Salman Khan, Transformer

Ten days ago I had the extraordinary good fortune to see and hear Salman Khan speak to an audience of 3000; I will say it was genuinely a “heartthrob” moments in the field of education, as if seeing the Beatles at the Ed Sullivan show.

I think Khan is a true transformer, a visionary, activist, architect and engineer of a new form for teaching and learning that will raise the educational prospects of millions, perhaps billions of students.

The core of his message is this: if we use technology effectively, we don’t diminish the interpersonal and relational qualities of education, we enhance it.

(A spontaneous applause followed this line,  and it was sweet to see the way it caught Khan off-guard and delighted him).

Khan just very recently spoke at TED, in a talk pretty much identical to the one I saw at NAIS.

No individual, by my lights, is going to more greatly transform how learning works in the next decade than Khan, and in person he was charming, energetic, and inspiring.   His slides were illuminating, well chosen, and well-designed.

The story begins only two or three years ago, I believe: Khan, hedge fund manager, was tutoring his nephews and nieces at a family gathering in math, and after the family dispersed, he offered to continue tutoring and began using web-video as a tool for tutoring. Soon one video became several, and without thinking too much about it, he began collecting them on a web-page that gradually gained wider and wider recognition without any promotion at all.

Khan explained how valuable it is for students to have access to succinct, clear, quality lectures on digital video: students can pause, they can replay, they can play them over and over if they need.   If they miss class they can still access the lecture; if they are reviewing weeks or months later it is always still there for them.

He told a very funny story when he again visited with his nephews and nieces and resumed tutoring in person, only to encounter the reaction: we like the Uncle Salman tutoring on the computer more than the Uncle Salman in person.   I was struck by his observation that sometimes, when we are learning something difficult, we might prefer to do so without a teacher, parent, or tutor hovering over us and asking explicitly or implicitly: do you get it now?  do you get it now?  do you get it now?

Of course, this is not to say we should deprive students of the opportunity for person-to-person coaching, only that it is great for kids to have the best of both worlds: in person when they seek it, which they can have more of if the lectures are delivered in video as homework and classtime is for coaching, and on-line if the student prefers it that way.

I have been writing a lot in recent months about how use of Khan academy on-line video lectures, and other tools akin to KA, are inspiring new approaches to teaching and learning,  (Reverse Instruction, Collapsing Binaries, and Advancing the Flip) so it was very exciting for me to hear Khan discuss how educators around the country are engaged in a fast-rising conversation about how his videos for content delivery so that our classrooms can become places of tutoring, collaboration, projects, and inquiry learning.

This was where he made the point highlighted at top: technology used well makes our learning spaces more human and humane, more interpersonal and relational, than they have been for the past two centuries.

As I walked out of the lecture hall afterwards, I strolled alongside a group of 4 or 5 middle school teachers very excitedly discussing this approach, saying to each other:

I can’t believe I never thought of this before, but what an amazing idea: I can’t wait to try this back at  my school.

I know I am not the only one to notice the response this new technique of reverse instruction is receiving: educators all over are jumping to the concept with great enthusiasm.  It is not my writing ability but the enormous appeal of this educational “flipping”  technique that has made the Reverse Instruction piece the most (by far) viewed post on Connected Principals.

Now until recently, KA’s program was exclusively composed of video lectures, but now, fabulously, Khan is taking it to another level, offering built-in practice assignments and  assessment tools for students and teachers both.  The use of new computer generated problem-sets associated with each unit of instruction are embedded into the system; when students get a problem wrong the program can direct students straight back to the right video explaining the concept upon which they went awry.   Teachers can review the analytics of the student practice, and similarly identify exactly in which skill areas students are finding difficulty, and intervene accordingly.

All this is explained in a ten minute video that I suggest to you, my fellow principals and 21st century educators, you really do want to watch.

In his talk ten days ago, Khan explained his emphasis on “mastery:” students are not able to proceed to the next unit of study until they get ten problems in a row correct.   He made a funny joke about education’s common rule of letting students proceed with only 70% mastery: if after two weeks bicycling you told me that you were only falling off your bike 30% of the time, I would then say great, let’s go on to ride a much more difficult mountain bike trail.

