifically designed to prepare students for the MCAT.  All Khan Academy content is available to learners 100% free of charge, thus making it an open and distributed platform for all learners. The creator, Sal Khan manages to teach complicated lessons in brief, animated videos. According to one article by Clive Thompson, Khan Academy is “changing the rules of education” (Thompson, 2011). Khan Academy videos have many strengths and I can attest to their efficacy. However, through EDCI339, I have learned about the boundless possibilities of online open and distributed education. Because of this recently acquired knowledge, I now understand Khan Academy’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of EDCI339 topics including effective practices in distributed and open learning, the role of technology in education, and inclusive learning design. We explored these topics during weeks six, nine, and ten, respectively.


Khan Academy’s strengths include clear and concise video communication, interactive content and media richness. While reading about effective practices in EDCI339, I learned about the forms of communication and interaction. Clear communication is the foundation of effective education (Warren & Wakefield, 2012). According to the Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions (LTCA) theory, strategic communicative actions occur when concrete knowledge is transferred to the learner (Warren & Wakefield, 2012). Within the context of Khan Academy, these communicative actions occur mainly through student-content interaction as learners watch the educational videos. Khan Academy also offers student-interface interaction with their interactive gaming option. Users can collect points by answering practice questions. According to one report by Lorenzo and Moore, this shift from passive content consumption to active learner engagement is a key pillar of successful online education (Lorenzo & Moore, 2002). In my opinion, my learning was enhanced most by the media richness used in Khan Academy videos. The videos use simple drawings and colour-coded detail. The corresponding audio stimulates the learner’s ear with additional information. By combining clear visual and auditory information, Sal creates an immersive learning experience that effectively teaches complicated topics in ten minutes or less. In 2011, Sal Khan performed a TED Talk on the power of video as an educational tool. The video is embedded below:


Within the scope of effective practices and the role of technology in education, Khan Academy is limited by its lack of communicative media, synchronous learning, and humanized delivery. Khan Academy relies solely on broadcast media; the videos transfer knowledge to the learner, but the learner cannot communicate with Sal or any of the other tutors. As a result, I had no opportunity to ask questions or receive personalized guidance from the Khan Academy team. My experience with Khan Academy was entirely asynchronous since Sal’s team does not offer live streaming, online office hours or video chats. Given the unidirectional communication and lack of synchronous interaction, my learning experience did not feel “humanized.” According to one study by Dr. Rebecca Cox-Davenport, humanization is a crucial step in enhancing online learning by establishing a social presence as an educator (Cox-Davenport, 2013). To be fair to Sal, these weaknesses are excusable given Khan Academy’s global reach; thorough student-teacher communication, synchronous interaction, and humanized connection are unrealistic with millions of learners. Personally, when I was studying for the MCAT, Khan Academy was exactly what I needed. The online videos allowed me to enrich my learning experience as I read textbooks and attended MCAT review classes.

Image from

Khan Academy met my needs as I studied for the MCAT. However, many learners have unique needs that may not be met by traditional online educational platforms. In EDCI339, we recently studied inclusive learning design. With my new insight, I recognize accessibility as Khan academy’s most significant drawback. By exploring and the FLOE Project Design Handbook, I recently learned about online educational platforms that use a one-size-fits-one model. FLOE resources offer user interface options so users can customize the text style, text size, line spacing, and visible contrast. Users can also add a table of contents to each page or enhance the inputs. A screenshot of these user interface options is included above. Inspired by FLOE’s philosophies, I decided to do my own research on Khan Academy’s accessibility customization options. However, the Khan Academy website does not offer these user interface options. According to the FLOE page about accessible video learning, a truly accessible video platform must offer the following options:  purely visual experiences for the hearing impaired, purely auditory experiences for the vision impaired, and language localization for learners who speak other languages (Treviranus, Mitchell, & Clark, n.d.). Khan academy successfully fulfilled approximately one and a half of these criteria. To achieve a purely visual learning experience, Khan academy offers subtitles and transcripts for all videos. However, a purely auditory experience is simply not an option. According to Khan Academy’s page on accessibility, learners with low vision have the option to use a reduce-motion feature if they are sensitive to animation. Alternatively, learners can view the videos in black and white or “hide visually-dependent content” (Khan Academy, 2020). Intrigued, I decided to investigate how Khan Academy teaches without visually-dependent content. I adjusted my settings accordingly and re-saved my profile to change my learning experience. However, there was no noticeable difference. The videos were still presented in the same fashion and quickly, I noticed accessibility barriers. To illustrate these barriers, I have included a screen shot below.

