From Khan Academy to an Online Accounting Degree: the Wandering Learner

by Lexa Pennington / Oct 18, 2013 /
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Every time I teach a class, I tell my students that I'm a learner, just like them. "Yes, I'm your teacher, but adults never stop learning. Part of my job is to teach you how to be a learner for the rest of your life."

Every once in a while, one of my students asks me to prove it.

The truth is that as educators, whether we teach in a single classroom our entire lives or spend our days traveling the goal, we must always look for new learning opportunities both to challenge ourselves and to enrich our students. We all know that people are taking classes and even getting degrees online -- my nephew, for example, is getting a BBA in accounting through an online accounting degree, which will eventually get him a promotion at his job. This means that online learning is one of the best ways to continue educating ourselves throughout our lives, no matter where we travel.

When it became clear that more and more students would be using laptops and tablet computers in the classroom, for example, I taught myself to use Alice, the free online educational programming software designed by Randy Pausch of The Last Lecture fame. Learning Alice helped me determine that it was a good program for my own students, and to anticipate the difficulties they might have using it. It made me a better educator, but it also taught me more about how computer programs function, which is a useful life skill.

Right now I'm teaching some entrepreneurship courses for students in Hyderabad, India. These students will have unprecedented opportunity to create innovations in technology, transportation, and other fields -- but they'll have to put in a lot of groundwork beforehand, learning how to create business plans, form good teams, manage business accounting, etc. There's a lot I need to learn myself, but thankfully I can pick up nearly everything I need to know online as I travel.

It was one of my Hyderabadi students who offered up the familiar "prove it!" after my introduction on the first day of class, in which I explained that I was both a teacher and a learner myself. I pulled out my laptop, and explained that I was taking a Khan Academy course in calculus, to keep my brain sharp during the long, humid Hyderabadi nights. They, in turn, appreciated that their American teacher was in turn learning from Indian-American educator and entrepreneur Salman Khan.

Of course, online learning isn't limited to one-off courses on Khan Academy or projects like Alice. One of the most important lessons I try to teach my students is that the internet has made it possible for them to learn anything they want online, including getting a college degree.

Then I show them Facebook photos of my nephew, the one currently working on his online accounting degree through an online program at Bryant & Stratton College. My nephew had tried traditional college for a year, but found it difficult to focus on his classes while holding down a job. Now he's working as an administrative assistant in an insurance office, and taking online accounting courses on his own time. His boss has already told him that once he gets his accounting degree, he'll be eligible for promotions and new career opportunities. It's a great way to take advantage of online learning while still managing a job and a life.

I tell my students that wherever they are, they can learn -- using the internet, using computers, using the library, using each other. When they say "prove it," I tell them that some of my students have extremely limited resources, but that hasn't stopped them from mastering languages, mathematics, or even Shakespeare. I taught once in a classroom that had no electricity. We took turns passing around my Kindle copy of Romeo and Juliet and reading aloud. Students could look up words on the Kindle's online dictionary without having to connect to the internet. With technology, learning can happen anywhere -- and you can keep learning long after your time in the classroom is over.

After Hyderabad, my next stop will be Singapore. I'm eyeing a few online global economics classes to help familiarize myself with Singapore's fast-paced finance scene. As I tell my students at the beginning and end of every course -- from an online accounting degree to a computer programming course, no matter where you go, there's always something new that you can learn.

From Khan Academy to an Online Accounting Degree: the Wandering Learner

What about you? How do you keep up with your own education as you travel? Do you have favorite online programs that you like to share with your students? Let us know in the comments.