Khan Academy’s new assessment tool has certain similarities with an on-line tool we use now at my school, ALEKS.   However, our teachers see advantages and strengths in the KA system over Khan, and, in what is a big difference, Khan Academy is entirely free.

That is part of the revolution: Khan Academy is entirely free, is getting bigger and stronger every month, and Salman Khan has pledged that it will always and everywhere be free.   He has now big funding coming from both Google and from Gates.

It is not that I entirely love every single element of Khan Academy; of course not.   The “badge” system for merit in using the Khan academy practice tools makes me a little uncomfortable, and I shudder to think what Alfie Kohn would make of it.

I realize that many teachers viewing this will begin to ask: if this is so great, what am I necessary for?   What is the teacher’s role if Khan can offer so much?

These are difficult questions for anyone to have to ask of oneself as a professional educator, but I want to humbly suggest that they are great questions to be asking, with or without Khan Academy to prompt them.   As technology advances so rapidly, (Hello, Watson!), all professionals need to be asking themselves how should our roles be changing such that we can ensure we are still offering a true “value-add?”

Some professional educators, seeing Khan Academy, ALEKS, and other such tools, are asking themselves these questions regularly, each and every day, and by asking and seeking the answer, they are greatly enhancing the probability that they are continuing to be relevant.   The ones who are asking these questions are the ones who will successfully transition; it is the ones not asking these questions we need to be concerned about for their future.

Before concluding, let me direct you to two very fine posts regarding Khan Academy:

There is no Nobel Prize for Education (there ought to be!), but it is fun and easy to imagine one.   I was thinking about such a prize as I saw Khan speak last week: I had an impulse that I was seeing a speaker who was most certainly a contender, perhaps ten years hence, for the Education Nobel Prize.

I’ll end with an extended quote from Khan, from a piece he wrote last fall in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Youtube U. beats YouSnooze U.

Being able to directly learn from the professor actually becomes much more likely when the lecture happens on the student’s own time, with on-demand video. Then the professor is freed to be an active participant in an interactive, peer-to-peer problem-solving powwow in the classroom.

The classroom will be a place for active interaction, not passive listening and daydreaming. The role of the teacher will be that of a mentor or coach as opposed to a lecturer, test writer, and grader. The institutions that will remain relevant will be those that leverage this paradigm, not fight it.


26 comments for “Salman Khan, Transformer

  1. March 8, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Hey Jonathan,

    I have to jump in. New form of teaching and learning? Really? Because it’s video and it’s online?

    If this qualifies as excellent teaching, then I don’t want teachers any more. Khan provides a service, no doubt, but I don’t want lecturers for my kids. And there is nothing here that suggests anything that hasn’t already been done online or off. Teachers have a much greater importance in my kids’ lives than what Sal Khan offers.

    Take a look at this post for some different perspectives. As Gary so rightly suggests in that thread, a la Seymour Papert, once you teach a child something, you take away his chance to learn it. I’ve forgotten 90% of the math I “learned” because this is the exact same way that it was delivered to me only with a real teacher in the room trying his or her best to cover the curriculum so I could pass the test.

    Education will only truly be transformed when we stop trying to jam content into our kids’ heads and start allowing them to explore and learn in contexts that feed their desire to keep learning. To that end, I don’t think Khan Academy does or can change much at all.

    • March 8, 2011 at 7:45 pm

      Hey Will:

      It is an honor to have you visit, read and respond: I hold you, your writing and your wisdom in high esteem.

      Reading your response brings me some chagrin; I know that in my writing I can become sometimes too worked up, sometimes in negative and sometimes in positive, directions, and let my enthusiasm get the better of me. Quite possibly I did that here.

      One of the things I love about social media is the opportunity provided to think out loud, share ideas, and develop them in an iterative process with feedback, and I can see that happening here, and for that, I thank you.

