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A Review of Sal Khan and Khan Academy

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I had the opportunity to hear Sal Khan speak live at the Boise, Idaho Ed Sessions on May 1. This post is not a description of Khan Academy.   A lot has been written about Sal Khan and Khan Academy.   What I provide here is a short review of what I find to be the strengths and drawbacks of Khan Academy as a model of education.

Khan Academy’s Vision and Mission

Sal Khan and Khan Academy have a great vision of providing resources to all.  The goal of the Khan Academy is to use technology to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere.  Khan Academy does not charge nor do they plan to charge for their services.

He prides himself on showing testimonials of the use of Khan videos from around the globe.

I see want to see a world that we tap into the potential of kids. I want Khan Academy to provide a love of learning. Sal Khan

The Ability to Learn Content Based on One’s Own Time and Need

A strength of content-based videos, not just from Khan Academy, is that people can view them during their own time frame, reviewing parts that are of particular interest or to develop greater understanding.  Sal Khan emphasized this point during his talk.  He described how students in our traditional education system are provided with an instructional unit and then tested.  Then the next unit is taught.  But what happens to those students who tested lower on a unit?  They are asked to move on even though they have not achieved proficiency.  This often results in the student failing to fully understand the concepts, often giving up and feeling like a failure.

Sal Khan stresses that learning content should be based on the students’ timing.  It is based on knowledge acquisition and gaining proficiencies.

There was one young man in the audience who held up a I Love Sal Khan sign prior to and after the presentation.  This enthusiastic young man summed up his love of Sal Khan.


Content-Driven Model

It is a content driven model with an end state or outcome being the acquisition of the knowledge about something . . . about math, . . . about science . . . about history.  Learning the “how-to” processes such as those related to innovation, creativity, digital literacy, searching/evaluating content are not part of Khan’s educational model.

Data-Driven Assessments

Khan developed a dashboard for students and teachers to track their progress through the website’s Knowledge Map.  Teachers and coaches can access all of their students’ data. Teachers can get a summary of class performance as a whole or dive into a particular student’s profile to figure out exactly which topics are problematic (

I believe a quiz model of assessment has limited value except for assessing the lower level of Bloom’s Taxonomy – understanding and comprehension.  Students aren’t assessed via the Khan Academy model for their ability to apply the concepts to a variety of scenarios, to evaluate and critique the ideas, and to create new ways of using the concepts in the real world.

Face-to-Face, Classroom Time

Sal Khan emphasized that watching the content videos frees up the class time to do more experiential learning, group discussion, and question-answer sessions.  He repeatedly used the example that during a summer camp that he facilitated, the kids played the board game, Risk, to learn about stock trading.  The video example of classroom setting he used showed all of the kids on their own laptops viewing the Khan Academy videos.

I discussed in The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture, that a problem is that educators, who are used to and trained in using class time for lectures, do not know how to transition from a lecture-based classroom to one that includes other student-centered activities.

A major roadblock or barrier to the implementation of this model is that many educators do not know what to do within the classroom, what to do with that “whatever they want to do” time.  For educators, who are used to and use the didactic model, a framework is needed to assist them with the implementation of the Flipped Classroom.  In other words, the message to teachers to do what they want during classroom is not enough to make this transition.

Khan Academy often produces some emotional reactions by educators – on both ends of the spectrum, from believing this model will produce an educational revolution to the other end with educators totally dismissing it as just a restructuring of traditional pedagogy.  Sal Khan is a good guy with great intentions.  It is important to review all new educational approaches with an open mind while at the same time with a critical eye.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 3, 2012 at 1:03 am

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