Khan Academy in Space

If you have been involved with education during the past decade, you certainly have encountered Khan Academy. Maybe you even used their free training videos in your classes or even with your own children.

Sal Khan, who created the channel in 2006 and made it his full-time job three years later, tells EdSurge about “Three Things We Learned at Khan Academy Over the Last Decade”.

1. Teachers are the unwavering center of schooling and we should continue to learn from them every day.

Do you recall when Bill Gates and others provided huge grants for Khan’s work and we were told that Khan Academy, and video channels like it, would make teachers unnecessary? Good times.

Anyway, beyond that “rediscovery” of teachers, something that seems to rehappen every decade or so, the phrasing Khan uses is interesting. Teachers are the “center of schooling”. Shouldn’t students be at the center?

I would argue kids have always been the “unwavering center” of learning. Because “schooling” and learning are not the same thing.

2. Students need exposure to rigorous grade-level curriculum and they need to work at their learning edge.

I continue to talk about mastery now because I believe more strongly than ever in its power to tailor education for every student. The philosophical core of Khan Academy is mastery learning.

Yet a tension exists today between the notion of assigning grade-level work and providing a highly personalized, mastery-based learning experience for every student. I’d posit that it’s a false choice, and here’s why: We can have both.

Again Khan’s language in this section directly reinforces the traditional concept of “schooling” that is at the center of his “academy”.

One in which a “rigorous” fixed curriculum is distributed in bite-sized pieces to large groups of students. “Highly personalized” learning experiences completely determined by adults. Making activities like watching Khan’s videos not at all personal for the kids.

3. Our public schools are an abiding institution that is making important progress despite many challenges

Ok, I agree with the basic idea: public schools should be an “abiding institution” part of American society. However, the education system we currently have is in need of a major overhaul. From the curriculum to pedagogy to the school calendar.

However, over the past decade, Khan and his Academy, along with most of those other edtech “revolutions”, has been more of an impediment to beginning any of those necessary changes.


The image is from the Flickr photostream of John Spencer, an educator, author, and speaker I’ve been following for years. It’s used under a Creative Commons license. For anyone wondering, this is actually a valid application of the fair use provisions of the copyright law, using a copyrighted image in a transformative way (parody) that does no damage to the owner’s ability to profit from it.