Image from

Here, Sal is teaching a chemistry concept by first describing elemental trends in the periodic table. He draws a black circle on the left side of the table, then another black circle on the right side of the table. He says “these are electropositive, these are electronegative.”  However, the periodic table and circles are clear examples of visually-dependent content; a learner with impaired vision won’t understand what elements “these” refers to. For learners with a vision impairment, Khan Academy is not accessible unless they have external software that provides described video. As for language localization, Khan Academy offers limited options. The video featured above had subtitles offered in English, Korean, Portuguese, Thai, Bulgarian, and Czech. I applaud the Khan Academy team for extending their scope beyond English speakers. However, six languages is a relatively limited selection. I would like to pose the following question to the Khan Academy team: how can you upgrade your platform to be more accessible for all learners? I wonder what would be achieved if FLOE and Khan Academy formed a partnership.

A question for Khan Academy: How can you upgrade your platform to be more accessible for all learners?


Despite these gaps in accessibility, I have the utmost respect for Sal Khan and all that he has achieved. Next month, I will graduate from university with a chemistry degree. Over the years, I have met hundreds of other learners who have used Khan Academy to enhance their understanding in subjects spanning from the elementary school curriculum to university courses. Sal’s signature black background and colourful diagrams have become a staple of online education for my generation. Best of all, Khan Academy is open, distributed, and 100% free of charge.

Featured image attribution: The featured image for this post is from


Cox-Davenport, R. A. (2013). A Grounded Theory of Faculty’s Use of Humanization to Create Online Course Climate. Journal of Holistic Nursing32(1), 16–24. doi: 10.1177/0898010113499201

Khan Academy. (2020, January). How does Khan Academy make our content more accessible? Retrieved March 21, 2020, from

Lorenzo, G., & Moore, J. (2002). The Sloan Consortium Report to the Nation: Five Pillars Of Quality Online Education. The Sloane Consortium. Retrieved from

Thompson, C. (2011, July 15). How Khan Academy Is Changing the Rules of Education. Retrieved March 20, 2020, from

Treviranus, J., Mitchell, J., & Clark, C. (n.d.). Floe Project: Inclusive Learning Design Handbook. Retrieved March 20, 2020, from

Warren, S. J., & Wakefield, J. S. (2012). Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions. Cases on Educational Technology Implementation for Facilitating Learning, 193–213. doi: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3676-7.ch012

Reflection #4: FLOE Project

This week and last in EDCI339, we investigated FLOE Inclusive Learning Design Handbook and FLOE stands for “Flexible Learning for Online Education.” FLOE works with learners, educators, and curriculum developers to enable and cultivate adaptable learning using open educational resources (OER). While exploring these readings and platforms, three concepts resonated with me more than the others: the one-size-fits-one approach, FLOE’s diverse scope of targeted learners, and the societal impact of enabling accessible learning.

