Khan Academy Is Not The Progressive Model You Are Looking For

There has been a great deal written about Khan Academy just recently and the concept of personalised instruction and how this is somehow revolutionary or some sort of game changer. But why is it engaging at all? Where does this type of instruction lead us?

In my opinion the instructional maths videos posted on the Khan Academy are “resources” and the structure surrounding it suggests some sort of recipe for how to best use it. We might call this the “pedagogy” as this term refers to strategies or styles of instruction – and the full-fat version of Khan Academy use has it’s own style, heavily tilted towards personalised instruction and feedback.

Looking at the videos as stand alone resources or items that could be used to support teaching and learning in the classroom – how do you rate them? In my opinion they are not particularly engaging – just a close up version of what you see on a board. In my teaching of maths at primary level I wouldn’t use them directly to support my teaching – I might at a push use them as additional materials for children to access – but I may as well do it myself. So if the videos don’t have anything engaging in them, it must be somewhere else, right?

The Khan Academy is a dressed up YouTube channel and purportedly the statistical tracking and indication of “progress” is what is driving any sense of engagement. So are students engaged in the maths or the pointification? Well if the instructional clips aren’t edge of the seat stuff it must be the notional suggestion of a game that drives clicks and engagement.

My son is just learning to read and he is also learning some spellings, he is 5 years old. He gets about 6 spellings to learn at a time – I have always found spelling strategies and policies that are “learn this word” to be utterly pointless and frustrating. This is similar to learning basic maths too – if George sounds out a word whilst he is reading or trying to write and is using that word in context, he is making a much deeper connection with that concept than if he attempts to learn it on it’s own.

Another off shoot of this list / drill approach is that parents cling on to the score, the outcome, the stats (that are everywhere in the Khan Academy) and as a result begin to build this mentality about what achievement is in school. It is a grade – a score out of 10. No context. We have a cultural fascination with grades and I don’t think Khan Academy does anything but strengthen this fervent point of view.

Seth Godin suggests that it is long overdue to actually create something with these tools – “Knowing about a tool is one thing. Having the guts to use it in a way that brings art to the world is another. Perhaps we need to spend less time learning new tools and more time using them.”

During the last 7 months I have been exploring design thinking as a style of instruction and as a structure to plan curricula that is meaningful and relevant to children. We have had the opportunity to work with a wide range of schools and teachers at all age levels in rethinking their approach to the curriculum. As Ewan puts it:

“it’s not about instruction-giving, the very basis of traditional teaching or “instruction”. It’s about providing structures within which people can operate, structures that use different constraints, not fewer constraints, to achieve more choice and therefore breadth of learning, collaboration and depth of learning.”

This approach has a huge emphasis on the role of the student in their curriculum, they play a vital role in what gets planned and how this plays out in their experience of school. Dan Meyer, a former maths teacher, touches on this approach to curriculum content in his TEDxNYED talk.

What Salman Khan is missing is the connection with the real life around us, that which Dan explores, the context that we need to fully engage in difficult conceptual knowledge. A child using Khan Academy will be able to get a personalised set of exercises, tailored just for them, but not the meaningful choice driven application of those ideas.

Dan Meyer explains that providing students with a real life example of a mathematical challenge levels the playing field for all students as it is more about intuitive problem discovery than spoon feeding text book style. Gever Tulley, the creator of the Tinkering School, explains this succinctly by suggesting that:

“The opportunities for engaged learning are inversely proportional to the knowability of the outcome.”

When we know the outcome of our work, if we have too rigid an outcome in our mind for the topic we are working on, our students are likely to be less engaged. (From the video above you can see Dan restructuring a problem with this in mind.)

To me this refers to the “guess the answer in the teacher’s head” syndrome, which when expanded can (sadly) apply to the whole curriculum topic for weeks an weeks of school. We are all making a musical instrument as that is what we have always done.

