Khan Academy: My Final Remarks

Many people aren’t getting the nuances of my recent Khan Academy arguments. I’ll make my final remarks and then put this thread to rest.

Khan Academy videos are nothing new. MIT OpenCourseWare has been around for TEN YEARS now. Walter Lewin’s awesome physics lectures have been available for most of those 10 years — despite the fact they are pseudoteaching, and his students emerged with no greater understanding of physics than those of professors before him.

And I didn’t have a problem with Khan Academy (as a collection of videos) until very recently.

For me, the problem is the way Khan Academy is being promoted. The way the media sees it as “revolutionizing education.” The way people with power and money view education as simply “sit-and-get.”

(c) tcoffey (via Flickr)

If your philosophy of education is sit-and-get, i.e., teaching is telling and learning is listening, then Khan Academy is way more efficient than classroom lecturing. Khan Academy does it better.

But TRUE progressive educators, TRUE education visionaries and revolutionaries don’t want to do these things better. We want to DO BETTER THINGS.

Ironically, everything that is wrong with Khan Academy has been addressed in two previous TED talks:

According to Dan, today’s math curriculum is teaching students to expect — and excel at — paint-by-numbers classwork, robbing kids of a skill more important than solving problems: formulating them. How does Khan Academy foster problem posing and creativity?

Rather than instructing students with Khan’s videos, we should be inspiring them to figure things out on their own and learn how to create their own knowledge by working together. For example, instead of relying on lectures and textbooks, the Modeling Instruction paradigm emphasizes active student construction of conceptual and mathematical models in an interactive learning community. Students are engaged with simple scenarios to learn to model the physical world. In comparison to traditional instruction, Modeling is extremely effective — under expert modeling instruction high school students average more than two standard deviations higher on a standard instrument for assessing conceptual understanding of physics.

Watch one Modeling class in action:

In the clip, the teacher says, “I don’t lecture at all. Instead, I create experiences for the students either in the lab or puzzles and problems for them to solve and it’s up to them to try to figure that out.” I’ve often wondered why this type of teaching hasn’t gotten more attention in the media. Maybe because the teacher is using simple things like whiteboards and bowling balls rather than shiny iPads and SmartBoards?

While Khan argues that his videos now eliminate “one-size-fits-all” education, his videos are exactly that. I tried finding Khan Academy videos for my students to use as references for studying, or to use as a tutorial when there’s a substitute teacher, but I haven’t found a good one. They either tackle problems that are too hard (college level) or they don’t use a lot of the multiple representations that are so fundamental to my teaching (kinematic graphs, interaction diagrams, energy pie graphs, momentum bar charts, color-coded circuit diagrams showing pressure and flow, etc.) Khan Academy videos do not align with proper Physics Education Research pedagogy.

I find it troublesome that the Khan Academy team is not spending time and energy on the pedagogy of teaching math and science, but rather on refining the gaming mechanics of Khan Academy in response to “good” and “bad” behavior of students working through the software exercises. The “gamification” of learning in Khan Academy has had disastrous consequences at the Los Altos school pilot.

There are some truly innovative learning technologies that have been
around for years. If Khan Academy wants to grow out of their infancy as electronic worksheet drills, I hope their team takes a look at these more transformative educational technologies, all of which have been researched and tested:

Khan Academy also promotes the “usefulness” of its dashboard for its exercise software. I find most of that information useless, like knowing how many times a student rewound the movie, how many times she paused it, or how long he spent on a module. Those times could be affected by distractions from family, self-imposed distractions like facebook and texting, etc.

Feedback I would find WAY MORE useful:

  • knowing how many times a student attempted the same problem
  • knowing the student’s answer history to each problem; i.e, what the student’s wrong answers were
  • knowing the type of mistake a student made when choosing a wrong answer; e.g., did he forget to square the distance, did she apply kinetic energy conservation instead of momentum conservation, did he disregard the fact that the forces where in opposite directions, did she confuse force of friction with coefficient of friction, did he assume constant velocity when in fact it was accelerating, etc.
  • software that anticipates and recognizes those common mistakes (like all great teachers do) and gives the students immediate, tailored feedback during the exercise

Finally, everyone is talking about using Khan Academy as a way to do more inquiry and more project-based learning. However, Bill Gates and Sal Khan are not showing any examples about what students and teachers are doing beyond Khan Academy. The news stories are not showing the open-ended problems the kids should be engaging with after mastering the basics — instead they show kids sitting in front of laptops working drills and watching videos. The focus is on the wrong things.

Khan Academy is just one tool in a teacher’s arsenal. (If it’s the only tool, that is a HUGE problem.) Khan Academy can be useful for some kids as vehicle (build skills) to help them get to better places (solving complex problems).

Now let’s please shift the focus (yours and mine) toward the destination.

Important Talks/Media about Khan Academy

More Blog Posts Critical of Khan Academy, from me and others

Khan Academy-Related Blogs

107 responses to “Khan Academy: My Final Remarks

  1. Excellent points. I view this approach to “reforming” education as being akin to switching lanes on the interstate. Maybe you will get to go a bit faster, but otherwise there’s not much of a change.