The one-size-fits-one approach is described on both web-pages. This approach honours learners’ diverse and unique needs by using flexible designs that allow for individual customization. I believe this is important because customization enables learners to adapt their learning experience to fit their circumstances and preferences.  The scatter plot to the right depicts the distribution of learners’ needs where the majority’s needs are concentrated in the center, while other learners have needs that are on the periphery. Members of this minority benefit

Image from the FLOE Inclusive Learning Design Handbook accessed at

from adapted designs. I have personal experience working with individuals who face challenges including deafness, sight impairment, and learning disabilities. Traditional teaching methods often do not allow these individuals to reach their full potential. Sometimes, a simple customization like increasing the contrast of an image can help the learner to understand the lesson. I believe that the one-size-fits-one approach is a step towards alleviating these challenges in education. In my opinion, this principle is the foundation of other concepts described in the FLOE handbook including inclusive design, accessibility principles, and accessible standardized testing.

According to the introduction of the FLOE Inclusive Learning Design Handbook, the proposed strategies are applicable when educating “preschoolers, graduate curriculum or life long learning resources.” Although the one-size-fits-one approach focuses on the individual, FLOE’s scope focuses on universality; regardless of age, education level, or curriculum, all learners can benefit from accessible and personalized learning. I appreciate FLOE including this statement in the handbook because I believe that modern education does put enough emphasis on accessible learning at all ages. Fortunately, research suggests

Photo by bantersnaps on Unsplash.

elementary school educators are increasingly using teaching methods that accommodate students with special needs. However, based on my own experiences, it seems equity is not prioritized to the same degree in post-secondary education. Perhaps, educators assume that adult learners have “figured it out by now.” I believe learners deserve accommodation throughout every academic stage. With this accommodation, more learners can reach their full potential as they pursue lifelong learning.

The FLOE handbook also addresses the question, “Why is this important?” FLOE authors state that a society’s prosperity depends on equal access to education. When learners have limited access to effective education, their future employment opportunities and earning potential may be hindered. This contributes to socioeconomic disparities and in extreme cases, may lead to poor literacy. I believe this is an important consideration because literacy is crucial when navigating public systems such as the healthcare, political, and legal systems. The video below explains the relationship between access to education and socioeconomic inequality in the United States. Even in Canada, equal access is crucial when considering post-secondary education and the role it plays in economic equality. With accessible open education, learners acquire the knowledge they need to gain employment, alleviate socioeconomic disparities, and operate in our ever-changing society.

Video made by The Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University and accessed at


While exploring the FLOE resources and information, I found two concepts difficult to understand. First, I am struggling to visualize implementation of EPUB  as a FLOE technique. The “Techniques” page describes EPUB as an open ebook format used in open online academic settings. However, there are no images or videos to help the reader visualize this technique. Secondly, at the bottom of all handbook pages, there is an option to “Edit this Page on GitHub.” I am confused about how this editing function is regulated, edited, and proofread by the administrators. Although the web-page describes the benefit of collaborative creation, the authors do not describe how to implement this system in a sustainable and realistic fashion. Since both these topics of confusion relate to implementation, I would like to pose the following question: what are the best examples of real OERs that have successfully implemented FLOE’s universal design strategies? The FLOE website and handbook describe their strategies conceptually. However, by interacting with online examples, I would gain a deeper understanding of how these strategies are implemented in a way that benefits learners everywhere.

What are the best examples of real OERs that have successfully implemented FLOE’s universal design strategies?

Featured Image Attribution

The featured image is from


Reflection #3: My Most Memorable Online Learning Experience

Last summer, I wrote the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). It’s a standardized test that is used in the admissions process for medical schools across North America. To study for this test, I used many different resources including online videos, in-class lessons, and textbooks. I found that the online Khan Academy videos were by far the most useful. Khan Academy has a series of videos specifically for the MCAT. If you would like to view the Youtube channel with these videos, please click here. The creator, Sal Khan, manages to present complicated topics by breaking them down into digestible lessons. These lessons are presented in free online videos, which are usually ten minutes long or less.