I don’t see how Khan Academy can have a place in a creative curriculum model, at least not the model of instruction used, the resources themselves may have some value. But it all seems to be propping up a model that should be vanishing from our schools, not resurfacing.

Resources such as these will just make teachers think that they are taking innovative approaches to their teaching and learning. It will stall the changes that are needed in many schools across the world to make maths and other curriculum subjects more meaningful and engaging – we need more “problem finders“, critical thinkers and indeed children developing the capacity to become “patient problem solvers”. We don’t need games and points to bring rote, de-contextualised, meaningless styles of learning back from the abyss where they should rest – we should be kicking them back over the edge!

Dave Gibbs, a teacher and consultant from the UK summed this up really well: “To me it (Khan Academy) seems like a new way of teaching the old way. Not fit for today’s learners, or indeed teachers.”

  1. I think the thing that is being overlooked here is that Khan Academy is revolutionary because it gifts education to people who could not otherwise afford it. I have never been privileged enough to go to a school where I could rewind my teacher and listen again and again until I understood. When you live in the hood, no one will jeer at you for having a smart phone, but you will get into it with someone if caught carrying a book to study for a GED. The “what you too good to sell drugs now” conversation is a real one. I see people writing articles about the nuances of teaching but when are we going to address the fact that things like Khan Academy changes lives?

  2. Students like Kahn Academy because Sal is a better teacher than most teachers in the world. He makes subjects easy by starting with an analogy/goal and the simplest examples possible.
    Background: I’m an engineer and I’ve been using Khan Academy since it came out.

  3. Very late to this discussion. I must say that Khan Academy is a resource which teachers can use to empower their classes. When Khan created these classes, it was to teach at a distance. KA is not redesigning the way we teach, it provides the same topics covered by educational institutions the same way teachers should–You present the topic, give examples and show how it applies to real scenarios. The thing is that Khan’s videos explain in a very eloquent manner the topic at hand. At least the videos he is doing instruction.
    Locally, many teachers started creating their own videos, and forced their students to see their videos, then they called this mode flipped-classroom. Students where going through those videos, frustrated, and then followed their instruction by Khan Academy. They understood the concept more clearly.
    Khan’s videos are not innovative in their delivery or content. However, these videos are clear, concise and very well structured to deliver their message. Which unfortunately cannot be said by a number of teachers in our classrooms. How many of you have taught Algebra to middle schoolers and can answer what is a quadratic equation, how can it be used and tie the example to a relatable situation for young individuals?
    Better yet, from a student: “Why do we need to find the inverse of a quadratic equation? How are we going to use this in our daily lives?” The answer should not be due to curricular completion, but what is the intrinsic need for a student to learn this type of equations, real world examples and applications?

  4. I am frustrated by the Dan Meyers barrage I’m getting as a teacher. His approach requires a great amount of social interaction on the part of students as well as a base level of creativity that many of my inner-city special needs students do not have. My students are not particularly intellectually challenged, they are what you might consider normal kids out of the context of a mathematics classroom. Unfortunately, I’ve tried several of Dan’s lessons, only to watch one student after another give up when the higher order thinking was required for the next step.

    Mathematics is more than just a way of describing the world and thus more than a “real world application.” It is the ONLY subject in school that absolutely required ordered thought and an absolute correct result. By eliminating the teaching of algorithms and allowing students to access the curriculum at their own personal comfort level we miss the opportunity to develop executive functioning skills.

    Watch for this data: correlation between the executive functioning scores of students from school districts with “new” math curriculums and those that still stress the “old” math (no calculators, learn the procedures for basic skills, automaticity before creativity. I believe we will see that this will be yet another divide between the socio-economic classes – all in the name of progress.

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  8. Every student is unique. There is no one approach that will suit every student. Khan Academy is wonderful. This is a sour grapes article.

  9. This is very interesting. Thank you for the post. Please amend the erroneous apostrophe in its in the first paragraph. It’s = it is.
    Thank you.

