Sunday, May 29, 2011

LRN Technique: Going Deep for Knowledge (with Online Education)

The LRN (Learn) tenet in my philosophy is about improving as an individual and helping others grow. Some of the techniques introduced in earlier posts focused on breadth of knowledge, such as focusing on a topic for a month (Project of the Month) or by gaining exposure to new ideas (Breadth of Fresh Air).

Going Deep for Knowledge is about learning a subject beyond a surface-level exposure and the basics.  The traditional school-based courses generally focus on depth, whether in primary and secondary education to learn math, general science, and grammar, or in higher education with classes on subjects like astronomy and chemical engineering.

The internet offers new possibilities for going deep and learning a subject.  There are several excellent audio and video courses available online to you, and many of these are provided at no charge (free).  The opportunities for all of us to learn is only limited by our own willingness and time.

This post introduces you to Going Deep for Knowledge (specifically with online education) by:
  • Describing its purpose in a little more detail.
  • Providing a list and description of my favorite online education sites.
  • Suggesting tips for making this technique more successful for you.


The purpose of the Going Deep for Knowledge technique is to gain comprehensive knowledge on a subject that builds your knowledgebase, helping you understand the world in which we live and make wiser decisions.

Why comprehensive knowledge?  Unlike the Breadth of Fresh Air technique, this technique is about depth (versus breadth) of knowledge.  It is gaining a deep understanding of a subject that you can apply in other areas of learning or in your life.

Comprehensive means more than a cursory understanding.  It means you understand the subject well enough to explain it to someone else, and you are able to apply that knowledge.  It does not require complete mastery (although that is a desirable goal), and it does not mean exhaustive (it is impossible to learn everything on a subject, and facts / theories / perspectives continue to evolve and expand our understanding).

Why builds your knowledgebase?  Some learning is foundational to learning higher level subjects or being able to make good decisions.  You need a good grasp of the subject before being able to understand and go deep on another subject.  For example, you need to have a good knowledge of arithmetic before being able to learn algebra, to manage your own finances, or to run a business.

Why understand the world?  It is human nature to want to understand how the world (and the universe) operates and what that means to us in our lives.  Our understanding can only go so far without a deeper knowledge on topics that have relevance to us.  In-depth learning can help provide a solid foundation from which to understand the world.

Why make wiser decisions?  Information learned for information sake becomes trivia.  This deeper learning helps us become better as individuals, and if applied correctly, to make our life and the world a better place.


The internet offers a myriad of places to learn a subject, from short videos on YouTube and eHow to write-ups on thousands of blogs and websites.

I have selected the following on-line education sites for the following reasons:
  • They all provide in-depth education on more than one subject.  You should be able to find a subject of interest to you at any of these sites.
  • They all have courses based on proven and comprehensive curriculums.  Specifically, these are courses and associated lectures designed to teach in-depth.
  • They all provide video courses.  Video typically adds a richness to the materials, and it is helpful to both auditory and visual learners.  In most cases, the video enhances the learning process (even if it is the non-verbal cues from the lecturer).
  • They all have the full course on-line.  You can learn a whole semester’s worth of knowledge on a subject.
  • They all are free.  There is nothing – except willingness and time – holding you back from going in-depth on a subject you want to learn.

Here are the following on-line education sites I recommend.
  • The Khan Academy
  • Academic Earth
  • OpenCourseWare
  • iTunes U

The Khan Academy

The Khan Academy ( provides a one-on-one in-depth teaching experience on several subjects.  Most of the subjects presented are comprehensively covered in a series of videos.  The site has over 2,100 videos.

A heavy emphasis of the site is on mathematics (covering arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, differential equations, probability, statistics, trigonometry, and a few others) because Sal Khan, the founder and instructor, initially created the videos to help his cousin in math.  But the subject list is continuing to expand and now covers introductory courses in several other areas, including Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Economics, and Finance.  While the materials currently cater primarily to secondary school subjects because of its initial focus, many of these subjects are applicable for entry-level (or refresher) college courses.  And some of the subjects could be learned by students of any age.

The instructor uses a “blackboard” to write on, using different color pens.  These videos give visualization to what is being taught.

The Khan Academy website has some other features that complement the videos and help with the in-depth learning experience:
  • Many of the subjects have exercises to practice what has been taught to reinforce the learning process.
  • You can navigate a visual “knowledge map” of exercises to see how various math exercises relate to each other.
  • You can track your video and exercise progress.
  • Coaches can use the site to track their students’ progress.