A few weeks ago, we read about effective practices in online learning. This chapter discussed types of communication, planning for flexibility, humanizing online learning, synchronousity, student issues, and grading. A few of these concepts do not apply to my MCAT online learning experience. Even though Khan Academy is a respected educational platform, it not a formal MOOC. Because of this, Sal does not have to plan the curriculum with flexibility in mind, nor is he directly involved in students’ issues or grades. The platform is asynchronous since there is no “live” component. However, I enjoyed this quality because it allowed me to study the material on my own schedule while cross-referencing the information with my textbooks. As I was watching these videos, I was benefiting from student-content communication since I was independently watching an educational video. Even though I never directly interacted with Sal, I still felt like his videos were “humanized”; he narrates the videos and records the visuals as he draws diagrams on the screen. Sometimes he makes mistakes or quickly changes his mind about how to present the information. In these cases, he casually apologizes, erases his mistake, and starts again. These moments give the videos a feeling of authenticity and human interaction. They add an element of student-teacher communication even if the communication is unidirectional. Sal’s personal touches helped me feel more comfortable and engaged with the learning experience. Below is a typical screen shot of a Khan Academy video including a detailed and labeled diagram.

“Sal’s personal touches helped me feel more comfortable and engaged with the learning experience”


More recently, we read a chapter about comparing technology and media using factors such as the SAMR model, media richness, and communicative/broadcast media. The SAMR model describes media as having four potential roles in education: substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition. Although these affordances apply most directly to the role of media in formal education settings, I believe augmentation and redefinition still apply to Khan Academy. Khan Academy augmented my MCAT learning experience by using unique audiovisual videos. Sal started recording videos in 2004, when animated online learning was less common than it is now. By pioneering this style of live diagram-based educational videos, he redefined independent learning. As a prospective graduate in a science program, I can attest to his impact. I have met hundreds of other students who have also relied on Khan Academy as a study aid. Even though he uses a broadcast-based medium, his videos are effective because they are rich. His visuals are simple drawings using colour-coded detail. His audio enhances the learning experience by stimulating the learner’s ear with live information that corresponds to his drawings. By combining clear visual and auditory information, Sal creates an immersive learning experience that effective teaches a complicated topic in ten minutes or less. Overall, I am thankful for Khan Academy and all it has done for my generation of learners.

“I have met hundreds of other students who have also relied on Khan Academy as a study aid”

Example: Khan Academy Video, “Role of Sarcoplasmic Reticulum in Muscle Cells”


The images and video included in this post were accessed through the Khan Academy website and can be seen at


Reflection #2

What is the difference between online educational content and openly licensed educational content?

This week in EDCI339, we discussed open educational resources (OER). Now, we are able to understand the difference between online educational content and openly licensed educational content. The tutorial on OER featured a video entitled “What are open licenses and how do they work?” According to Nicole Allen, a woman in this video, educational resource are automatically copyrighted when they are created. The distinction between online educational content and openly licensed educational content is that the latter has an open license. This license enables the public to access the content for free. One of the most common open licenses is the Creative Commons Attribution license which states that anyone can use the content for free as along as proper and accurate attribution is given to the creator of the resource. This license makes access easy and allow the user to remix the works with other openly licenced works. Openly licenced educational content includes open educational resources (OER) and open courseware (OCW) if an open license is applied.  Online educational content is a broader category that includes open content and content with more limited access if the content is published online for educational purposes.

OER Evaluation

The OER I chose to evaluate is an online article about electronic orbitals that is published under and open license on I found this resource using the search procedure outlines in the tutorial. I chose this topic because I am a fourth-year chemistry student who has taken many courses concerning quantum mechanics and electronic phenomena in atoms.

Please click here to access this resource. I have used the evaluation guide on the tutorial to evaluate this resource. This guide is broken down into the following categories: relevance, accuracy, production quality, accessibility, interactivity, and licensing.

Relevance and accuracy: 3/4

The provide information is relevant and accurate without any spelling errors. However, the website does not specify whether the content has been peer-reviewed.

