Some thoughts about online coursework platforms:

I’ve been taking some courses on Coursera this summer, and sometimes I (shamelessly) refer back to college intro coursework videos from Khan Academy(KA). I’ve also tried KA alone, not so long ago. Maybe it’s because the way I’m used to learning material is in units of entire, semester-long courses, but KA is confusing because of two reasons.

(1) It doesn’t provide an organized syllabus (like one any good college course would provide), or a “map” of where we are in the journey. To be fair, it rigorously keeps track of your progress so far, but in my mind, this is like trekking through Europe without a map and only two things: a device that shows a list of the cities you’ve been to so far, and a compass that shows you where the next village is.

(2) More importantly, KA doesn’t have lecture notes or textbook-like material (the latter preferable). If I want to go back and see what “reduced row echelon form” is through purely KA material, I need to locate the exact video that explains that part — which involves some browsing — and then actually watch that 5 minute-long video. This is not an optimal way of referring back to previous material, primarily because most of us have limited attention span and a very poor short-term memory, meaning that 5~10 minutes of browsing KA videos will disconnect us from/make us forget what we were learning/solving in the first place. The search function we can use for digital lecture notes (or any sort of digital document, for that matter) is a powerful one, and lacking this, I am better off looking at Wikipedia than searching for Khan. This scatters my attention across several platforms, and is confusing and inconvenient.

All of the Coursera courses I’ve taken have carefully planned syllabuses, lecture notes in pdf/powerpoint form, and reference to some sort of textbook. It would be ideal for the purpose of these platforms if these textbooks could be available online for free, but that is probably not feasible at this time.

(I’m going to try to send this to Salman Kahn, the founder of KA.)


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