    It does have possibilities, though. What if the videos represented experts demonstrating their craft to apprentices instead of instructors directing students? This is an effective instructional approach often used by literacy teachers called Think-Alouds. I’ve begun trying this but have a ways to go –

    • Thanks for sharing your Think-Alouds! Sometimes in my AP Physics class we’ll solve a problem that I’ve never attempted before. It’s a great experience because they get to see me make mistakes, venture down blind alleys, and hit dead ends. They realize that it’s OK not to see the endpoint before putting pencil to paper. I’ve never thought of recording them to video as a resource. Great idea!

  2. Sal Khan made these videos on his own, and it’s free. Commendable. But he is no better a lecturer than anyone else. There’s no reason to suppose that watching him on a video is any better than watching a live teacher. Except he’s a guy. And asian. Now he’s teamed with Bill Gates, who could not stomach college himself, but is a white guy. And rich. Okay. I get it now.
    Sorry from the poor white woman.
    p.s. a decade ago i worked with a friend to learn java and make applets for an interactive web-based course, which is still free. But you can’t just watch it, so no big hype there. And what about Walter Fendt, who pioneered it all for us in Physics and got threats to sue him for making useful stuff?

  3. As you’ve said several times now, the criticism of teacher-talk/student-listen is nothing new. MIT figured it out after the Lewin Lectures, Feynmen figured it out as noted in his books. Heck even Confucius knew it:
    Tell me, I’ll forget.
    Show me, I may remember.
    Involve me, I’ll understand.
    If you really want to get down to it, Socrates was famous for teaching through questions, not lectures.

  4. Thanks for linking to my blog post!

    Great post. I love what you say: “But TRUE progressive educators, TRUE education visionaries and revolutionaries don’t want to do these things better. We want to DO BETTER THINGS.” And: “Rather than instructing students with Khan’s videos, we should be inspiring them to figure things out on their own and learn how to create their own knowledge by working together.”

    Very interesting blog you have here; I look forward to exploring more of it.

  5. Nice post, Frank. You’ve aptly described the pros and cons of Khan. I also love the list of other posts at the end – that was very helpful.

    It is refreshing to see the discussion around Khan Academy focus on the word pedagogy – it’s something we tend to ignore at our own peril.

    Keep it up!


  6. Spot on, Frank, especially re: 1) the media & Gates’ fawning over Sal’s videos, 2) your list of way more useful feedback, and 3) your last paragraph below.

    “Khan Academy is just one tool in a teacher’s arsenal. (If it’s the only tool, that is a HUGE problem.) Khan Academy can be useful for some kids as vehicle (build skills) to help them get to better places (solving complex problems).”

    While I recall being impressed the first time I saw one of Sal’s videos, it was not as a substitute for instruction, but as an easily accessed resource for (some) students to view, and review, at their convenience, which is novel (in its breadth) and useful, your points about pedagogy, level, appropriateness, multiple representations notwithstanding.

    By the way, I am also strong believer that a mixture of instructional strategies is best rather than following one approach given the tradeoffs we need to make for our specific students. We need to balance a diversity of learning styles; the necessity for coverage; the burden of standardized testing; various special needs; support for language learners; the costs & benefits of heterogeneous group-work, project-based learning, explicit direct instruction, and standards-based grading; students’ prior knowledge; equitable access; etcetera; etcetera. All of which, by definition, calls for class- and, ideally, student-specific mixtures of the above. None of which is easy or exact, but all necessary in certain situations which we need to be prepared to address.

    So, plopping students in front of videos of Sal Khan, or anyone else for that matter, as a substitute for a pedagogically proficient professional is: 1) laughable, 2) amazingly short-sighted, and 3) a testament to the lunacy of some driving education reform.

  7. The issue is the replication of traditional schooling via a computer, where the power structures remain the same and children go to X to learn Y from the “teacher”. I’ve begun work on the concept of an unschool and I must admit it is taxing as I have been “schooled” to equate learning with traditional structures of school. Will continue to blog about my progress. Would invite you to add your voice. I deeply believe that learning can be occasioned, but not caused. I also believe that the ocassioning learning is not solely the purview of school. Also I recently blogged about observing my 12 year old’s Minecraft playing (no teaching). The learning that is happening is pretty awesome. He and his friends are motivated and building worlds and confronting interesting societal situations (what does it mean to live in a peaceful world; what is suggested when you “house” zombies, etc. like a zoo) and so on. Am marking your blog, Frank as I suspect there will be lots to learn from you. Thanks.

  8. I think this point needs to be addressed. Khan academy and the other video programs may afford teachers the flexibility or “space” to do the truly revolutionary educational pieces. Having Kham as support/back-up/a resources may just allow us to do the BETTER THINGS. I see Khan as another tool in our toolbox. I think you recognize that as well.

    We agree – that is the real discussion to be had – how can we use these tools to our students benefit?

    Marginalize the media and focus on our kids!

  9. I’m glad some people are trying to figure out the most effective way to teach and learn. ‘Doing’ is definitely better than ‘watching’ but what should we do exactly? After a student did some ‘block on a slope’ friction problems, they were caught off guard when the block was on a flat surface with a rope (they used the angle of the rope like they used the angle of the slope), and also thrown off by a block against a vertical surface.

    What I am interested in is more of a skill, ie how we learn to improvise jazz guitar solos. You can’t say ‘go figure out how to solo’ to students, you have to show them, much like we learn a language by imitation. But if they play exactly what you show them they aren’t improvising. But if we follow the imitation, assimilation then innovation model, imitation is the first step. It gets them playing, gaining technique, playing the jazz language, developing their ear, etc.