Production quality: 2/4

There are no multimedia features and the resource should include more pictures to compare different possible shapes of electron orbitals.

Accessibility: 1/2

This resource  is not available in alternate forms like pdf or doc. The transcript criterion does not apply since there are no videos or audio features.

Interactivity: 1/2

There is no quiz feature or interactive component. However, the information is broken down into headings such as “Key Points” and “Terms.” This means that it would be easy to create quiz questions based on these points and terms.

Licensing: 2/2

The license allows full access and modification.

Total: 9/14


How do I use OER in my life?

I often use OER to improve my academics. This occurs when I am studying for tests or doing research for assignments. For example, when I study for a chemistry exam, I rely mainly on the course textbook and my notes. However, sometimes I feel like I should clarify the concept with another resource. Occasionally, I feel like don’t have enough background knowledge to fully understand the course textbook. In these cases, OER are useful to help me fill the gaps and substantiate my understanding of the topic. Although I am not in an essay-based program, I have had to write a few papers. For these papers, OER can be useful references as I research the topic of the paper. In either case, having free access to accurate academic information allows me to take control of my education while continuing to learn about topics I care about most.

Attribution: The above image was made by BCOER  Librarians and was accesses through the tutorial “How to Evaluate Open Content”  and can by accessed through

Reflection #1

So far in EDCI339, we have explored a few concepts related to open and distributed learning. These concepts include instructor-centred versus student-centred learning, synchronous and asynchronous learning, and connectivism. To start, instructor-centred learning occurs when the binary between teacher and student is strictly defined; the prior is the sole “donor of knowledge” and the latter is the “receiver”. In student-centered learning, the student is encouraged to take the lead on their own learning and problem solving. The article suggests that “self-directed learning” should be emphasized as much as possible. This article is written specifically about the use of open learning in massive online, open courses (MOOCs), which presumably have a student body composed of late adolescents or adults. From a developmental perspective, I wonder if the preferred or emphasized learning model would shift for a younger audience. In certain contexts, when young students may not have the personal skills or experiences to direct their own learning, I wonder if instructor-centred is more effective. In either case, there are likely many factors to consider including the environment, class size, method of delivery (i.e., online or not) and subject being taught. As the article suggests, I agree that emphasizing independent learning is beneficial since it helps students develop their own problem-solving skills while giving them a chance to show initiative and growth.

Another dichotomy presented in the readings is that between synchronous and asynchronous learning. Synchronous learning occurs when students interact face to face. This can happen in person or by sharing online video chats. Asynchronous learning is more independent, where no physical or online space is shared in real time. I believe that both have advantages and disadvantages. As a fourth-year student who also works and volunteers, I appreciate the asynchronous approach taken by this course. It allows me to work more at my own pace (I say, as I write this reflection past the due date. I guess I’m a laggard today, unfortunately!). At this stage in my degree, I have had many experiences learning in synchronous classes where students gather regularly. In my experience, the synchronicity does not enhance my learning. In fact, almost all my learning occurs either before or after the class when I can work on my own. Also, synchronous learning experiences can be frustrating when group work is used and composes a major part of the overall course grade. As an extrovert and “people person,” I am not undermining the importance of working with others. However, when it comes to academic accomplishments and numerical grading schemes, I would rather rely on myself only.

Lastly, connectivism is defined in the first article as “networking with connections to gain knowledge or skills.” The second article emphasizes the role of chaos and entropy in learning; forming connections is a critical step for learning in “nebulous environments of shifting core elements.” I agree most strongly with the aspect of connectivism that emphasizes maintaining connections through which one can acquire unknown knowledge, instead of focusing on the knowledge itself. In this era, concrete, internalized knowledge is becoming obsolete as we continue to turn to Google to answer simple questions. Remembering factoids is less useful and impressive than it used to be. Now, the most valuable player is the player who can use connections to efficiently use and optimize the tools that are already available.

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