6 Reasons Why Online Video Learning Isn’t As Good As Face-to-Face…….It’s Better


There’s  been  a flurry of excitement recently over hedge-fund trader turned educator, Sal Khan. If you’re getting money from both Gates and Google, the chances are you’re doing something innovative. The Khan Academy (1 principal, 1 faculty) sets out to be the world’s free classroom. It does so through a growing collection (currently over 2000) of video tutorials in maths, science, history and economics, plus a cleverly structured series of exercises which the student can work through (in a game-like format) to check comprehension, and score points. Importantly you can do exercises in a non-sequential fashion, if you want to. (Educators regularly use ‘sequential’ as a marker for rigour, when it’s rarely how we ever learn in practice). Take a look at a typical tutorial in my favourite subject, algebra:

Why do I say it’s better than having in a teacher in the room giving explanations?

1. It’s true just-in-time learning. If you get stuck on a particular maths problem, you can go straight to the relevant video, when you need it, not when the teacher is able to get around to you.

2. You can go at your own speed. Students, listening to a teacher, invariably would rather pretend they understood what was being explained, than hold everyone else up, by asking the teacher to repeat something.

3. It makes learning less stressful. Students, even with the best teacher, can get pretty stressed, worrying if they’re going to be asked a question, or why they’re not getting it, or because other students are disctracting them. Here, it’s just Sal coming out of your headphones, and he’s never going to pick you out for questioning.

4. You can go at your own speed. Ever wish that you could rewind (or fast-forward) your classroom teacher? Well, here you can.

5. It’s truly personalised learning. 30 kids in a single class can be working on different parts of the syllabus. Their exercise progress can be seen at a glance.

6. You focus on the explanation, not the teacher. You don’t see Sal, but you can see the working on ‘the board’.(I speak as someone who spent their entire high school career too embarrassed to wear prescription glasses, pretending I could see what was being written on the board (and dutifully copied down by my fellow students). Can you imagine the needless energy you expend, bluffing like that for 5 years?

If you begin to connect the opportunities that such tutorials provide, with a ‘flipped’ pedagogy, you can start to see what a real 21st century classroom might look like. Kahn certainly presented a powerful argument for this in a recent interview.

Does this mean that online video learning does away with the need for teachers? Give it another 5-10 years, then the answer’s probably yes – but only as in the form that we’re forever casting them. A teacher as lecturer/expert may be superfluous, but teacher as mentor, guide (to the vast wealth of learning tools which are out there) will be worth their weight in gold. School as a 21st century learning commons, will need teachers who can design, connect and network, so that the social learning which should by now be pervasive (through blogging, YouTube and other forms of social media) but sadly is largely absent, or banned, in our classrooms, can be made purposeful, through students using the knowledge gained to solve real-world problems, in their own communities.

Chris Anderson recently put forward a powerful case for video learning. I’m sure the concept of flipping, or of teachers letting Sal Khan do the explanations, horrifies some teacher unions and many parents. They’d have an argument to mount – but only if they themselves hadn’t used online tutorials when they were trying out a new recipe, or struggling to get the back off their iPhone, or looking at any of the millions of ‘how-to’ vids. And I’m willing to bet they have, so why isn’t it good enough for their kids?

And any young teacher coming into the profession who won’t embrace these tools – and I’m surprised by the number I meet – preferring instead to ‘perform’ at the front of their class, should probably think about another career.

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9 Responses to 6 Reasons Why Online Video Learning Isn’t As Good As Face-to-Face…….It’s Better

  1. Alison Watson says:

    David – I absolutely agree where you’re coming from, but it’s easy for me to say. I’m a topographical surveyor, not a trained teacher, but finding myslef in the classroom more often than not. I am recording a series of training videos where kids teach kids, and it ABSOLUTELY works. An international conpany is supporting me also – they too see the light, not only for kids, but for their own staff. Grown ups, that is….!

  2. David Price says:

    Alison, thanks for commenting. Your work sounds like a great exemplification of powerful learning. I’d like to see it and talk to you about it. Would that be possible?

  3. unpopular says:

    Excellent, and I agree with just about all of it… however I think you might lose your bet about those teachers or parents who would be horrified ever having used on-line tutorials or “anyone of the million ‘how-to’ vids”. In a recent poll of teaching staff at my school only 26 of over 60 (you don’t need one of Sal’s vids to know that’s less than 50%!) said they used the internet to help them solve problems… And yes, that last paragraph is so true. It is indeed surprising the number of young teachers who don’t/won’t embrace these kinds of tools, but that’s something that makes me wonder just how ‘mainstream’ our ideas about technology use actually are. I maintain that the very power of networking that these technologies enables is causing ‘us’ to think that we are in, if not a majority opinion, at least of significant number. And I worry that in fact we are not…

  4. David Price says:

    Mr Unpopular (with such reasoned argument, that’s surely a mis-nomer):Your school shows a pretty shocking lack of awareness of social learning, but I think your hunch is probably correct. Because we find like-minded souls in the blogosphere and the Twitterverse, it’s easy to figure everyone else is thinking this way. I give lots of talks, and I’ve never yet had more than a 20% response to ‘how many of your schools allow access to YouTube/QuietTube/TeacherTube?’

  5. Leon Cych says:

    I think the real power of these – because they may lose their power over time with the law of diminishing returns – is the ability to get pupils to remodel or remix the concepts using their own media. Now that would be real personalisation. Only a very small percentage of teachers would use these I would think because they could get “samey” (sic) but within a broader truly personalised agenda I see this as a fantastic resource. What a lot of effort this has been and a fantastic resource. Excellent.

  6. David Price says:

    Agree, Leon. And we can’t forget that the Kahn Academy work because there’s a really good teaching method (pedagogy) at work. Video online learning is an incredibly powerful vehicle for teaching and learning, but content is still king.

  7. Salihuddin says:

    Like this : “School as a 21st century learning commons, will need teachers who can design, connect and network”But sadly, most our teacher today don’t have these skills yet.

  8. Julie Hunter says:

    Social learning=GREAT and proven. Watching a model teach as opposed to picking up concepts from paper=GREAT and proven. BUT if you’re going to go down this path you have to use productions that are viable, with the following questions in mind: How long can I tolerate listening to the instructors voice? How long can I look at this screen before my brain starts to accomodate to the visuals and begins to shut down? How many modaliltities of learning are being employed or attempted on the screen?With these questions in mind the sample of the algebra tutorial fails. I’ve reviewed tons of teaching videos – so much more can be done. Here is a sample that acknowledges and applies what we know about cognition in learning settings. Check out the AP Biology tutorial on translation of DNA http://www.brightstorm.com/ (free, by the way!)

  9. David Price says:

    Julie:Great points, well made. I looked at some Brightstorm videos and, for my learning preferences. I preferred the Khan academy, simply because of point 6 above. But isn’t that the great thing about online video learning? You can choose the tutor who suits you preferred modality – or even mood – as you wish, whereas you can’t change your classroom tutor.Again, I’m NOT advocating this instead of F-T-F – it could free up time for the tutor to do the embedding/real-life applications.Although I have to say that in my nearly 60 years, I’ve never had to apply negative equations since the day I left school. Why don’t we just teach functional math?Thanks for commenting, please add your insights elsewhere on this blog!!

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