    Many teachers will teach scales, modes, theory and analysis but I don’t feel that this is productive. Unfortunately there are no scientific studies to pinpoint the most efficient and effective way to teach improvisation For most it is a random process over the years of practicing. In my gut I feel it is ‘imitate then tweak with understanding’. So I try to focus on what would be the most effective method, ie what to do after the student can play a bebop solo note for note, what’s the next step towards improvisation – mix and match phrases into a solo (more of a ‘combining’ exercises). Since these solos are played at high speeds it seems to be more of a recall activity and the creativity is choosing what phrases to play. Or maybe it’s being able to play what you hear in your head – well, how do things get in your head, obviously not by just listening to music. We have to be able to find it on the instrument.

    Optimizing teaching and learning is a noble goal, keep up the great work!

    • Your comment about jazz is similar to the book Making Learning Whole by David Perkins.

      In the book, he discusses these 7 principles using baseball as a metaphor for teaching and learning:
      1) Play the whole game
      2) Make the game worth playing
      3) Work on the hard parts
      4) Play out of town
      5) Uncover the hidden game
      6) Learn from the team…and the other teams
      7) Learn the game of learning

      I highly recommend it!

  10. I do see your points. I make my own class videos and I “Flipped” my math class. I teach 5th grade. The kids watch the videos at home. They do the homework at school. If this is used the correct way, it can be very beneficial to the kids. Mine are thriving with it. I think the main reason is not because of the videos but rather how the videos free up my time. The kids in my room are on a rotation. They do homework, then they go to a station where they do a hands on activity that helps them further understand the math skill. Finally they practice the skill on the computer. Each station lasts 20 minutes. I think the value comes mainly from the kids applying the math at the one station. Whether this is revolutionary or not doesn’t really matter to me. It’s helping my kids improve in math.

  11. Great post.
    Slightly off-topic question: do you use ANDES in any of your classes or something similar, like MasteringPhysics?

    • I use WebAssign often with my AP class. I’m using it less and less each year with my College-Prep class.

      I keep revisiting ANDES. It’s cool, but some problems I find frustrating. There is a bit of a learning curve to figure out what the computer is looking for in a solution. I do like how it forces students to use multiple representations and be explicit about its steps. You might want to try it yourself and take it for a test run with students. If you do, let us know how it goes!

  12. While I share the same concerns about the hype that Khan gets, I do see its usefulness as a tool to help my students practice their work independently.

    One thing that surprises me is to see someone decry Khan but praise PLATO. While I understand the intent of PLATO, anyone who has seen it used in schools is probably aware that it can be abused/over-relied on just like Khan can. For math, it teaches a very simplified plug-and-chug routine that students will memorize and game the system to reach “mastery” levels. It is by no means a replacement for a qualified, dedicated professional.

    Finally, I grow increasingly frustrated with teachers who identify themselves as progressive and belittle anyone who emphasizes basic skills over big picture ideas. I teach “honors” geometry to 10 graders, many of whom struggle with basic arithmetic. Until they master the rote stuff, there’s no way for them to follow through on a major, big picture style project. Either progressives haven’t thought of that (which I doubt), or a major reality check is in order for the level of mastery an average American student possesses. The solution to this problem is bottom-up with better k-5 education, NOT top-down with 9-12 students pressured to reach beyond their skill set.

    • Khan Academy isn’t going away anytime soon. I mentioned PLATO because I think that is a more highly evolved system than the current KA exercise software. I also forgot to mention WebAssign, which lets students draw graphs (using MathPad) and input chemical equations (using ChemPad). This is better that KA’s current system of mutiple choice and numerical answers.

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  14. You might wanna look into this
    especially the formath part. It’s trying to do the points you describe as needed for good learning (feedbacck hints etc.)

  15. Jon Rosenshine

    I was giving your post some real attention until you referenced the “‘disastrous consequences’ at the Los Altos school [Khan Academy] pilot .” You admirably linked to your source, but your source is a Grade 5 student’s blog post! I mean no disrespect to a Grade 5 student, but this is the research you have to back up that outrageous claim? I would send a student back to library for pulling a stunt like that.

    Furthermore, the student is obviously very positive about Khan Academy, and is only reminding his fellow students not to misuse the motivating badges. I see no disaster at Los Altos School from that citation.

    Perhaps, you’re trying too hard to slam what is obviously only one tool in a teacher’s arsenal. Yes, you finally get around to admitting this at the very end of your post, but that still leaves me wondering why all the negativity? Khan Academy is also a method of delivering valuable instruction around the world to people who otherwise would have no access at all. Is it Khan Academy you dislike so much, or is it how some people might be misusing it?

    Lastly, Khan Academy is constantly looking to improve the site and the learning experience for it’s users. Rather than pose your ideas as criticisms, listing all the failures of Khan Academy, why not offer them as constructive suggestions from one dedicated educator to another?

    • If you comb through the posts at the Los Altos blog, you’ll see that many kids are focused on earning badges, rather than learning. And since that statement comes from the students themselves, rather than the teacher, I find that very troubling. How is KA working to shift the students’ mind sets from badges to learning?

      As I said at the beginning of the post, it is the hype and potential misuse of KA that I am most troubled by. Since I don’t think KA is going away anytime soon, I hope they do take my criticisms and strive to eliminate them.

