Visiting Khan Academy: Where’s My AI?

Khan Academy is an intuitive learning interface created by Sal Khan as far back as 2005. Lately they have been touting new AI like “Khanmigo”, the Khan-ecosystem entrant in the new chatbot frenzy. But Khan Academy didn’t start the way you see it on the website today. I took a little tour.

Ad for Khanmigo teaching/learning assistant. Screenshot: khanmigo.ai / Daniel Detlaf

Company legend goes that Sal Khan’s dream started taking shape when he began teaching his cousins math. He realized he could make the most complex topics simple, and he actually enjoyed doing it. Before this, Sal wasn’t sure about taking up teaching as a profession, but the passion was there. Khan started by posting videos on YouTube.

Sal Khan on the history of Khan academy

With over 8 million subscribers and billions of views, Khan felt something was still missing. He first announced the integration of AI into his website in 2023 and implemented it that same year. His website has continued to do well and has seen an influx of users since its introduction.

Using the Khan Academy Website

The Khan Academy website is very easy to navigate. It has a simple interface that you can access from anywhere in the world as long as you have a somewhat good internet connection. For example, I’m staying in a remote village in North Central Nigeria, the network here isn’t so good, but I was still able to access the site and register. It’s not quite as easy to actually use, though.

I clicked on “Get Started” as a learner, and it took me to a page where I had to input a class code. I was confused and had to Google what a class code means and why they had to ask for it before I registered. A class code is a special set of numbers any coach or teacher on the platform can generate and give to someone who wants their tutelage. Since I didn’t have a class code, I went back to the page and was finally able to register when I saw a space to input my date of birth. Everything afterward was a smooth ride.

A link was sent to my email for verification, and I verified accordingly. I chose the course I was interested in learning about. I picked the category of adult learner and then chose a course on Statistics and Probability because statistics is an important course in my field of study, and I’m not very good at it.

I took the first class, which was basically just watching a video. After watching the video, I was asked some questions, and while answering the questions, I realized I had forgotten most of what I had learned while watching the video. So, I recommend getting a pen and jotter while watching the videos so that you can put down important points, especially if you’re like me, who forgets easily.

Learning Curves

After watching the video, I tried to ask questions but found out I couldn’t because my account wasn’t up to 3 days old and I didn’t have 5,000 points. Keep this in mind in case you sign up — there’s a bit of an initiation period, probably to keep spammers and bots out.

I answered a few questions, and as I said earlier, I had already forgotten most of the things I learned, so I failed some questions. But the good thing is they give you several chances until you get it right. You can also skip the quizzes if you’re not interested or ready, and you can watch the videos over and over again, as many times as you want. You can also thank and tip the teachers.

NGL, I Wanted Sal

So far, I haven’t seen the presence of Sal Khan on the site apart from the name. The site has thousands of volunteer teachers who are good in their field. When I joined the site, I was looking forward to learning directly from Sal Khan because I had read so many good things about his teaching prowess.

But on the site, you’re not going to get that, which is understandable because he isn’t proficient in all the subjects. If, like me, you need his direct tutorship, I’ll suggest you head over to the Khan Academy YouTube channel. The videos are faceless, but I believe most were made by him (there’s really no way of knowing). When you’re done with your first course, you’re given some points, which leads us to the next section.

Cursus Honorum: Badges and Certifications

In a bid to keep education interesting and challenging, badges are a part of the learning process. Much like achievements in video games, at Khan Academy you earn badges based on your commitment, intelligence, and understanding of the course being taught.

The simplest and easiest category of badges is the Meteorite badges. These are mostly given to beginners. You don’t have to do too much to earn badges in this category. You can literally just watch a course video and be given a badge, like the badge for watching 15 minutes of a course. Badges in this category include “Just Getting Started,” “Making Progress,” and “Great Listener.”

Intermediate tiers include Moon and Earth badges, which require more effort and dedication. The fourth category is the Sun Badge. You need extraordinary commitment to Khan Academy to achieve those. For example, one of the badges is “Kepler,” which requires you to acquire 300 skills! Only a few people get this badge, I presume.

Finally there are the Black Hole Badges. This category is the most difficult, and I think only a very few people out of the millions of users on the platform can get this badge. To show you how difficult it is, it is unknown. That is, no one knows the badges under this category except maybe the people who have received it.

Final Take – It Is What You Make It

While using Khan Academy, I noticed it’s very interactive and easy to understand. I didn’t really have trouble registering and choosing a course. The courses prioritized are math, science, and computer science. Other than the announcement of Khanmigo, I didn’t feel any artificial intelligence presence in the courses. Maybe it was used in the faceless videos.

Sal Khan has promoted the way of learning on Khan Academy as special and out-of-the-box without any flaws, but I think there isn’t really any difference between this and the traditional mode of learning in schools. This was even worse to me as a newbie, because even if you ask a question, you don’t get an answer immediately. And you have to watch boring videos as long as 20 minutes; I don’t have such a long attention span.

I think it’s good for motivated self-learners, people who are disciplined enough to learn. It can be a real resource when there are no teachers. But if you are a social learner, a hands-on learner, go with that.