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YesWeKhan: Learning Alone is History!

The data are clear: when using online resources such as the Khan Academy videos, videos from flipped classrooms, and in higher ed — MOOCs, learners sitting at the kitchen table or in their room or on the family couch will at some point hit an “I’m stuck” bump. And, inasmuch as they are alone, what happens? The data suggest that the learners abandon the effort since finding help over the “I’m stuck” bump can be difficult.

What happens then? Well, if getting help is inconvenient — which it usually is, at best there is a delay in moving beyond the bump. But the data suggest that learners just give up — and never return. Sigh. A lost opportunity. A negative learning experience. Learning at home can an isolated, lonely process; a demoralizing activity. We need better ways for addressing the inevitable bumps!

To address those “I’m stuck” bumps when watching Khan Academy videos — at home, alone — the Khan Academy website, for example, has online coaches that can help get a learner unstuck. But those coaches are available asynchronously, i.e., a student can post a question, and then a coach will post a response at some point.

But, dig into your own experiences: Oftentimes when you are stuck, you can’t even formulate a coherent, written question. Writing a post to a coach that says:  “I don’t understand” isn’t going to elicit a useful response since the coach isn’t able to see the context in which you became stuck; all the coach can see is your question — “I don’t understand.”

(ES) Cue the trumpets: TA DA, TA DA, TA DA. TA DA….

(CN) Okay, okay, we got it ...thank you.... 

The educational app developers (aka undergraduate CS majors), toiling away in the Intergalactic Mobile Learning Center (IMLC), a joint University of Michigan (ES)/University of North Texas (CN) endeavor, have just posted to the Google Play Store “YesWeKhan VERYbeta.” Besides having a catchy name (well, ES thinks so; CN is less impressed) YesWeKhan is meant to support two or more learners:

  • Watching a Khan Academy video simultaneously,
  • While holding a natural back and forth voice conversation,
  • While making notes on a sketch pad (e.g., for a math video) or
  • While making notes in a text editor (e.g., for a science video) or
  • While making a concept map.

And the key is this: The participants in the collaboration need not be co-located! For example, each learner could be at his or her own home, using the family’s WiFi — since each user of YesWeKhan needs to be connected to the Internet. (The collaborative session that supports the learners engaging in synchronous collaboration is hosted in Google’s cloud-based AppEngine.

In principle, when one learner in the collaboration hits a bump, he or she can stop the video (which stops the video for all parties in the collaboration) and the other learner in the collaboration can immediately help the stuckee come unstuck! Or, if they are both stuckees, then back and forth conversation can ensue and together — at least in principle — the collaborators will figure out their misunderstanding/confusion and move on.  As we, and others have said: learning is in the conversation.

(But, we are planning on a MayDay Button that connects the collaborators to a coach in REAL-TIME. From a technical standpoint, the coach is just another participant in the collaborative session. Once the coach has resolved the problem, the coach can drop out of the session — and the collaborative session will continue as before.)

The careful reader will have noticed the “VERYbeta” appended to YesWeKhan. The current version does have its rough spots, e.g., not all Khan Academy videos are currently accessible. So, if there is one video or some in particular you want, please let us know and we will include those and rollout an update — in 48 hours. But, we believe in the spirit of “agile software development” where one puts out an MVP — a Minimally Viable Product — in order to learn — from real (and friendly) users - what features need to be in  the next version. So, Real and Friendly Users — tell us what you want and we will build those features into future releases of YesWeKhan.

Thank you NSF — and in turn, the American tax payers — for a grant that is supporting the development of YesWeKhan VERYbeta and thank you Google for a grant that is supporting the hosting of YesWeKhan’s collaboration sessions

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at