  16. Jon Rosenshine

    … make that “its users” in the last paragraph. Not “it’s users.” – JR

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  18. I guess we need both good lectures and innovative models that allow more student participation, creativity and innovation. What Khan does -at best condition- is only the first part (improving lecture comprehension, providing students with ability to replay, pause,…) ,we still need creative educational models in real classrooms that students can think, model and challenge their own understandings and share it with others.

  19. Blend Khan with mathalicious and Meyer-like approaches as well as whole group instruction. 50/50 split. Not the 90/10 split. When will start treating math as an immersion language?

  20. Forgot to mention…I talked to a 5th grader at the pilot school in Los Altos. Asked him why he was not sitting at his computer as he was helping other students. Turns out he had just completed the calculus module. Nothing is black and white anymore.

  21. I like what Frank says: we don’t want to do lecturing better, we want to do better things. “Rather than instructing students with Khan’s videos, we should be inspiring them to figure things out on their own and learn how to create their own knowledge by working together.”

    How can teachers learn to be effective? Take a Modeling Workshop. Fifty are offered in summer 2011, at 28 different locations nationwide. As of May 1, openings were still available at Modeling Workshops in Maine, New Jersey (central and southern), Pennsylvania, Buffalo NY, four locations in Indiana, Chicago IL, Minnesota, South Dakota, Dallas TX, Kansas, Albuquerque NM, Phoenix AZ, and Seattle WA. Some workshops are free, others are low-cost or offer graduate credit.
    For contact information, see .

  22. Rick Fletcher @TRFletcher

    Re: Scott Bell’s comments about the split. I’ve taught university chemistry for 20 years now – and I’ve seen a major change that is relevant in this conversation. About 6 years ago, our university math dept switched all courses below calculus (mostly remedial) to short video lectures but with intensive support. The student has to spend X hours a week in the math lab where there is plenty of good support and there are also supplemental lectures available for anyone who wants them – they are scheduled at regular times but attendance is optional. In my into chem class, I see students who are in these video math courses. In general, the students don’t like this approach – but upon investigation,they don’t like it because it forces each student to commit a minimum number of hours to math work. Before, they had more control over their time and that meant many of them could bluff their way through a course. After all, it’s just math, and nobody likes that, so they would trade an easy schedule for a C grade. Now they are required to do the hours and the average grades are up. But more importantly, my qualitative assessment is that the students are learning more – in fact, much more. I now work with students who clearly show they have at least seen and practiced basic math skills. Before the video courses (we call it the Polya Center at if you are interested) students rarely appeared to have any experience in the necessary skills – they simply were not practicing their work.
    So yes, a mix of video and lecture might be the best way to go. I know it works here for basic math. I use it for chemistry too and with a little more support from the administration, I would try to copy the Polya approach to learning in chemistry. But videos are not even close to enough – it is crucial to have live faces pushing and pulling and stretching students in addition to the instruction.

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  29. Very true! And well said…the a ecademy videos can be a decent supplement but they don’t necessarily fit what the student needs. I took the basic idea and purchased a smart pen…I use it to help individual students in class or after school and directly email them the copy of the notes with both of our voices recorded as we talked together. The student then has a personal video with familiar voices that he or she can play over and over with the very specific questions and discussion t hat the student needed in the first place. It’s beautiful…

  30. Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) and Andy Rundquist (@arundquist) are both huge advocates of the smart pen. Check out these 2 blog posts to see how they use LiveScribe pens with students:

    Bill: Teaching and Learning with LiveScribe Pens –

    Andy: Recording Students –

  31. I appreciate your taking the time to express your critique of kahn academy. I won’t try to refute anything, i’ll just make these points.

    -the transfer of knowlege does not require students to re-invent the field of inquiry or redefine the social contract on a communitarian basis. Why cant students learn math and science the way they might learn music–immersion in basic skills and fundemantals followed by increasing freedom and discovery based learning.

    -in comparing Kahn academy to mit.ocw you completely ignore the differences in form factor: kahn is providing short topic specifc atep by step tutorials on a easy to view virtual blackboard. Walter Lewin, whom I admire, is skating through multiple topics at various levels of depth–almost always excising supporting algebraic backstory, due to lack of time or blackboard space.. The lectures are somewhat chaotic– i hink many students would fail to grasp key concepts without supplementary recitation classes.

    • Thanks for your comments, Paul.

      To you first point: Sure. And that’s what modeling instruction does. To quote a colleague “We start with carefully-planned paradigm labs in order to construct a model that can then be deployed — and even the model-construction and deployment skills are carefully built up over time.” But we are providing that skill-building via experience that is not decontextuallized from the bigger picture, like Khan Academy exercises and videos.

      To your second point: If you read my post on pseudoteaching, you’ll see I’m not an advocate of Lewin’s MIT lectures as primary delivery for content. But, he does have demos/experiments to support his lectures — real experiences — that Khan’s videos lack.

      • You had me up to “decontextuallized”–but seriously, i have reconsidered the issue–i see your points but Still, I am not sure how modeling differs from a traditonal lab module with a greater emphasis on initiative. How do students find the agebraic and calculus skills to decompose physical process. In my experience–i am not an educator–the single biggest contributor to a students ability to grasp physics is an ability to follow and constrruct non trivial algebraic presentations. In my view–this is the single gratest benefit of the khan/you tube educaitonal revolution: People are constructing algebraic narratives that are (granularly) accessable, followable, reviewable.and relatively complete. Wow.