  10. Silver bullets don’t exist – we’d like them to but they don’t. Point is it provides a learning resource, freely available at any time, to anybody, that wasn’t there before. Learners will determine how they use it – as practice, as an alternative explanation, as a way of solving a problem, or just curiosity. Teachers will adopt a similarly flexible approach – if they’re smart about it.

  11. I don’t think I agree with you. In order to be creative, you need to first have a good grasp of content/. Everything can be criticized I think the videos are there as another resource…when a child is stuck and wants to grasp a concept by himself, feels helpless in class, and is not fortunate to have a Dan Myers like teacher, then he goes home and plays the videos, pauses them and plays them again.. It gives him/her time, the instructions can be repeated as many times as required. The videos are conversational in nature and not robotic…mistakes are made…erased…I think they are a way out for students who struggle to keep up in class.

  12. KA academy is real game changer! Very important aspect of learning we forget is to whom it directed to. For today’s kid it is normal to spend time on computers which people of my age (pre internet) can think of.

    My mother knows table of 2.5 and and answer 2.5X20 in second and she is not genius but in her times it was mandatory to learn tables by heart and she has much practical uses.

    Belonging to Pakistan KA holds great potential because we in subcontinent (Pakistan, India and Bangladesh has huge population to educate. Even if Govt provides all the support (which it cannot) staffing is always an issue. With emergence to Tablets and alternative and some kind of competency based testing, KA is promising future.

  13. I’m aware this blog post is a year old, but I think it misses the mark. Salman Khan himself has stated that using this kind of media as a learning tool is NOT to replace a teacher’s role, but rather to *liberate* teachers to do exactly the kind of teaching you find important. The reality is that teachers spend an enormous amount of time providing the core instruction and assigning and grading homework and exams – all while trying to balance a spectrum of skill levels spread across 20-30 different students. With math, technology can cover it – liberating the teacher to focus her efforts on *managing* the student’s education and planning/executing fabulous enrichment exercises for groups.

    That said, your experience with your 5-yr-old son still holds. Early childhood learning is different. Using something like Khan Academy as a core tool in the classroom is something best reserved for probably around 3rd grade and beyond. Hands-on learning, kinetic experiences, and tons of human interaction will likely always be the most efficient learning model for most kids preschool through 2nd grade.

  14. Say what you want – I am an MIT graduate and Khan Academy got me through differential algebra and calculus. That guy is a godsend.

  15. Have you actually WATCHED the Khan videos?  In the first 8 Micro Economics videos he uses both real life examples AND opportunity for student practice and teacher interaction is provided. 

  16. A couple of thoughts.. First off, KA is great for anyone in the world to improve in their free time. Second think of KA as a distribution service, whatever your method of educating the student on the subject you can input it into their system. They provide demographics to educators, problems for practice, and a catalog of lessons. Those lessons can change, and adapt to more modern methods of teaching as they’re proven. One could take the same system KA is using and apply Dan Meyer’s methods of teaching for the lessons by including a discovery phase. It may not include the conversation part, but if you have someone who is driven enough to get on the website on their own to begin with that will only be a minor setback. I understand the conversation can be used to help improve the memorization of the subject, but the method of discovering the problem is the real kicker. When the student figures something out for themselves they’re more likely to remember it. So at the beginning of the interactive lesson, provide the minimal details and a method for the student to step further into the problems. That method would be up for debate you would want the least invasive model, one that doesnt necessarily preset the track for their discovery. But in the end they’re still going to come down to a formula, its the method of being introduced to the formula  that is important. KA is still effective, over time we may see the videos be replaced by interavtive applications, allowing for other forms of introduction.

  17. You completely missed the point. You may want to watch this video to understand Khan’s objectives.

    He is indeed teaching the old way in a new setting – the online videos. But that is so that students can watch them at their own pace and understand better. More importantly, teachers get more class time, where they can focus on discussions and projects – for example some real life math, which you talk about. Khan Academy video lectures were never meant to be a standalone version of education. It is one component, where students can learn basic skills and understanding, and on which teachers can build further, providing a more fruitful and engaging experience.

