Online Learning Is A Reality, And It’s Reframing Education

I got to hear Sal Khan speak this week at the University of Denver Magness Arena. Sal is the founder of the Khan Academy.

Some background: In 2004, Khan began tutoring his cousin, Nadia, in mathematics over the Internet using Yahoo!’s Doodle notepad. When other relatives and friends sought his tutelage, a friend suggested it would be more practical and beneficial to record video tutorials on YouTube. The popularity of the YouTube videos prompted Khan to quit his job as a hedge fund manager in late 2009 to focus exclusively on developing his Khan Academy full-time. It’s mainly for math and science right now, but Khan will be moving into other content areas in the years ahead.

The Khan Academy is not a brick-and-mortar school. The Khan Academy is a web site and YouTube channel with a library of over 3,100 videos accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, worldwide. Their web site receives 2.5 million visits per month in the USA alone.

I recommend that you read Sal’s full story and how this endeavor came to be.  In been just a few years and it’s already getting millions of dollars in funding from sources like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Google!


Colorado’s Lt. Governor Joe Garcia introduced Khan at the University of Denver by saying: “The Khan Academy provides free access to quality teaching. This is accessible to all, and provides a world class education to anyone, anywhere. Teaching only works if learning happens.” I agree!

Some high points from Sal Khan’s talk:

  • The process of forcing all students through a lesson at the same pace isn’t always effective for mastery because the time it takes to learn something varies for each person. But everyone can reach mastery before moving on by going back to a video to re-watch and re-learn at their own pace.
  • When you let students work at their own pace they are on their own individual track. If they’re learning from a video on a computer, they aren’t as passive as they might be in a classroom. Many students spend a lot of time in the classroom disengaged because they don’t have ownership over their learning. With online learning there is more interactivity and the videos are fun.
  • Many students end up becoming advanced that wouldn’t have otherwise in a regular classroom because they are going at their own pace, and they can achieve mastery before moving on. Many students get gaps in their learning when they don’t understand a concept, but the teaching moves forwarded nonetheless.
  • Khan says more and more students who do online learning are outperforming traditional classroom learning. Learning at one’s own pace allows struggling students to do as much repletion and drill as they need, while advanced students have the opportunity to read it once, get it, and move on.
  • What keeps people from using online learning is more of their mindset and less about the cost (technology keeps getting cheaper). The mindset that needs to be overcome is that online learning can’t be as good as traditional, single-teacher-led classroom learning.

What is the role of teachers?

Teachers can spend more time monitoring each student’s progress, making sure they are on task, going at the pace they should be going at for their own individual learning ability, and they can spend more time diagnosing individual strengths and weaknesses.

There is a teacher toolkit that shows best practices so the teacher isn’t left trying to figure out how to best use Khan Academy videos.

With Khan Academy videos, a teacher can quickly identify students who have advanced potential or who are gifted and encourage them to move forward with their learning.

Khan videos can work great for gifted children

It’s a fact that many gifted students have, for so long, been waiting in classrooms for their time to learn. What an incredible validation of their ability and time to not have to review and repeat concepts they understood the first time. Khan videos give gifted kids the opportunity to move ahead at their more accelerated pace, moving on to higher levels or to a different subject altogether.

Many high school drop-outs are gifted kids who are tired of waiting to learn. Many students quickly realize that school is really for the kids who are struggling or at grade level, not the ones who are already ahead. Khan videos may be the opportunity to keep gifted kids who feel neglected and isolated, interested in and graduating from high school.

I’m going to try some of Khan’s instructional videos myself. Geometry was always a weakness for me in high school. It still pains me to think about it today. Even with a tutor, I simply couldn’t grasp it – I felt stupid. Stress and embarrassment made my brain shut down even more. These videos would have been amazing for me. I could have learned geometry on my own time rather than struggling to keep up with the those in the class that were moving faster. Nobody would have had to know that I was reviewing the video 5, 10 or even 20 times before it gelled. No teacher or tutor would have been that patient with me! But, I could have mastered it in my own time.

Go to the Khan Academy yourself and try it.



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