      I’ve written often about my wish for all classrooms to be studios and laboratories, places where students work in teams and individually to apply their learning with coaching and mentoring from teachers. We are making great strides at my school with project based learning, with and without technology, and performance task assessment– these developments are most important to me, far, far more than use of video lectures.

      In my observations, I have seen many , many classrooms where teachers feel an enormous obligation to deliver content and model/train skills via lectures, at the white-board, in the front of the room, for most or all of a period. They do so because they feel the pressure of standardized testing, because they work from their own remembered experience of learning, or because, they feel very genuinely that students do need certain information and skill modeling to advance in their learning. But the 30-45 minute lecture is not working well, to my observation; it doesn’t allow the class-time to be used as labs and studios; the lectures only serve a small sweet spot of students, leaving many bored by the slow pace or confused by too swiftly passing over important topics.

      I think, and I know Khan thinks, that our classrooms can become again rich, stimulating, collaborative labs and studios, not lecture halls, if the content delivery/skill modeling can happen in short, concise nuggets of online videos, not too long for those who don’t need them, pause-able and re-playable for those who do.

      For teachers teaching constructively successfully, this doesn’t displace them. They can choose to have students “learn it themselves” in their classrooms, and can choose to use these types of tools if they think the reinforcement can help. (in my experience there are constructivists who seek more tools for students who need more support). For the many other teachers in my observation who want to use classroom time for a more constructivist approach, but don’t have yet the experience or practice or confidence to do it entirely effectively, and/or who continue to believe deeply in the value of content delivery in some form, Khan and the like allows them a great opportunity for a more blended approach.

      I want it all for our kids: strong skills, strong desire for learning, strong abilities in real-world problem-solving and essential understanding. I think Khan academy, and vehicles like it, can be a useful component of a broadened learning program, opening up far greater opportunities for our classrooms to become “contexts that feed their desire to keep learning.” For those teachers already successfully doing so without tools like KA, KA might not offer them any value; for teachers working to provide them these contexts yet fearing a loss of core skill development, I think Khan can play a very valuable role.

      Now, my growth mindset is incredibly important to me, and I am certainly happily still learning about learning, and appreciative of your wisdom. I could be wrong, and I delightedly accept your counsel to keep thinking hard about how we can improve learning for all our students.
      –Jonathan

    • Jamie Britto
      March 9, 2011 at 7:40 pm

      My son uses Youtube and a variety of tab websites to teach himself guitar. It looks like a constructivist enterprise to me; he sets his goals, he experiments, he evaluates different sites and approaches, and uses them to guide or coach his attempts at learning how to play a song. He meets with a guitar teacher twice a week, but most of his learning takes places on the internet. When he had decided to learn a song, a demonstration that he can pause,, rewind, and play again has been a great help.

      I think Khan Academy could offer a similar benefit as he tries to learn math.

    • March 11, 2011 at 4:35 am

      Will Richardson made the following statement “Education will only truly be transformed when we stop trying to jam content into our kids’ heads and start allowing them to explore and learn in contexts that feed their desire to keep learning.”

      Unlike Will, I think this is exactly what Khan Academy provides for. Namely, the youngster who has an interest in an area, but lacks the tools to dig into college texts, or even bug the experts in a given subject area often finds they are hosed as their foundation is either missing or severely compromised. Khan provides a path to get the vocabulary, the basic concepts, the underlying metrics to go much further than ever before (short of being lucky enough to find a patient mentor during the early days of investigation). I’ve even poked around at some of his upper level post secondary material, much of it far exceeds even the open courseware initiatives from the Ivy Leagues… and undergrads are picking up on this.

      Programs such as Khan’s are going to throw a major wrench into the traditional classroom. Some students may well be at level of understanding and application far beyond their teacher. Others, such as those who dont want to be in school, likely wont jump on Khan’s approaches either. As such, student abilities are going to be even more widely distributed than they are now. Granted, as Khan’s curricula expands, perhaps there will be enough diversity in subject matter, than even the disinterested student with a moderate amount of encouragement can find something to fly with.