  18. Tom, as someone who taught Programming to college students, and is a math minor, I take exception with with the attitude that we need to be more “progressive” in our teaching.  My biggest problems were students who did not read the material, were lost during the presentation (which was posted before the lecture) and failed the exams (which were open book, open notes, but done in front of the computer…  As in they had to make the program work), and were somehow upset with me.

    What was missing was the repetitive basic steps.  I have tutored at least 50 students at MSU.  My tutoring often was reduced to 1 or 2 sessions, and I would guarantee the results if the students followed the process.  If they showed me the work from the day I left until the end of the semester and they did not get a 3.5 (or at least 2 pts higher on a 4 pt system), I would gladly refund their money.  Nobody asked for their money back.

    The simple secret.  Repitition.  Writing out the examples in the book.  Writing the homework (each problem on a blank page/side), and then rewriting it, preferably from memory.

    Amazing how becoming FAMILIAR with the problems you are solving makes them easier.

    So, I see the Khan Academy as a great gift of being able to watch numerous videos on the NUTS and BOLTS of doing math.  Which, BTW, is what most kids cannot do with todays educations.
    Do we need good tools?  Yep.  Would I rather have my own daughter watch a lecture at HOME and do the work at school where she could ask for help in real time?  CERTAINLY.

    But I fight with the math teacher.  She does not give ENOUGH homework.  Math is a skill.  Then Fridays, NO HOMEWORK.  Monday, 40 problems.  Tuesday 15 problems….  Only about 6 by thursday.  And non on Friday.  Because that fits her schedule.

    Does KA replace education or educators?  No.  Is it a fabulous resource to help someone who just does not get Polynomial Factorization…  Heck Yeah!  Step by step.

    At some point, we have to stop being SO PROGRESSIVE, and start actually getting these kids to think.  (I just helped a young lady who was having problems with Linear Functions…  She did not know what the word Linear meant.  It seems like she got the PROGRESSIVE version of the course, but not the old fashioned, hard nosed repetitive version that you find so repulsive).

  19. I have been motivating children in my schools through the use of games based learning for years – you only have to look at the number of GBL posts on here that I have penned in the past:

    and I have even explored what we can learn from them for assessment:
    So, yes I can see how it might motivate kids, but it is not motivation I am interested in this post it is the suggestion (or perception) that Khan Academy is some sort of new model of instruction or pedagogy. Which it is not.

    I read this today which you might also find interesting:
    thanks for your comment

  20. yeah, whoever wrote this article missed the point.  Khan didn’t develop the idea of exploratory videos.  He also is developing physical schools.  And how about the fact that he totally understands the connection to a video game console based format.  (X-Box Live achievements?)  I’m sorry you can’t see why that might motivate kids.

  21. Two other points to keep in mind:

    1. Science is often the most academically challenging topic for middle school teachers and they can often use help in explaining complex topics. Kahn is deeply knowledgeable.  To that end I also found this site / idea:
    2. Kahn isn’t afraid of explaining things in a relaxed way – conversational – that is engaging.  Reminiscent of Richard Feynman in explaining physics.

    I think if someone else tried to do what Kahn is doing it wouldn’t be the same – so in that respect I think the article is spot on that there is nothing terribly new in the structure of the method but I think Kahn is using it in very different ways and that is what makes it so interesting.

  22. I think this misses the point.  The Khan Academy concept and the flipped classroom, if used well, can actually increase meaningful teacher/student interaction and can make it more possible to move students toward genuine creative problem solving.  It should not be seen as a stand alone magic bullet.  Beaver Country Day School (grades 6-12 in Boston) is working with IDEO to find ways to take advantage of Design Thinking, and in the process we are clear that Design Thinking is not a stand alone either.  In fact I can see many ways that Khan Academy and Design Thinking can support each other.  In looking at new ways to design curriculum and pedagogy through technologies and approaches like KA & DT, we need to move away from either/or thinking and embrace both/an.

