A look at how the Khan Academy came to be, and powerful ideas that can truly change education.
I am currently reading Sal Khan’s book The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined and it didn’t take very long to come to feel strongly that this book should be required reading for educators everywhere. I’ve been a fan of Salman Khan since I came across his work in early 2010 and shared it in this post. It’s almost hard to believe how far Khan’s work has evolved in the few years since then, but when you read the book it becomes evident how this evolution came to pass. Today the Khan Academy is endowed with millions by major philanthropists like The Gates Foundation, and they are paving the way for the potential reinvention of education delivery, differentiation, assessment, and ultimately outcomes and true subject mastery.
My first introduction to the concept of the flipped classroom came about because of my interest in the Khan Academy, and I am thoroughly grateful for that since ‘the flip’ has had a powerful impact on my work as an education technology advocate. I should also clarify that, while Mr. Khan espouses elements of reverse instruction, the work of the Khan Academy stretches well beyond the concept.
In this book, published late last year, Khan tells the story of the evolution of the Khan Academy. Along the way he makes a powerful case for the ideas that drove the formation of this pioneering education technology non-profit powerhouse, and how those notions can truly transform education and deliver on the promise of technology.
A Model Long Overdue for Change
In his introduction, Khan starts with the fact that the basic education model in the U.S. and the world at large has not fundamentally changed for over a century. Anyone paying the least bit of attention to the state of education outcomes and credential attainment can hardly deny that this model is overdue for some changes. The old model doesn’t fit our changing needs.
“It’s a fundamentally passive way of learning while the world requires more and more active processing of information. The old model is based on pushing students together in age-group batches with one-pace-fits-all curricula and hoping they pick up something along the way.”
The dialogue about the need for change has been going on for decades but, “instead of acting, people just keep talking about incremental changes”. The dialogue consistently stops short of the fundamental questions that the situation demands, “focusing instead on a handful of familiar but misplaced obsessions like test scores and graduation rates”. While these are not trivial concerns, the higher goal is empowering future generations to live productive lives and fulfill the responsibilities of a true democracy.
Why do students commonly forget so much of what they have “learned” shortly after they regurgitate it for a test? Why are so many adults quick to explain that there is little if any connection between much of what they learned in school and what they do in their daily lives? As Khan stumbled into teaching, by way of striving to help a bright young cousin who had ‘hit a wall’ in math, he realized he wanted to teach the way he wished he had been taught.
“What I didn’t want was the dreary process that sometimes went on in classrooms – rote memorization and plug-in formulas aimed at nothing more lasting or meaningful then a good grade on the next exam. Rather, I hoped to help students see the connections, the progression, between one lesson and the next; to hone their intuitions so that mere information, absorbed one concept at a time, could develop into true mastery of the subject. In a word, I wanted to restore the excitement – the active participation in learning and the natural high that went with it – that conventional curricula sometimes seemed to bludgeon into submission.”
As the introduction draws to a close, Khan notes that far too many capable kids are being badly served by their schools. This problem crosses all boundaries – from privileged private schools to underfunded ones, and from gifted students to those being labeled as “challenged”. Many seemingly successful students will acknowledge that they got good grades but didn’t learn much, and many students who have been categorized into slower tracks are as capable of learning as their faster-track classmates.
In coming weeks, I will review more of this inspiring work.
Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Exploring the Khan Academy’s use of Learning Data and Learning Analytics
Is Reverse Instruction Education Technology’s Perfect Storm?
Measured Results Demonstrate Enhanced Learning Outcomes in the Flipped Classroom
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