      That being said, if the model is to replace DI with Khan, and then focus mostly on standardized test results, much of the value of KA’s potential will pass by the wayside. It would merely be another tool for rote learning.

    • April 30, 2011 at 7:31 pm

      No one can predict the exact moment when a student acquires learning/concept. To limit a student’s exposure to resources because we deem them to be ineffective can be short sighted. Will, perhaps you have not seen creative math teachers with special needs students mixed with ELL students using Khan Academy. Here is a specific example. The teacher, helped students arrive at the Pythagorean Theorem, by provided different representations to show that a^2 + b^2 = c^2. Imagine Khan academy, a paint program, and graph paper all being available to students to explore why that formula works. To my colleague, Tina Powell, the math department head, it was obvious that kids had acquired the knowledge in that scenario. Telling a creative teacher, who can bring multiple resources to a variety of learning styles, not to use Khan academy would be folly. It would be easy to point out the limit of any resource in isolation. It is the symphony of resources under the direction of a creative teacher that make Khan a valuable resource

  2. March 11, 2011 at 2:27 am

    Jonathan, I don’t see how Khan’s “philosophies” align with some of your other posts and tweets.

    I am truly confused on how Khan and his use of videos can make the education system better. Is this not just an example of using technology to work within a bad system that is based on fact memorization and information? Why not work to change the system so students are not just receivers of information?

    I love what Chris Lehmann stated when he said “we lived in a world in which we went to school when it to access information. Today, our students live in a world of information overload.” We need to work with students to create dialogue around the information and encourage them to challenge ideas. We don’t need a new way to get lectured; we need to stop lecturing.

    I am not a fan of awards and I do not believe a Nobel Prize for education would help us in creating a better system… especially if the winner is someone who has taken key pieces from a bad system and emphasized them through technology.

    If we feel that a child can educated through a lectured video series, we are failing our kids.

    If we think that a problem set that, when the student gets the answer wrong, directs them back to the video is educating our kid, I fear we are not developing the thinkers the world needs? How is this any different than reading a text book, answering the question at the end, checking the answer at the back, and then re-reading the text to “find the right answers”.

    We shouldn’t be teaching our kids to find the right answers but to ask the right questions.

    • March 11, 2011 at 11:30 pm

      Hi Chris:

      You and I agree that school-based awards do not enhance our learning communities, but we may differ on the value of external awards. I support my students when they seek outside awards, and a Nobel Prize for Education would put a spotlight on amazing educational innovators. Think of what the list would look like: John Dewey, Ted Sizer, Alfie Kohn, Howard Gardner, now Diane Ravitch, Deborah Meier, Linda Darling-Hammond, and oh so many others.

      Look, I don’t think Khan Academy can or should be a holistic program of education. Of course I agree with you that we want to move away from lecturing on the whole and from memorization/regurgitation. We want students to create ideas, test ideas, share ideas, and do things with them.

      But I continue to think there are basic fundamental skills students still need to develop, and things they need to learn and master, and that sometimes we need to teach them this with direct instruction. For some students textbooks do well for this, but for many we have long recognized the value of a “master teacher” talking them through it, showing them step by step how to divide or factor or balance chemistry equations.

      Too many teachers then take that to mean they should spend whole, or nearly whole, class periods to give these lectures, and this has to stop. Many other teachers know their students need these skills or basic informational knowledge pieces, but know their students will learn much more deeply and powerfully and lastingly if they do so in a classroom where students “play the whole game” as David Perkins so effectively articulates. For both these sets of teachers, if we can offload these elements of teaching to KA, our classrooms can then return to being the laboratories and studios we seek for inquiry, application, constructivism, testing, and mastery.

      I perceive that there is a spectrum of educational philosophies on display in this discussion, and I perceive myself to be something of a center-left thinker, but (obviously) not a progressive or constructivist purist. I respect those who are such purists, I admire them greatly, but I don’t share their every view. I send to be a middle-path seeking thinker.