      • Modeling Instruction isn’t about the actual activities, the worksheets, or even whiteboarding. (Those are fairly vanilla, and with good reason, they give easy to interpret results.) The key piece is the focus on models, the discourse that happens between students, the emphasis on multiple representations. It builds a conceptual framework that I’ve never seen in a physics text or any of Khan’s videos. At first glance, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. It wasn’t until I went to a workshop that I could see what made it special and effective.

        The problem with videos is that the creator of the video has to answer a bunch of questions before making the video: “What important points do I want to make? Why are they important? How to the pieces fit together? What examples should I use? What should I leave out? ….” In doing so, the video creator is LEARNING about the video topic. To sit a kid down in front of one of these pre-digested videos robs the student of the rich experience the video creator had when making the video. Modeling instruction address all those points, lecture as delivery is not necessary. Video as a review resource could be helpful, but classes would get more mileage out of it if students were making the videos for each other, rather than the teacher.

        If you need a primer on teaching/learing physics, you can read this online book “Teaching Physics with the Physics Suite” for free:

        You wrote: “single biggest contributor to a students ability to grasp physics is an ability to follow and constrruct non trivial algebraic presentations.” I’d argue it’s (1) about conceptual frameworks and thinking like an expert and (2) good reasoning skills. Videos cannot help students overcome the hurdles to acheive these goals.
        –> (1) For more information about expert vs. novice thinking in physics, see: “Categorization and Representation of Physics Problems by Experts and Novices”
        –> (2) To see just how poor students’ reasoning skills can be, watch this video “Development of Operational Reasoning Skills”

  32. At the risk of spamming–I would like to foward 3 additonal comments on khan academy

    1. implicit in khan academy is the concept of integrated knowlege map–whereby students at different levels can see the connection between their current areas of endeavor and future learning. I wish this aspect of the site were made more explicit–so students could see how starting with pre-algebra they are building a set of powerful analytic skills that will connect them with science and technology.

    2. khan academy is a sub rosa return to the importance of repetition in learning. Students who miss key concepts are directed to review –rewatch–related videos.
    This is a powerful meta-lesson for life long learners–that simole re-application wil often yield tremendous increases in understanding.

    3. Eduacaitonal theory and practice is more often an expression of the preferences and politics of educators than the needs of students. Almost all the critiques here trade on anti-corporatist and communitarianisn sentiment.. Good luck with that.

    • No problem…comments always welcome!

      Regarding point 1: The only “knowledge map” I see is in the exercise software to show students how to progress through the modules. To me, it is more *procedureal* framework, than conceptual. Because you can *DO* A, you can now move on and *DO* B. But A and B aren’t necessarily linked together conceptually. The beauty of Modeling Instruction is that it is specifically focused on models and how they connect and evolve.

      Regarding point 2: Repetition and memorization kills transfer of knowledge to new situations. Students will only be able to apply in that context only. Again, modeling instruction focuses on the big picture, so student sees “energy conservation model” and “constant velocity model” when looking at scenarios, instead of the surface features of “block on an incline problem” and “roller coaster problem” and “elevator problem.” And if you looks at Khan’s videos, that’s exactly how he names them!

      Regarding point 3: Believe it or not, most of us are teachers because we enjoy our subject and love sharing it with others, love seeing the excitement when students figure things out, love watching them grow. That is what I defend first and foremost. If Bill Gates wants to get behind that by promoting proven methods like Modeling, then I’ll be his biggest supporter.

  33. Personaly, as a public high school student, the only time I venture toward Kahn Academy is when I’m having an issue with a specific problem style and my textbook doesn’t do a very good job of covering it. For example, Sal’s video on Completing the Square (the first video I ever watched) condensed my entire week of math class in to 10 minutes, and then provided me with an even greater understanding of the concept. In class, I was confused and unsure of what I was doing, however just his explanation of what completing the square was made everything click.

    In regards to the usage of Kahn Academy with elementary aged students, I believe it is a bad idea. The development of relational skills is important (the ability to transfer knowledge aquired in once place to another), and requires more instruction than a worksheet can provide. Nothing can replace asking your teacher about why something is the way it is.

    That being said, I have been in plenty of environments where students can’t ask a teacher those important “Why?” questions. From what I’ve gathered, you’re an AP Physics teacher. Meaning, you deal with a group of gifted students who want to learn. That is definitely not the case with the majority of students. There will always be the two-four kids stuck in a regular level course, who really want to learn, but are unable to because of classroom disruption. Helping those two-four kids is the only benefit I would see in using the Kahn Academy as more than a supplemental device for review or homework help. The Kahn Academy seems like a good solution for students who aren’t ridiculously intelligent, but want to try hard and succeed, yet are constantly limited by their peers.

    • Hi Jessica,

      I hope you don’t view me as an interloper but I ran across this thread while looking to see what use was being made of my “Calculus Revisited” course that was posted late last year on the MIT OpenCourseWare website. I resonated with your reference to “how” versus “why”. What Khan does is excellent for students who want to know how to solve a particular problem but to my knowledge does nothing about explaining the why. This was fine as long as all the students had an interest in the subject. However there are now many students going to college to because they want to but because the Associates degree or some certification of post-secondary education has replaced the high school (or GED) diploma as the entry level credential for jobs that promise upward mobility.

