Sasha Kamenetska | Contributor
October 03, 2012

The Next Big Education Reform: APIs


There has been a lot of talk about how technology can change the way we think about education.  Bill Gates often talks about technology and education coming together to change the way we teach and learn. Neither technology nor education are going anywhere, so the question really is, how will they come together to make learning and teaching more cost effective and more successful.

One way, is through APIs.  As of September 21, 2012, programmableweb listed 125 Education APIs.  This list includes everything from APIs for learning and instruction, to school finders, to education content management platforms.  All aspects of education are opening up and joining the API revolution.

An educational trend that is being aided by the proliferation of education APIs is classroom “flipping”.  The main idea here is to change the purpose of in-class instruction – instead of teachers spending class time lecturing on new concepts and then assigning practice for homework, students learn new ideas on their own at home and then spend class time practicing with the teachers help.  Khan Academy has been one of the leading tools students and teachers have been using to “flip” the classroom.  With its short educational videos, exercises that reward students with badges for their accomplishments and dashboards where teachers can track student progress, Khan Academy has many supporters (and, of course, detractors). 

The best thing about Khan, however, is its open API.  The API lets users access video, exercise and student progress information (only if you have an authenticated account).  This means others can take the library of content that Khan Academy has built up and include it in their site, app, etc.  Perhaps someone will have a better idea of how to test student knowledge.  Or maybe someone else can create a better gamification (which is becoming a big trend in its own right, with startups and mainstays participating, including the CollegeBoard’s SAT Question of the Day app) of the exercises that Khan Academy currently has.  Either way, the possibilities are greater because these resources are open through an API.

With education reform coming up as a main political issue in local, state and federal elections time after time, and with disagreements about how to reform (including the recent Chicago teachers’ union strike) flaring up across the country, APIs can play a key role.  Without much publicity and fanfare, open APIs allow developers, educators, designers, authors, etc. to come together, access education tools, content and services to design new, more accessible, more effective (cost and otherwise) ways for students to learn.  Everyone can agree on reform that makes learning easier and more available for all.

Check out this infographic about gamification of education from