Two technology trends are inescapable: people want to do everything online, and they want to do those things on a mobile device. Education and learning are no exception — online universities and other teaching aids have proliferated in the last decade, and tablets like the iPad have often been lauded as highly useful (albeit expensive) teaching tools.
Not-for-profit organization Khan Academy has the first part of that equation down — it was started in 2008 to provide learning tools, videos, and exercises to anyone who wanted them, for free. And while Khan Academy has had an iOS app since 2012, it has typically not offered the full experience found on its website. All of its videos were available, but none of its thousands of training exercises were offered to iOS users.
That all changes today with the introduction of a completely redesigned app for the iPad — now, everything that lives on the site is also available to iPad users. That includes some 150,000 learning exercises, content that product director Matt Wahl said was "where the majority of people spend their time on Khan Academy today." He also joked that looking at reviews for the current app revealed that adding those learning exercises was something that users really wanted — beyond just the app review, though Wahl says it is overall the most-requested feature for the app.
A much-needed upgrade to Khan Academy's iPad experience
Rather than just port all of the exercises to the app, Khan Academy took the time to add some iPad-specific features to make the experience fit the platform better. When looking at a demo for some geometry questions, Wahl showed me how you could touch and manipulate geometric figures to help answer the questions. Another math-specific feature coming to the iPad app is the so-called "friendly guide." The guide analyzes the questions you answer correctly and incorrectly as well as how long it takes you to answer and then suggests other exercises that’ll help you in areas you’re not as strong with. And all your progress now gets synced back and forth between the iPad and the desktop, as long as you log in with a Khan Academy account.
Another new iPad-specific feature, handwriting recognition, is built-in throughout the app (which means it might be a good time to find yourself a good iPad stylus if you haven’t already). The "scratchpad" features can be used throughout for note taking, but you can also use it to "show your work" when working on things like math problems — and the handwriting recognition means that once you arrive at the correct answer, the app automatically recognizes it. "We tried using keyboard input at first," says Wahl. "It was functional, but it didn't really connect you with the content as much as we could using handwriting."
Khan Academy says the iPad app was built with speed in mind; it’s supposedly the fastest way to access the site’s materials. "Speed was a big focus of this release for us — to get to content currently sometimes take up to seven taps to get to what you're looking for," Wahl says. "Now, we've managed to put all content two taps away."
For the time being, these new features will remain iPad-exclusive — the iPhone isn’t getting these updates, and there isn't an official Khan Academy app for Android yet. (There's an official Windows 8.1 app, but it isn't receiving these new features at this time.) Wahl notes that the iPad is by far its biggest platform outside of traditional computers, making it a natural target for this update. However, he also said the company is interested in continuing to make the full Khan Academy catalog available on other platforms, including Android, in the future. For now, users can download the updated app today from the App Store.