Author: Daniel, Bert

Khan Academy of Bluegrass?

The end of the world is apparently not coming, at least not yet (despite all that Mayan Apocalypse hype). But the end of the year is. And now many of us are looking back on the past year, vowing that the next year will be a better one. Many of our most popular new year's resolutions have to do with self improvement. We vow that this year we'll finally take the time to exercise more, lose weight, visit the Acropolis, volunteer at the animal shelter, etc. You fill in the blank.

Many self improvement projects are about education. We all want to become smarter more interesting people. We'll make sure to read a new book every month or we'll take a course at the junior college. Those kinds of new year's resolutions can be lots of fun to keep.

If you happen to have an educational self improvement inclination this new year (and you don't already know about it), you should check out the Khan Academy. When you visit their web site you will see a list of video lectures on all sorts of subjects. And it's all free! What a concept, free knowledge. The video lectures are generally very well done and last for fifteen minutes or so per subject. You can proceed at your own pace, learning about anything from computer science to medieval history.

Many schools make use of these videos to teach their students. I heard about one secondary school system in the South Bay which requires their students to watch the Khan Academy lectures as their homework. When the students come to class the next day, they work on problem sets based on the lecture they heard the night before. Teachers float around and give individualized instruction for students on specific problems they're stuck on. In other words, the classroom model is flipped and the kids do their "homework" at school and the "class" is their homework!

My own kids are not in schools that use the Khan Academy for teaching, but I had them check it out anyway. After all, a little extra knowledge outside the classroom could come in handy. The site allows kids to sign up for points and virtual tokens, which makes it a little more fun for them. If you can get my son to turn off his iPod game these days, let me tell you, you've done something! But I had no complaints the other day when I suggested a Khan Academy lecture on polynomials. Maybe it's not as much fun as a video game, but it's apparently fun enough.

Wouldn't it be great if there were a Khan Academy of Bluegrass? Well in a way, there already is, at least in the sense that there is lots of free knowledge out there on the internet if you know where to look. For example Marist College archived a whole series of lectures on Bluegrass and placed them online for free. You can find old TV documentaries from the sixties posted on YouTube (I watched one the other day about Bascom Lamar Lunsford). And you can get started on that new Bluegrass instrument with free instructional videos like those at or

The internet sure puts a different spin on the world. The way it seems now, knowledge may be free (for a while at least) but a degree is going to cost you. I can study most of the course material from actual classes at MIT online, but they're not going to send me another sheepskin for my troubles unless I pay them. And that's the way it should be. It takes a lot of work to design an instructional program and post it online. For a guy like Salman Khan to have the vision to start something good like that and make it available to the masses just boggles my mind!

Knowledge is power and it's also lots of fun, like Bluegrass. If you visit a few of those free instructional sites, you will notice that many of them have premium content for more "serious" students willing to pay a little. Great business model if you ask me. Watch a few videos for free and get a feel for how much fun it is to be able to finally play a little banjo for example. You might be taking private lessons on Skype before you know it! It's a slippery slope as we all know.

Have a wonderful New Year all of you out there in the Bluegrass world!

Posted:  12/30/2012

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