      My own “Calculus Revisited” course is not of an enigma for me. I developed the three course sequence for MIT to use in industry during the time period from 1968 to 1973. The videos were primitive (black-and-white talking head with me using the blackboard) and the study guides and supplementary material were typed on an electric IBM selectric typewriter. By the early 1990’s the state of the art had greatly improved and MIT reverted the ”Calculus Revisited” material to me because it was the new age of digitization and nice visuals.

      So I was pleasantly surprised when around thanksgiving of last year OCW contacted me for permission to digitize the videos and upload the course on their website. I expected some people to like it but I was braced for a lot of negative feedback because of how out of date the course might seem to today’s viewers. In the short time that the course has been available it has received more than 50,000 “hits” with a negligible number of comments about the antique look of the course (in fact a few viewers actually wrote that they liked the antique look). In fact almost all of the comments are extremely positive and it has led me to believe that it is not the lecture but the lecturer that is either liked or disliked by the students.

      After 50 years in the classroom I retired in 2003 and devoted myself to helping elementary and middle school teachers get better results with having their students pass the mandated state exams that were initiated when the No Chile Left Behind Act was passed. Now at age 82, I am developing my own website ( that will contain all of my materials on arithmetic and basic algebra for anyone to use free of charge. It is a multimodal approach that emphasizes the “why” as well as the “how” and I would be delighted to have you look at the site and provide me with your feedback. My email address is Just as with Khan Academy, my work is just another tool; but with my emphasis on the ”why” and Khans’ emphasis on the “how” it provides the viewer with a couple of nice tools.

      With warmest regards and best wishes,


  34. interesting post–i invite intersted readers to check the comments on this video at the KA site–its not hard to see where his “mastery” emphasis comes from—

  35. “Khan, I just wanted to let you know this: I am taking a University Calculus II class right now, and I didn’t know how to complete the square. Thank you for this resource, and for saving me the embarrassment of asking my professor.”

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  38. To Frank: I sense a lot of ‘she doth protest too much’ in a lot of this blog overall, and honestly the Bill Gates hysteria is tiresome. In some posts (the TEAL rave) you ignore student input, while in others (this one) you champion it. Your points would be better made without all the vitriol and histrionics.
    Re: Khan Academy – as with anything I’m skeptical until I see some proof of effectiveness aside from anecdotes but in the end I’ll use anything that helps my students master material regardless of its origins (including things I find on this blog).

    • Kevin:

      As I mentioned to Jennifer in an earlier post I am not trying to sell anything but I am anxious to share my 55 years of teaching experience with anyone who might be interested. Its possible that my website ( might be helpful to you and some of your students. At the other end of the spectrum it’s possible that my “Calculus revisited” course on the MIT OpenCourseWare website can help other students. Ev erything on my website is available to everyone free of charge. Either way, please free to write to me at

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  40. These are great posts, and easy to recommend in theory, but the real problem we face as teachers is breaking down the barricades that we have dealt with our whole life – lecture/direct instruction. The very root of this stems from lecture based courses in the “big” colleges of today, still. Science teachers are fed information through a PowerPoint and a few labs that even seem unattached and vague. These same teachers are then fed back into the classroom replicating the things that they have been exposed to. Teachers need to be exposed to the kind of indirect instruction that we see in the video that you have attached in this particular blog. The first few years of a teacher’s career is spent trying to break down the walls that they have been constricted to their whole life, which in turn, effects generations upon generations of lost learning.

  41. I am using it in almost the same way as previous teacher. I teach 8th grade Science and I create my own videos and flipped my class. My students watch my videos, tailored to my teaching style, at home for 10 minutes tops… maybe once a week and it allows me to extend my instructional time to the home. I make them funny, add music, etc. and they enjoy them. By doing this I’ve created my own ‘prior’ knowledge in the students. It leaves all the time in the world for 100% activity in the classroom. No sit and get in this science class!

  42. Frank, you’re getting quoted internationally and don’t tell anybody? All of you interested in the Khandebate, “The Economist” quotes Frank as a rebuttal to the happy talk. See:

    Congratulations Frank!

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  45. Pingback: The Flipped Classroom -newly invented – but used in Austalia 20 years ago « Julie Boyd Education

  46. See the Khan Academy approach applied to Evolutionary Biology by a Canadian University Professor at:

  47. Pingback: The Real Flip: Where Students do the Math | innovative learning designs

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  51. Clearly none of you have a 7th grader…let me refresh your memory. There are 25 children in class sitting in a chair taking notes…essentially just copying what’s on the board and then going home and doing multiple pages of questions (no longer called math problems) only to return the next day and “go over the homework” which is 25 children sitting in a chair again “copying” down the correct answer from the very same board. Meanwhile the teacher actually has no clue who understood what was “copied” in their notes and answers. If any of you actually think a 13 year old child is going to raise their hand and say they need help in front of the whole class….you clearly also forgot what peer pressure was like and need to try sitting in a “typical” classroom in the United States. My daughter needs extra help and tutors where I live are 50 dollars per hour so I say thank you for helping my child and tutoring her for FREE!!!!!

    My daughter is visual and at risk for ADD so seeing his face and sitting in the middle of a classroom is to distracting. I do also strongly support Montessori and I’m using that method with my 4 year old to supplement her education. Montessori is more visual and hands on…like modeling. However in the advanced math these children have a day or two to get the math before moving on…..reality. Now my daughter has an amazing history teacher who drama, videos, debates….everything unfortunately most teachers are not like that and so Khan Academy was born!