      Now, I think far, far too many classrooms operate in a center-right or far right mode, and so I spend much of my time blogging to call educators leftwards. This is why it may seem to you that this post is surprising compared to my other posts (“I don’t see how Khan’s “philosophies” align with some of your other posts and tweets.”). Indeed, the main point of this post is to call center right and far-right educational practitioners leftwards by using KA to get the core skills teaching out of the way, and make their classrooms places of PBL experimentation. But unlike others whom I admire, such as Richardson, Stager, and Bower, I still see a place for directly teaching students core basic skills (succinctly), as long as we do so in a wider context of rich challenging real world projects, choice, and creativity, so long as they have plenty of opportunities “to play the whole game,” (which they don’t in far too many classrooms).

      Thanks again Chris; you are helping me immensely to keep on learning, which is the point of all this
      .
      Jonathan

  3. Kenneth Kou
    March 11, 2011 at 2:54 am

    Hi Jonathan,

    I agree with you and believe that Sal Khan is presenting an innovative, progressive way for teachers to better work and serve in their classrooms.

    Being five years removed from high school, I still remember sitting in class, wondering if the teacher had any idea how well anyone grasped the key concepts of the course. In a class of 36 students, I don’t blame the teacher for not being able to keep tabs on the individual progress of each of my classmates. However, when a classmate struggles, and the teacher is unable to identify what areas of the course that student has had difficulties with, then the problem will compound until it reaches a boiling point requiring serious intervention.

    With Khan’s tools, teachers will have knowledge at their fingertips to better understand their students’ knowledge gaps.

    I don’t assert that the Khan Academy is even close to being a replacement for a teacher. A teacher’s place in the classroom is highly necessary still (if not more so than before), but the role must evolve in accordance with technology. It is true that information overload can occur – but to completely ignore all information developments is an even more fatal move.

    Treating Khan’s program as a supplementary learning guide, as opposed to the primary teaching experience (as some are alluding to), will allow students to learn at their own pace. Also, it will allow teachers to fine-tune their lessons to match the proficiencies of their students while better understanding each individual’s competencies. Using this technology (in moderation) will benefit the total learning experience for each student.

    Thanks for the post.

  4. March 11, 2011 at 3:13 am

    Hi Jonathan!

    Having seen the Khan material used in a class recently to highlight a concept, I was actually quite taken aback at how rudimentary the lesson was in terms of pedagogy. Really and truly, I found myself bored really quickly, and looked around the room and saw that the students were too.

    I know that you are not suggesting that this is a replacement for good teaching, but rather something to augment the understanding of certain specific ideas. I guess that his material would have some value if the goal were mastery learning through lecture, but going along with what Chris is saying, I don’t know whether that should BE the goal.

    I actually discussed the use of Khan in the class with a teacher at school a while ago: I wanted to make sure they didn’t confuse using Khan with using technology to enhance instruction and learning in the classroom. In my estimation, it was just watching a virtual, didactic instructor writing on a modern form of a chalkboard.

    Just one person’s thoughts…

  5. March 11, 2011 at 3:16 am

    these videos could be turned into all forms of teaching. it’s endless. think of all the kids who up to now would have never had any choices, let alone an “education.” khan is reaching the masses, kids and people from all over the world, delivering traditional teaching for free. kids that live in 3rd world countries, girls who are not allowed to go to school, those who live in poverty and are getting the same form of teaching but worse in public school. no room for repeat, rewind or replay. as long as we have standardized test and sat scores, this information is relevant. when we don’t we can truly let go of the need to drill this information and let the real exciting learning begin.

  6. MrsC_Teach
    March 11, 2011 at 4:15 am

    Jonathan,

    I was there with you. It had the same Rock Star feeling. I think KA can be an amazing resource, but it does not substitute for an engaging curriculum … and I don’t think you are saying it does. What it can provide is the opportunity for kids who need or want a more traditional lecture to get that. It let’s the student who wants to hear the same thing repeated 5 times get that opportunity, while the student who only needs to hear it once did and can move on. Last week I had my class unlearn the short-cut for dividing fractions (multiplying by the inverse). I think KA will be an amazing resource, it is free, and very valuable. Would I use it to teach my curriculum? No. Will it help me support my students in the future? Yes. Will I use it during class time? Likely not? Will it help me see where kids might have wholes in their comprehension that I am not catching? Hopefully.