  23. The way I’d use the Khan videos would be as a starting point – the
    students could use it to remodel the concepts in their own contexts.
    This is, essentially, about making media and media literacy not
    teaching/ learning/flipping those concepts. Khan is 101 in those terms.
    The whole social context around how you make media and how one learns
    through making media is important here. Because cameras and screencasts
    are becoming ubiquitous and highly distributed doesn’t necessarily mean
    they are going to replace teaching and learning by dint of “tutorials” ;
    like any other resource it is how they are used in social contexts I
    find interesting. What is also interesting about the rise of media is
    that it affords an opportunity to personalise learning in a highly local
    social context. I would put money on the fact that a teacher supplying
    videos of this nature to their class would have more resonance than if
    they were distributed more widely. Why? Because of the personal, face to
    face nature of the relationships between teacher and learner. Even then
    I would encourage the teacher to flip the teaching over to the pupils
    and get them to make the media where possible. Firstly because we now
    have the technology to avoid it being a lean back passive experience and
    secondly the making of media and presentations like this is usually a
    collaborative, social experience where transactional skillsets are often
    passed between pupils as they reflect on and remodel the knowledge and
    ways in which it can be communicated so you get more value out of the
    learning experience – it is a slower, more measured process and, in the
    end, learners understand the nature of making media far more and so can
    reflect on the “knowledge” contained within. The media is, as is so
    often the case, the tip of the iceberg in terms of learning otherwise it
    just goes onto the massive (and increasingly growing) pile of resources
    that become eventually unfathomable. How we navigate our way through
    that knowledge and more importantly how we reflect on and use it is
    increasingly the 21st century skill.

  24. Tom, I agree completely that, Khan Academy, (KA) should not be seen as a definitive pedagogical model for progressive education, and also agree that current obsession with scores restricts creativity and innovation, and didactic lessons or lectures are a very inefficient way of enabling learning. But  I would argue it is more significant than a resource per se. Both Jose and Frank have touched on a couple of important points; KA is both a starting point and a work in progress, its value extends beyond the sum of its parts. Therefore we have to be careful and not throw the baby out with the bathwater…..  KA is only one of many Internet platforms/portals learners can use, the important point is, they can choose when, where and most importantly, how, to use them. Indeed, KA’s reach goes way beyond schools because it is not just accessed by children and young people alone, but adults of all ages who wish to learn. So if folks think the content is too limiting or uni-directional, there is plenty of scope, (a CC licence and 2700 clips), providing the opportunity to re-purpose them as OERs, or even better encouraging  students to remix them. I think it is important to see KA as an actor within an evolving digital content ecosystem. The rise of and significance of Khan Academy is a good topic for debate, as reflected in the number range of comments; so thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  25. I think the discussion here shows a number of things: the variety of opinion around in education; how people view the idea of ‘pedagogy’; and, for the conversation, the lack of research around to throw light on resources such as KA. So, firstly, variety of opinion is good, providing we listen to others’ views and try to delve into what’s behind those views. There are strong views anti KA, but we all know KA won’t replace the teaching/learning relationship – but it can help if we find creative ways of including such resources. Secondly, let’s pause to think what the power of KA is for the hundreds of thousands of kids who access it. One of the most powerful aspects of ‘pedagogy’ is supporting cognitive engagement (not just interactive engagement with a teacher). One of the best ways to do that is to listen to an expert ‘think out loud’ – not all teachers have grasped the power of this. What KA can’t do in this respect is listen to learners ‘think out loud’ in turn. Given that studies still show that teachers talk for 80% of class time, the average classroom isn’t hugely better! But KA also takes learners tentatively from pedagogy (an adult ‘leading’ learning) through andragogy (the learner inputing into decisions about what to learn) to heutagogy, (what the learner wants, when the learner wants it, where the learner wants it). And, thirdly, let’s access some research into how resources like KA measurably help or, given the thesis in the original post, actively hinder learning. There are many ways to learn and we all need to remember that that’s what counts. 