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  54. I did the author watch the video? The students already understand the formulas of physics. Someone already thought them quadratic equations. That is the “problem” of using modeling. It does not work unless you are already thought the basics. Obviously I’m using “problem” in the hyperbolic sense. My point is that both the author and news person presented the video as if the method of modeling was the source of teaching students physics. That is not the case. Modeling is used to take the students to the “next level”. To create real world uses for the concepts they already learned.

    • Modeling is used from beginning to end, not just after the students have acquired information and formulas from a textbook or video. I have a TEDxNYED talk coming out in a few weeks which shows how the whole modeling cycle works. Stay tuned!

  55. I think the point of Khan Academy is to free up the teacher’s time, so that he or she has more time for creative projects and one-on-one mentoring.

    Or so Sal says in this here video:

    (Here’s a direct YouTube link

    Plus, there’s the notion of loosening up the traditional separations into ages and subjects (which he talks about at the very end).

    • Exactly.

      • I recently did a TEDx talk about learning science by doing science. Instead of watching video lecture to “consume concepts” and then verify them in a lab, my students use lab time to determine the concepts themselves. Video lectures wouldn’t “free up time” for hands-on work because my students are frequently doing hands on work in class to discover (and then apply) the concepts at hand. I’ll post the talk in a few weeks when the video goes online.

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  59. … and I just wonder why people think this guy is “okay, even if it’s just more lecture.” He doesn’t even get the math right. He calls multiplication a “sum,” and tells me that two plus itself times one is what two times one is. I work with the victims of crappy m ath instruction every day, and this appalls me.

  60. I just quickly want to address one of the last comments, since it’ll get to the heart of your post above (there’s so much I want to say!). When you wrote…

    “However, Bill Gates and Sal Khan are not showing any examples about what students and teachers are doing beyond Khan Academy. The news stories are not showing the open-ended problems the kids should be engaging with after mastering the basics — instead they show kids sitting in front of laptops working drills and watching videos. The focus is on the wrong things.”

    I can understand how, from the media, that’s the conclusion that seems natural. However, I’d like to offer some more obscure evidence of other sorts of learning other than what superficially looks like 100% computer learning.

    Here goes…

    From Link 1 Below – Project hooks: These projects tend to be collaborative and get students excited about a concept. At Summit San Jose, we saw students start a Geometry unit by watching a clip of Mr. Burns from the Simpsons devise a contraption that would block a portion of the sun over Springfield. Afterwards, students simulated that experience and set themselves up for learning more about ratios, proportions, and similar triangles.

    Investigations: These projects tend to be self-directed or worked on in pairs. They are relatively short explorations (can be completed in a class period or two) that allow students to understand the material at a deeper level. We’ve seen teachers give students who are moving quickly through a unit an investigation so that they can continue to be challenged.

    Scaffolded projects: These projects contain many parts and correspond to different KA exercises. At KIPP, for example, students learned about decimals, fractions, and percentages with a multi-stage project. The project started with a budget and a set of coupons given to each student to “buy” items for their room from an online store. After completing corresponding KA exercises, students worked on parts of their project such as converting fractions and percentages to decimals, calculating total savings, and solving for the amount of commission made.

    Watch Starting from 3:30 to the end via Link 2 –

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  64. I am an online tutor at and I recommend my students to watch the videos of so that they may learn the things quicker. The comments made by the author is right, that its not revolutionizing the education. Apart from that I must say that these are good videos. Dont compare Salman with an education revolutionary, but what he is doing is great and we must appreciate that.

  65. in near future khan academy is going to eat up the employment of thousands of teachers around the world thereby affecting the economics of the nations where unemployed youth resort to teaching as prfession, thereby creating unrest. It’s how a website can destroy the economic balance of certain countries, most affected will be developing economies like india, china. i.e where the populations are large.

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  69. You should read Salman Khan’s book. He makes it very clear that the Khan Academy is about getting lecture and problem sets out of the way with less cost and more benefit. The best part of this is that it makes time for creative learning.

  70. If you comb through the posts at the Los Altos blog, you’ll see that many kids are focused on earning grades, rather than learning. And since that statement comes from the students themselves, rather than the teacher, I find that very troubling. How is school working to shift the students’ mind sets from grades to learning?

    As I said at the beginning of the post, it is the hype and potential misuse of grades that I am most troubled by. Since I don’t think school is going away anytime soon, I hope they do take my criticisms and strive to eliminate them.

    Huh…. suddenly, the badges don’t sound that bad.

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  72. I was curious if you ever considered changing the structure
    of your website? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two pictures.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

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  74. I have no view on the idealistic perfect way of being an educator; I am a high school student who uses Khan when I do not understand my teacher and can’t get one-on-one help. He has helped me with biology and astronomy, much more than reading text books or Wikipedia (still unfortunately the default go-to site for my friends).

    Khan allows comments and has interactive assistants (especially in the Java programming section) so it’s not all spoon feed.

    The OpenMIT comparison being around 10 years IMHO is irrelevant, as the content is not user friendly, many times locked out, and frankly one of the world’s resourceful universities should have promoted their content better to get attention and at least search engine optimization (I found Khan via Google search, not from the media).