    Thanks for a great post.

  7. March 11, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    I wrote a post of my own in response to this. Essentially, I find myself agreeing with the likes of Will Richardson, Gary Stager and Chris Lehman.

    http://www.joebower.org/2011/03/khan-academy-improving-school-by.html

    Khan Academy is yet another way to improve school without changing a thing.

  8. Jason Kern
    March 12, 2011 at 12:42 am

    Jonathan,
    While I don’t think Khan is a true transformer, I do appreciate the fact that his lessons MAY lead teachers to utilize classroom time more effectively. That is to say that if you are simply utilizing Khan inside your classroom to teach the lesson it is no better than the idea that using a projector like an overhead is “teaching with technology.” However, I, like you, believe that there is core knowledge that needs to be taught and if we can transition that lecturing outside of ‘class time’, it could create an in class environment that could lead to discussions and the ability to ask great questions (which I believe is one of the key skills we can give our students).

    I think what some people fear is that teachers, students and/or parents will take the Khan’s lectures and simply use them in the place of the traditional classroom lecture and utilize his assessments yet not build upon them. If this is what is done it is certainly far from transformative for education.

    I would be curious to hear Will’s and others thoughts on Khan if a passionate student was interested in learning about some of the topics he covered and simply came across them on their own rather than being asked to utilize it as a part of school. Then that child utilized that knowledge to teach some of his peers or even used it to create something derivative that taught how to do something he was passionate about.

    Like most things, I think Khan, iTunes U, YouTube etc. can be tools to create a valuable learning experience but the personal connection made with the teacher, mentor or lead learner is what makes the biggest difference in inspiring our students.

  9. Maureen Devlin
    March 12, 2011 at 2:28 am

    Terrific summary of Khan. Want to re-explore this venue. Thanks.

  10. March 12, 2011 at 10:52 am

    I think as educators we need to value having an ‘and’ mentality rather than an ‘or’ mentality. Good teaching requires us to provide for various learning styles and preferences in our delivery. The problem is when teachers start to say that ‘this is the way to teach’…there is no such thing!

    A study has just been released in New South Wales Australia showing that 2 of the top 12 schools were adamantly against the use of technology. Now I love technology and am right into using it in the classroom but I am not fixated on it and actually love seeing others schools excel using a philosophy of teaching which on the surface is at the other extreme for mine. The point: steal ideas from everyone, apply what you can and leave out the rest. For a summary of the article that shows these results check out http://www.teacherstraining.com.au/the-technology-in-the-classroom-debate/

  11. March 12, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    Hi Jonathan-

    Thank you so much for your post about Khan. While I do agree with others that mathematics education is in need of a transformation, I would argue that Khan Academy, has allowed me to easily transform my own classroom without having to wait for the revolution that everyone is talking about (and has been talking about for a while). I teach at a traditional independent school and AP Calculus is still the golden egg. Whether I agree with it or not, I still have to cover 12 chapters of my Algebra 1 textbook. I don’t see that changing any time soon. Inspired by your post on Connected Principals a while ago, I flipped my classroom using the content from Khan Academy. Unlike Cale (who commented previously), my students really enjoy his explanations, tone and clarity and found that watching the videos (and having the ability to re-watch them before a test or quiz) has really helped them. They take their own notes at home and then we share and pull the concept together when we get to class. With the formal instruction taken out of my classroom, I am now able to use valuable class time to work through the problem set (formally homework) and include more challenging, non routine problems I would have never sent my students home to do. My classroom looks different now. The desks are pushed together in pairs or groups of three, I spend my time walking around or sitting next to students and it’s loud now… they are “talking math”. I have a clearer sense of who is really doing their work, who understands the material and who can be challenged even further. I have found that, with this new structure, I have additional time to do student projects. We are in the midst of creating Fake Facebook Walls for famous mathematicians. I am taking the opportunity to teach the kids how to use Diigo, share resources with each other, comment on each others’ links and use their critical thinking and collaboration skills. I can’t speak for anyone else but I’d have to say that Khan has transformed my classroom. So I agree with you- Sal Khan, Transformer.