Academic Earth

Academic Earth ( presents videos of full college courses.  These are videotapes of real class lectures.  As of this writing, fourteen top universities in the United States are participating (including Harvard and MIT).

The university-level courses provide a broader set of subjects than the Khan Academy.  These include diverse subjects like Law, International Relations, Medicine and Healthcare, Philosophy, and Political Science.  For example, there is an Introduction to Astrophysics course containing 24 lectures.

The universities only provide a small set of their courses compared to their full offerings for students on the campus.  For example, Yale provides videos for 27 courses, and of those, only one Chemistry course (Organic Chemistry).

Because these are real lectures and videotaped by different universities, the video quality and style varies for each course.  However, there is usually consistency within a given course.

The website provides a few beneficial features in addition to the videos.
  • A course description is provided along with a description of each lecture.
  • There are user ratings (grades) of the courses.
  • Some of the videos include additional resources, such as lecture transcripts, reading assignments, handouts, and problem sets.
  • The website provides a few thematic collections of lectures they call “playlists”.  While not a full course as described by this LRN technique of going in-depth, it gives you a taste of the subject from different instructors or guest lecturers.
There are some courses listed on the site that will provide course credit for a degree, but these do require payment.

Opencourseware Consortium

The OpenCourseWare Consortium ( is a community of hundreds of universities and associated organizations across the world advancing the concept of giving anyone who desires to learn the opportunity to learn anywhere in the world.  OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a “free and open digital publication of high quality university-level education materials” from this consortium.

While this approach is similar to Academic Earth in that both provide university-level courses, there are a couple of unique aspects of this “portal” to online courses:
  • There are courses from over one hundred universities.
  • While most of the courses are in English, there are courses available in over a dozen other languages, including Chinese, Spanish, Turkish, and Russian.

One limitation is that many (if not most) of the universities do not have video or audio of their courses.  Their websites mainly provide written information regarding courses, such as the course syllabuses, lecture notes or presentations, assignments, and resource links.  Unfortunately, the OCW website does not highlight which universities provide what type of courseware.  You must go to a consortium member's website to actually see what materials are made available.

As of this writing, the website has a beta version of a Course Catalog ( that gives an idea of the scope of courses available.

It is worth mentioning (and thanking) MIT as one of the universities that actively contributes and makes their courses available.  The MIT OpenCourseWare site ( has published materials from 2000 of their courses (almost their entire curriculum) from 36 departments.  Over 50 of these courses have a complete set of video lectures online.

Apple iTunes

Apple’s iTunes has iTunes U, which is advertised as a “distribution system” for educational materials, including video, audio, and PDFs.  There are more than 350,000 of these materials available.  Apple states that approximately 400 universities distribute their content publicly (free) on the iTunes Store.  This includes universities around the world, including Oxford, Cambridge, and Stanford.

It also includes courses from The Open University and film or lecture series from several other educational organizations.  For example, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History has an 11-item collection of videos and audiotapes on the subject of The Great Depression and World War II.

The unique aspect of iTunes U is that you can download the course materials and view or listen to them offline.  You can also subscribe (just like podcasts) so you can automatically have new materials downloaded for use later.  This is helpful for “real-time” classes that are being conducted in the current semester.  For example, Stanford has placed lectures on developing Apps for iOS soon after they are presented at the university so you can follow along during the semester just like the students attending the class (without paying the Stanford tuition price).


Watch and rewatch videos.  Unlike a real-time classroom presentation, you can rewind.  If you did not understand something (or zoned out), watch it again.

Go at your own pace.  Unlike classrooms where you only get one lecture per class and only on the set days of the class, you can watch as many videos as you want and on the days you want to.

Help others grow by sharing what you have learned.  Teaching is an excellent way to learn as it reinforces your understanding when you have to explain it to someone else.

Recognize it is not that difficult to access the courses.   All of these courses are accessible directly from your computer with internet access.  And owners of iPhones, iPads, or iPod Touches may not realize that all of the iTunes U material is easily accessed through the iTunes app pre-loaded on your devices, can be viewed with internet or cellular access, and even stored and viewed offline through the iPod feature.  With such ease of access, take the opportunity during your free moments to watch or listen to a class lecture.

Happy learning in-depth!

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LRN Technique: Going Deep for Knowledge (with Online Education) ~ DANIEL SKLAR