  26. I do enjoy this debate and every time I read more about it I move on a little. In general I agree about KA and love Dan Meyer’s enthusiasm for real world connections, but don’t see it as quite that simple. For me it is more about engagement and there are so many ways to be engaged. Many involve obvious real world connections and many do not. There are lots of views out there at the moment, lots of TED speakers (Salman Khan, Dan Meyer, Conrad Wolfram, John Bennet and more) and they are not all coming from quite the same place! If I think of the way I was trained in relation to all of these, I don’t think maths education is in need of revolution – evolution always – but not revolution. Take for example John Mason’s book on ‘thinking mathematically’ published 30 years ago. Assessment systems and public perception need work I agree. I recently found ‘Maths is not Linear’ which is my current absolute favourite view of what is important in maths education and it is the same philosophy I was trained with. I have written some more short observations on ‘education revolution’ here Thanks Tom for questioning KA and furthering this debate for me.

  27. Nice website. You should consider including high-speed test prep if you haven’t already–particularly for SAT, ACT, and GRE. I’m glad to see these types of tools popping up to accelerate spelling, etc.

    I agree & disagree with your perspective. I agree that it is very hard to absorb. However, I’m convinced that as much as I would like the average person to learn math at a greater depth, what truly matters is whether the truly motivated in a particular subject have access to the resources they need to either #1. self teach or #2. supplement with additional interaction. As with any instructional subject, if kids don’t have access to the resources, they probably won’t develop the skill. Imagine a kid trying to learn how to become a professional swimmer when the nearest pool is 100 miles away. It won’t happen. Likewise, if a kid that is interested in math doesn’t have the resources necessary to move faster than the curriculum dictates, he or she may get bored with the material and languish or (worse) become a troublemaker. The Khan Academy provides a free private tutor to explain concepts in a much less painful way than trying to read a textbook would be–especially for younger kids. That alone makes it a revolutionary innovation in education. Khan Academy may actually force us to re-evaluate how we hold back certain students from progressing, as many of them might just go and do it on their own when they get tired of waiting for those “left behind” to catch up now that instructors have less of a monopoly on the access to advancement through the curriculum. It’s not a replacement for student-teacher interaction, but it may force us to redefine what activities student-teacher interactions encompass.

  28. Education has been prevented from fully enjoying the digital wave (arguably for a variety of economic restrictions ranging from market structure to unions to tenure to management to their public nature–but I digress). There are many opportunities to make it easier to motivate and iterate repetitive tasks with students so that they have the core capacities required to think beyond the basics. Just as a painter needs to learn how to hold a brush and paint strokes in particular patterns to create shapes and execute works of beauty and imagination, extensive repetition (both within and without real context) plays a role in learning core abilities. In the same way that batting cages eliminate the coach from having to toss the ball to a player to practice batting, education needs to eliminate the teacher (and especially the parent) from many of the more mundane iterative processes. And beyond just eliminating the other party with a computer (perhaps more accurate and knowledgeable computer–consider IBM’s “Watson” as an example of knowledge/fact-finding potential when a person has learned some magic keywords to describe the question as an answer), perhaps the computer can provide far more positive feedback, encouragement, and motivational scenarios that the best writers and storytellers can dream up–rather than the best idea that a parent or teacher can conjure up on the fly. If anybody doubts the power of storytelling and gaming, go ask a teenager why they spent the entire weekend playing World of Warcraft–why was it so engaging? And what is so different about it than their school curriculum?

    Technology is an input into the educational model–let teachers do things only humans can do (creativity, social interaction, etc.), and let’s save them from doing what machines can do much better for our students.

