Khan Academy’s school of thought on iPad app development

Jan 29, 2015
Tech

Many of us associate Khan Academy purely with the pioneering educational videos that can be accessed for free online and via YouTube and other platforms. While the nonprofit organization does have a library of more than 5,000 video tutorials that cover math, science and other subjects, it also offers more than 150,000 interactive lessons, which are mostly math-oriented and aligned to Common Core State Standards.

Many of us associate Khan Academy purely with the pioneering educational videos that can be accessed for free online and via YouTube and other platforms. While the nonprofit organization does have a library of more than 5,000 video tutorials that cover math, science and other subjects, it also offers more than 150,000 interactive lessons, which are mostly math-oriented and aligned to Common Core State Standards.

So when Khan Academy came out with its first comprehensive iPad/iOS app overhaul last week (the app initially debuted in 2012), much of this interactive content was literally featured front and center.

There is a lot to love about this free application, which includes virtually all of Khan Academy’s educational library. Like the previous version, content is organized by subject (Math, Science, Economics, etc.), and each video includes scrolling time-stamped transcripts that allow users to navigate videos by particular passages. This remains a really useful feature.

The categorization of subjects showcased in the app is clear and intuitive. Math, which is taught more than any other subject, is organized by Early Math, and then by United States grade-levels from 3-8. High School level and beyond math instruction from Algebra through Multivariable Calculus and Differential Equations are given their own sections.

Topics within the fields of Science (biology, physics, chemistry, etc.), Economics and Finance, Arts and Humanities and Standardized Test prep are similarly displayed. There is also a section for select partner content from organizations including The Brookings Institution, NASA, and even LeBron James.

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From an interface perspective, the biggest breakthrough of the remodeled app is how quickly and efficiently it points users to their desired lessons.

“The old app took you five to six steps to drill down,” said Khan Academy’s product manager Matt Wahl. “We wanted to bring that up. With the new app, all of our content is two taps away.”

Users hoping to access this new interface on alternate devices will have to wait, however, as Khan’s only mobile application to date is exclusive to the iOS devices. Wahl was non-committal when asked about customizing versions for Android and other lower-cost devices.

“We don’t have anything to announce at this time,” he said. “But our mission is to provide a free world class education.”

So for those unable to pony up a for an iDevice, Khan’s entire content library that is not multi-touch in nature remains online at KhanAcademy.org, and videos are also easily accessible via YouTube.

“YouTube is a great starting place”, Wahl said, adding that its purpose is to ultimately drive users to the Khan Academy site and application to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the concepts that are taught.”

Wahl, who is personally a fan of educational YouTube channels including The Art of Problem Solving (“it sits at the intersection of intuition and magnetism”) and Crash Course, worked with a core team of 10 to build the new iPad app, but added that its creation “touched all corners” of the 80-person organization.

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Brad Spirrison

Brad Spirrison is the managing editor of appoLearning and Appolicious Inc. In this capacity, he has sampled and evaluated thousands of iOS and Android applications. He also holds an M.A. in Education and Media Ecology from New York University.

Spirrison worked in concert with appoLearning Expert and Instructional Technology Specialist Leslie Morris while curating and evaluating educational applications.

A longtime media and technology commentator and executive, Spirrison is also a regular contributor to ABC News, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Bloomberg West and The Christopher Gabriel Program.

Spirrison is married and lives with his wife and young son in Chicago. As his son was born just weeks before the debut of the iPad, Spirrison takes his work home with him and regularly samples and enjoys a variety of educational applications for young children.

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