    I may understand you getting frustrated over the media touting Khan as “the next big thing” or Khan’s “marketing”, but your argument seems personal and emotional (i.e. a rant) that bashes Khan for being popular and you come off as being “Mr Know It All” instead of being open-minded to seeing that Khan will evolve over time and does good right now, more than damaging young minds.

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  77. After reading this blog and the reviews, two things are clear.

    Those who love classroom teaching points out things which are lacking in Khan Academy and they are so because Khan Academy is computer/software driven. At this stage even with artificial intelligence we are not in an era to challenge the human aspect of a teacher and is a basic truth not only with Khan Academy, but with all computer/software driven education initiatives.

    Those who support Khan Academy is of the view that it should not be the only teaching/learning mechanism but only an extension to it. As a computer professional involved in education and training for over three decades with hands on experience in using technology to improve pedagogical aspects, would like to note the following.

    For a moment let us forget about the pedagogy and the technology involved and think of what helped us in life to be successful. How did we learn them and use them to be what we are today. Was it the teachers, technology, methodology, or something else?

    Even though I come from a very strong IT background, I still remember things my mathematics teacher, geometrical drawing teacher drew on the black board using white chalk. It helped me a lot to think logically.

    Thereafter, I learnt a lot about technology by reading and practicing which improved many of my skills in addition to attending traditional classes.

    Most of my time, I have been self taught and today the Internet has given opportunities I never had in my younger life.

    Therefore, let us appreciate what everyone has done including Khan Academy who has helped others to learn, which I believe is the greatest gift to all humans to improve their lives.

    My personal view is that Khan Academy is not the only way to teaching/learning, but an additional asset for same. Let us help them in doing better with the understanding that it is not a human teacher and expecting what a human teacher could do from it, but deriving things from it which are technology driven and which a human teacher cannot provide in person.

    Few things I wish Khan Academy changed are:
    * Make login to the system optional without making it too personal and let people learn anonymously as it was before.
    * Make the videos shorter so learners can cover many concepts with limited time available and replay them if they wish to.
    * Support shorter videos with review questions and provide challenges to the learner to apply the concepts learnt.

    Happy teaching/learning!

  78. My daughter just started h.s. and is taking geometry honors. There is no teaching by the teacher. They work on laptops using khan academy & are assigned homework on khan academy. My daughter is an advanced student and is extremely frustrated and completely perplexed by it all.. It”s the first week of school. I think it’s outrageous that a teacher is getting paid to sit & watch the students struggle. Why do we need teachers? It would have been the same if she did the course online (with no support).
    This is my youngest child (14). My son learned geometry honors in 8th grade by a teacher. He excelled.

  79. All Sal Khan is doing is lecturing in the traditional manner, but he does it way better than any other teacher I’ve ever encountered. His lectures are as clear as can be, he understands the part the student isn’t going to get and focuses on it (chromosomes vs chromatin vs chromartids for example). His tone of voice is very positive, and he doesn’t talk down to you. The length of his videos is perfect, about 10 minutes. An hour lecture is way too long — not to mention the fact that most university profs have a lot of dead time int heir lectures.

    So yes, Sal Khan’s lectures are just regular lectures, but the delivery and format is exceptional which is what makes them exceptional.

    I’ve sat through many lectures in person, though 6 years of university and have listened to many online lectures. Sal Khan has them all beat, they’re information dense, but you still understand them, he doesn’t waste your time.

    • Khan’s videos are full of pedagogical mistakes; specifically places where the limitations of the examples he uses are more likely to introduce misconceptions than not. Mostly he wings it and does about as well as someone who is winging can be expected to do.

      I’m fine with someone winging it and even posting videos online – it’s the calling it a “world class education” I object to.

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  82. I see your point, and it’s true. Education is a lot more then just hours of a teacher lecturing 100 word per minute in a classroom, or in a video.

    That’s not the ideal, but my point is about it, the “ideal”. Most students of the world doesn’t work of the ideal, far from it. As a Brazilian student, I say it with a lot of proper (my high school was a federal public school, some of the best of the country, and still not perfect. it’s worse in regular public schools, I see it because my mother lectures in one). Khan is not the ideal education, because is not a education process, is just another learning tool. And, unfortunately, this tool is better then many educations systems worldwide, including Brazil.

    So yes, KA is not a education revolution. I suppose to learn its contents in school classes, with scientific pedagogic bases methods, improving personal skills and critical thinking instead of ticking ‘x’s in multiple choice questions. That’s the ideal. That’s what you are talking about and fighting for. That’s what Paulo Freire was talking about and fighting for.

    But the reality, specifically in 2nd and 3rd countries, is not even close of this, and in the end of the end, KA helped me a lot more then many teachers and pedagogues did, including you. I’m not trying to disqualify you, to be honest I believe you’re a great profissional (based in what I’ve see in this website and your twitter), but that’s the true.

    So, even with if the problems about its pedagogical premises, I’m really grateful for Sal Khan and KA’s investors.They didn’t give me the best education a student can have, eg a physics teacher like you, but they helped me a lot to know something about math (’til cause the platform improved a lot in the last decade).
    They’ve create a democratic tool for many people around the world, for many poor students that live in countries where they don’t discuss about the benefit of using a iPad as a class tool, because a iPad costs more the months of a teachers’ wage.
    They did it for real, while many Americans educators was only criticizing them for not being the the “ideal”. The “ideal” education method/tool, for their “ideal” american kids, in their “ideal” american schools.

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