  29. I couldn’t agree more Frank. The idea that KA should/wil/may  become the base of instruction for student learning is ludicrous. But, the idea that this could be a tool – a supplement or complement, as you put it – to help students along path of learning, is a useful idea. Some folks tend to jump on any new idea (and I agree with Tom that I am not sure how “new” or innovative this idea is) and proclaim it the next transformative movement in education.

    I am not willing to call KA that transformative movement, but I am also not willing to throw it by the wayside. As a resource – one that can be used in schools, or by students at home – it is a worthwhile tool. As a father of two young girls, I wouldn’t want this to be the sole way in which they learn (I am a big advocate for the problem finding movement) but I am also not opposed to this being a possible resource for them. 

    We don’t have to label KA (or any other tool, for that matter) the worst learning tool, or the educational game-changer. Maybe we can fall in some middle ground.

  30. Great if you’ve got a population of motivated students and an army of brilliant teachers. Realistically, this kind of thinking is exactly why many kids are leaving school with a poor level of education. This wonderful idea of a ‘more meaningful and engaging’ education is not half as realistic as an individually catered, fast track, data rich eduction via KA. It is such a great tool, and so easy to integrate into classrooms.

  31. Khan Academy will evolve. They are very open to new types of material such as game modules and simulations. KA’s goal is to be a platform where teachers can upload their own material. There will of cource also be a library of videoes that teachers and students can choose from. Instead of focusing on the limitations of present KA, wouldn’t it be more interesting to write a post where you share realistic thoughts on how KA can get better?

  32. I’d agree that we need to truly evaluate the Khan Academy.  For me, the excitement about Khan Academy reflects that for a certain highly motivated math student, it offers free lectures.  The problem sets and concept math are also intriguing.  But for most students, it is brutally hard to absorb. It is pure problem-solving, not connected with real problems and not reflected of where we are headed with the Common Core. Khan has made instructional videos into a freely available commodity and while this is great, it is not educationally revolutionary.

    John, Mayor of

  33. I was very disappointed a few months ago with the amount of teaching colleagues on Twitter and elsewhere who were gushing in their praise of the so-called ‘Flipped Classroom’ and the ‘Khan Academy’. It struck me then, as it still does now, as a load of hokum – and I described it as ‘teaching 21st century children using 20th century technology with 19th century techniques’. It’s not often that I send out critical messages on Twitter but the blind adoration being shown towards utter mediocrity was downright depressing. I’m glad a few more people clearly share my view on this than I originally thought!

  34. I take your point that KA may demonstrate how the web can convey and deliver instruction – and that for some this is eye opening. But a symbol of a progressive pedagogy it is not.

    You have to consider how much the model relies on technology and indeed the algorithms that are at it’s core. Take that away and you don’t have much.


    We don’t need technology to help teachers re-define what learning can and should be like. Technology comes later but it is rarely ever the start. 

  35. Quite. As I say, I broadly agree with you. Having said, playing devil’s advocate again, I know one or two teachers who have started viewing the internet as a positive force in teaching and learning thanks to resources like the Khan Academy. 

    In a world where the internet is still looked upon with suspicion and scepticism in many schools, this is a positive step forward, is it not? If you agree that it is, then does it not follow that these very originally suspicious teachers and their, still in many cases, equally sceptic students may eventually come to realise the transformative potential of social learning? One small step for school kind…. 

  36. Am sorry Khan stuff does not free me up to do anything!

    One of the many things I enjoy out teaching is the engagement!

    How does a video react if a student has a question?

    How does a video deal with student boredom?

    It’s madness to suggest that Khan Academy represents a leap in educational pedagogy-haven’t we all been using YouTube for years?

    You will never replace or replicate teacher/student face-to-face interaction,well not in our lifetimes.

    As you mentioned already Tom-let’s not even start on the ‘anti-creativity’ of it all.

    The only thing Khan academy is useful for is producing mindless tele-bound zombies & I pity anyone who praises it’s obvious ‘budget-saving’ powers.

