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Khan Academy for Adult Learners

For the past couple years, I have been on the hunt to find or create a FREE online curriculum for adult learners to advance in adult basic 

Khan Academyeducation and study for the GED.  Last spring the name Khan Academy started popping up.  Here are some of the things I’ve heard from ABE and GED colleagues about Khan Academy:

“I think it’s a great way to reinforce lessons for those that need extra practice.”  Linda Letherwood, Adult Education Professional in Jackson, MS

“Excuse me if I sound too enthusiastic, but I can’t help myself when it comes to the Khan Academy. I think it’s the best thing that ever happened on the Internet!” Beth Lurie, Instructor at RSU#3 SPICE in Thorndike, Maine

“My overall assessment of the program is that it is excellent.  Sal is incredibly engaging and generally has enough video instruction that even the most challenging concepts become clear. The set up and integration between the videos and practice problems is very good.” Debbi Perkul, Workforce  Development Professional at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio

“I, personally, am very excited about it and think it is a wonderful tool for anyone.”  Bob Stephenson, Executive Director of The Literacy Coalition in Kokomo, IN

Lots of enthusiasm, but several shared difficulties using Khan Academy in their programs.  So let’s hear more about what works and what doesn’t using this tool for adult education.  My major questions are:

  • What is Khan Academy?
  • What skills does an adult learner need to be successful on Khan Academy?
  • What does it take for an adult educator or tutor to start using Khan Academy?
  • Is Khan Academy the solution for a free online curriculum for adult basic education & GED preparation?

What is Khan Academy?

To summarize in one sentence: Khan Academy is a series of instructional videos and practice exercises where learners can earn points and badges for participation, and a coach or teacher can track their progress.

Founder Salman Kahn offers a funny and insightful explanation of the history and format of Khan Academy in this 20 minute TED Talks video on the “About” page.

(Beware: Don’t read comments on YouTube.  The language is filthy.  I can completely understand why schools filter it out.)

What skills does an adult learner need to be successful on Khan Academy?

Beth Lurie, Instructor in Thorndike, Maine says all it takes for a learner to be successful is…“Log on. You can’t miss learning what you need to learn about math. It’s fun, it’s math made easy, and you can log your progress.”

I don’t think it’s quite so easy.  However, it requires a fairly low threshold for basic computer literacy: learners need to be able to use a mouse, type, view a video, and navigate a website.  My biggest concern with getting anyone online is to explicitly teach and emphasize how to manage accounts and navigate the internet safely, especially advertising.  Online GED preparation scams are a big money-maker.

Specifically, learners need to be able to set up and manage either a Google or Facebook account.  They must be able to remember their login information!!!! (I find this a recurring problem with program administrators, let alone adult learners!)

Debbi Purkel, Workforce Development Professional in Cleveland, Ohio adds that adult learners “have to have the confidence to figure out how to navigate around the site. They also have to be motivated and self-directed.”  Personally, I think of these websites as just the next stage of textbooks. Just like with paper textbooks I think good tutors use good old-fashioned instructional strategies like modeling and scaffolding to use these tools to support adult learners in their educational success.

What does it take for an adult educator or tutor to start using Khan Academy?

It seems the major barrier to using Khan Academy is emotional.  Technology integration is as much about changing attitudes and building managerial support as it is about using the actual technology.  Debbi Perkul of Cleveland, Ohio said that to use Khan Academy, instructors need: “the ability to be flexible, and the lack of ego to allow another instructor [Salman Khan] teach math.”  Flexibility and lack of ego do not come easily for most of us!

If an educator is already using online materials to teach or practice math, then the only thing that I could see to prevent them from using Khan Academy is personal motivation and their organization’s internet filters.  Which leads us to our last question:

Is Khan Academy the solution for a free online curriculum for adult basic education & GED preparation?

Right now, sadly, NO. I have three reasons, and possible solutions:


Based on Salman Khan’s personal history as a hedge fund manager, the focus of the current content is math and finance, but math alone is not enough to pass the GED.  They recently added an entire section on Art History from the website smarthistory, which is very exciting, but not on the GED test.  I hope similar partnerships become a trend to round out their content.  He has a section for the math portions of the MCAT & SAT, so GED math could be next!

Add GED to Khan Academy PLEASE

To get the ball rolling, I organized a campaign to add adult basic education and GED Test preparation to Khan Academy. There are two quick “one click” solutions to help out the cause!

Update (11/12/2012): The campaign has closed, but you can still go to and request the addition of GED test preparation content!


All Khan Academy videos are organized by playlist on YouTube (their channel has over 200,000 subscribers).  This caused a major issue for Linda Letherwood, Adult Education Professional in Jackson, MS, who said, “I would love to use it with my students. However, we are in the public school system and they block You Tube videos.  I can only suggest they do it at home or in the library.” There’s also filthy language posted in the comments on videos all over YouTube, so I would include in-class mini-lessons on netiquette.

One solution to this problem is to search individually for the Khan Academy videos on TeacherTube, which is a district-web-filter-friendly version of YouTube.  As a user, you can download one of the YouTube videos then upload it into TeacherTube for use in the classroom.  Some of the users there have already begun uploading Khan Academy videos to TeacherTube, but then you lose all the tracking capabilities.

Another solution is for Khan Academy to create an official channel on TeacherTube or another filter-friendly site (hint, hint!!).  In the meantime, disabling or at least moderating comments on YouTube would be very appreciated.

Update (11/12/2012): Teachers can now find appropriate educational videos on You Tube EDU and schools can sign up for You Tube for Schools.


My biggest professional hurdle is not getting people to do things they don’t want to do…it’s helping volunteers to follow through on the good projects they do want to accomplish.  Khan Academy is no exception.  Bob Stephenson in Kokoma, Indiana shares a possible solution: “I introduced the Khan Academy to my math tutors this summer. Although they were interested I am not sure anyone is using it at this time. I think I will begin tutoring a student in math using it to work through any problems and develop teaching strategies. After that I can present it to them again during a tutor in-service training and have results to back up my experience.”  Bob sounds like a guy I would like to work with!

As with any change, there can be anxiety, frustration and confusion starting something new.  But the potential benefits in terms of learner engagement and profile tracking mean the investment of time and energy will be paid back with interest once classes, tutors, and programs get started.

Are you using Khan Academy to learn or teach?  Comment and tell us your story!

6 responses to “Khan Academy for Adult Learners”

  1. There is a fallback to using videos hosted on if youtube is blocked.

  2. Thanks for the great suggestion, James! And great email address, too.

  3. […] have previously written about how Khan Academy has created a motivating, free learning environment by tapped into our innate […]

  4. Great idea, a GED program it will be very beneficial to the adult community.

  5. […] initial response was the same enthusiasm I initially had for Khan Academy: could this be adapted for my GED students? But Salman Khan is too busy creating videos for GMAT Test prep and hedge funds to focus on […]

  6. Since I never really learned math in school (40 yrs ago), I thought I’d try Kahn Academy. In some ways it’s great, but there’s no teaching only testing and if I don’t understand the explanation (i.e. hint) with the problem then I am left to my own devices. I, for one, really hate the videos; he sounds like every math teacher I ever had (sort of “out of it”). It is a useful tool, but not the whole toolbox.

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Mustard Seed Training is a team of faith-based artisan creating materials for praying with children. Our ministry is to share the love of God and neighbor.

Our group was founded in 2017 by CGS catechist and woodworker Meagen Farrell. Meagen is also an author, trainer, and PhD student in the fields of adult basic education and educational technology (that’s the “Training” part!).

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