    After March break, I will begin exploring the assessment component of Khan with my students. While it does seem like “drill”, this might be exactly what we need for our key entry points (7th and 9th grade) to get all of our new students, who come from 20 feeder schools, on an even playing field. I’m excited about the possibilities.

  12. April 23, 2011 at 1:19 am

    Like many others I can concede that The Khan Academy certainly has a place in education. Also, as many others have suggested, I feel that its main role will be to provide support for students who need to revise a certain concept for whatever reason. It has also been noted that videos on the site are not the slickest already going around and will almost certainly face competition from large producers as the mode of study becomes entrenched.
    Salman Khan also has re-raised the notion of “mastery” learning. It may be time for educators to revisit this concept and the associated one of a “standardized” education itself. But that is a major topic outside the scope of this post. Likewise, the notion of “flipping lessons” that has become associated with the use of video in education is an exciting concept and one worthy of exploration. Again, it lies outside the realms of this response. Both discussions deserve to be explored and Salman Khan deserves some credit for putting these on the educational agenda.
    Even as it currently stands, the Kahn Academy already has a place in schooling. However, it lacks some essential elements for me to see it as anything other than another teaching tool – albeit a potentially powerful one.
    1. Where is the motivation of the student taken into account? If the Kahn Academy is used to provide last minute cramming before a test how is it really any different to a text book – albeit one that uses a different modality? If the purpose of the student for learning is simply to pass a test then using the Khan Academy will simply be an electronic textbook.
    2. The approach taken by the Kahn Academy is useful as tutorials for specific skills. This is what it is designed to do and so it may seem odd to criticise it for this feature. However, every educator will stress the importance of students being able to synthesise their knowledge, of being able to see the whole rather than the part. The Kahn Academy seems an unlikely vehicle to advance this. It does not currently require students to “join the dots” and make connections between subject matter in the manner that one hopes effective teachers would do.
    3. The Kahn Academy seems to be reflecting “old world” attitudes with “new world” technology – but the underlying assumption is the age old one of the empty vessel being filled by the wisdom of the virtual teacher. It is a reflection of the attitude that education is nothing more than the transmission of skills – which should not be confused with understanding or insight – and certainly not wisdom. Students all over the world have voted with their feet given this attitude – the “failure” to graduate rate in the USA is consistently reported to hover around 30% of High School students. Surely this is, at least partly, a reaction to the lack of engagement of students? True, some students may respond well to a video format such as that offered by the Khan Academy. But the real problem is not just the format of lessons – it is the content of the curriculum itself. The Kahn Academy is not progressing this – it is simply repackaging the existing – and failing – curriculum.
    So, the Kahn Academy does have merit – but it is not the savior of schooling.

  13. October 6, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    This is a rich debate, worthy of sharing. I agree with Will Richardson as he concludes that “Education will only truly be transformed when we stop trying to jam content into our kids’ heads and start allowing them to explore and learn in contexts that feed their desire to keep learning.” The “jamming of content” into the heads of our students is an issue here in Australia as a national curriculum is gradually rolled out across the country. Quality will suffer as quantity determines what happns in the classroom.

    Khan Academy, and similar, have a role to support learnng, however, for me at least, the essence of teaching and learning is the sharing of wisdom, the exchange of values, the trading of experiences and drawing parallels and linkages between unrelated concepts between all those in a classroom, a place of learning, on a field trip or outside in the sun. The teachers and students are all learners constantly exchanging roles. Learnng is a place for the creation and growth of communities of practice that benefit society. Khan Academy, and similar, I feel, must not dominate education in the future. Education is a shared instance, time and moment between people in a shared place, growing and learning together.

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