    A great blog post Tom- glad you sit on the same side of the fence as me!

  37. Thanks for the comment Jose, I don’t agree that KA has the potential to be transformative. Well in fact I take that back, as I think it will transform things regressively to models of learning many thought were long since outdated.

    I see no problem with the idea of putting free content out there or using the clips in addition to other work – what is troubling is the growing frequency of people hanging their hats on it as some sort of innovative approach to learning.

    The fragmented parts of maths are presented in such a way that no over arching themes or applications can be drawn – it just fragments further. I don’t see it as a good starting point for a process of transformation as I think it is essentially heading down a road which masquerades as having personalised learning and students at the centre. I think we are being duped into believing that KA is what student centred learning looks like.

  38. Tom, Your last two comments (in boldface) are absolutely right on the money!  I have just retired from over a decade in a consultative role, and spent much of that decade frustrated with how educators kept looking for new technology to help them do things “the [same] old way.”  With the arrival of the current century, this has only become worse: people feel that by simply using ANY technology, appropriately matched or not, appropriately used or not, they are part of “21st century teaching and learning.”  Witness such things as the subject of this post; look on the web for interactive whiteboard files and find most files’ being nothing more than collections of content; witness teachers decreeing “everyone in our class” will “do” a podcast/slideshow/Vimeo/brochure/whatever; witness educational “leaders” announcing that all hundred-plus people in the room will all tweet (ironically, about 21st century education), on cue; and so forth.  Unfortunately, as long as our society remains results-driven, and wraps itself in a cloak it calls “data driven decision-making” (but which it hardly understands), and uses these as rationales in our search for “time-saving”, and “efficient”, albeit simplistic, solutions to complex problems, we won’t evolve from the primordial ooze that is education in many quarters.  Marshall McLuhan once spoke about marching forward whilst looking in our rear-view mirrors.  Looks like those words, now nearly a half century old, are still frighteningly true!

  39. I couldn’t agree more. However, as devil’s advocate, are approaches like that of the Khan Academy simply the beginning of a process of transformation?
    When I first started incorporating new technologies into my teaching and my pupils’ learning, I had enhancement in mind. This led me to start using Web 2.0 tools to help me achieve the same kind of tasks that I would have asked my students to do without these tools, simply because they added a little extra twist and a measure of engagement.It was only when I’d been using them for a little while that I and – importantly – my pupils started to realise that these technologies did more that just enhance: they could transform the way we taught and learned by, as Puentedura suggests, allowing us to devise “previously inconceivable tasks”.The Khan Academy looks as it does and does what it does because it’s what teachers and – crucially again – what students expect. If it’s any good then enhancement will no doubt lead to transformation. So, if you look at Khan Academy as the final product, then yes, it’s missed the mark. But if you look at it again as the beginning of a process of transformation then – who knows – it may be as good a start as any.Just thinking aloud.Thanks for such a nicely put together blog post Tom.

  40. Sure, Tom. I agree with the thrust but not the conclusion. It’s not just about paperwork and crowded curricula. You don’t get change without investing time. It just ain’t going to happen. So every teacher and headteacher has to explain what they’re doing, why and it’s impact on achievement. If they can’t justify the impact, just stop it.

  41. Thanks for your comment Frank – I agree that “time” is such a block for many teachers in accessing or creating a more meaningful curriculum, but that is because the curriculum content they are told to teach and the onerous emphasis on paperwork and assessment leaves no time. Schools need to be brave and ask themselves hard questions about what is on the curriculum and not just plough onwards with what has always been there. As a resource KA might prove useful, but not as a model for learning or something to pivot a curriculum around.

  42. On the other hand, resources like KA can free up time for teachers to do the wonderful stuff everyone is describing. When asked what they need most to teach the skills kids need for the future, teachers often say “time, time and time”. KA is not an alternative, but could be a good supplement and complement! So let’s stop rubbishing things and think about how best to exploit them.

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