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Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

Khan Academy: A Revolution in Education

One of the questions that I’m frequently asked is: How can humane education –- which explores the interconnected issues of human rights, animal protection, environmental preservation, and culture, providing students with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to become solutionaries for a better world –- be added to an already overburdened curricula? There is so much students must already learn, people say, and we have not even succeeded in providing them all with the basics of verbal, mathematical, technological and scientific literacy.

My answer has been twofold. First, I believe that learning how to become solutionaries for a better world should be the highest goal for education, and thus we should allocate time for this through courses, clubs, and teams in school. And I’ve also suggested that humane education can infuse all subjects, creating relevancy and meaning no matter what basics we’re acquiring. While I believe integrating humane education into various disciplines can be done, it’s true that there are some topics that lend themselves more easily to humane education than others. There are also subjects that demand a great deal of basic knowledge and skill prior to understanding how they can be used toward solutions to global problems.

Having just watched the TED talk of Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, I find myself so excited to imagine a new way of learning, studying, and gaining knowledge and skills that enables people to master both basic and advanced knowledge in subject areas more quickly and efficiently than is likely to be achieved in our typical classrooms, that I now see a third way in which humane education can infuse our schools. If students (of all ages and in any setting) were to learn subjects through Khan Academy’s videos and practice software (subjects that are expanding all the time on Khan Academy’s website), the time left to collaborate, work with teachers, problem-solve for a better world, and become informed changemakers would grow substantially.

I am so excited by Khan Academy and its potential to revolutionize how we learn.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk

About zoeweil

I'm the co-founder and President of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). IHE works to create a world in which we all live humanely, sustainably, and peaceably. We do this by training people to be humane educators who teach about the pressing issues of our time and inspire people to work for change while making healthy, humane, and restorative choices in their daily lives. We also work to advance the field of humane education, and to provide tools and inspiration to people everywhere so that they can live examined, meaningful lives. I'm also a writer. So far I've written six books and several articles.


9 thoughts on “Khan Academy: A Revolution in Education

  1. A little pushback here — interested in your thoughts….

    The fact that TED, Bill Gates, and the media love Khan Academy shows the failure of education. Khan Academy looks great because our country has reduced teaching and learning to preparing students to bubble in answer sheets for multiple choice tests. But if we shift the purpose of education from consuming knowledge and stating answers to creating knowledge and exploring solutions, the fallacy of Khan Academy “reinventing education” is blatently apparent. ( More at )

    Students using Khan Academy ignore exercises and videos, focus on earning KA badges instead. First hand account from a teacher using KA:

    This teacher also says that while students are working on Khan Academy, the teacher can show “Class Energy Points Per Minute” data for motivation:

    Rather than instructing students with Khan’s videos, shouldn’t we be inspiring them to figure things out on their own and learn how to create their own knowledge by working together? Here’s a short video of one teacher doing just that:

    When students create their own knowledge, there is no need for textbooks, lectures, or videos. 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?

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

    Dan Meyer’s “Math Curriculum Makeover”

    “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.”

    and Sir Ken Robinson’s “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

    How does Khan Academy foster problem posing and creativity?

    Besides, do Khan’s science videos even promote meaningful learning? Sometimes using vide to learn the basics isn’t so basic. Please check out this must-watch video:

    Also, Khan and Gates are not talking about what students and teachers are doing beyond Khan Academy. The KA 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.

    Why isn’t anyone (besides Dan Meyer) talking about rich math and science education? Dan Meyer’s TEDx talk, which was posted to YouTube 11 months ago, has about 10,000 FEWER views than Sal Khan’s TED talk, which was posted to YouTube 3 WEEKS ago. That’s the problem!

    If Khan is to be part of a larger curriculum, we need to discuss and build that curriculum, because it isn’t going to build itself.

    As my students would say, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” Khan Academy is merely a player. We need to change the game.

    Posted by Frank Noschese | April 1, 2011, 11:14 am
  2. Frank makes some really good points here, and I share his concerns (along with a few of my own). That said, I think we should all reframe the question from “Is Khan Academy good or bad” to “What role can/should this medium play in helping students learn.” Reading about the the excitement kids have at Los Altos makes ME excited. On the other hand, I cringe at the idea of status hierarchies being created and reinforced with badges and wonder if treating math as a competitive sport will further our goals. I also wonder whether this medium really fosters collaboration (and if not, why class time is used to watch videos). But that’s just my opinion. What this really shows, regardless of your values, is that the implementation is what’s important–making the teacher all the more important (to Sal Khan’s credit, he’s always said that his videos should free teachers up to do the real teaching) and that we should be continuously reflecting on how all of the time and hard work Khan has put into these resources can be best used.

    Oh, and one more thing, let’s be careful with statements like: “a new way of learning, studying, and gaining knowledge and skills that enables people to master both basic and advanced knowledge in subject areas more quickly and efficiently than is likely to be achieved in our typical classrooms.” This is quite the bold statement that, as far as I know, has yet to be substantiated (and there is some evidence to the contrary Teaching is, unfortunately, much more complicated than giving clear, efficient explanations.

    Posted by Avery | April 1, 2011, 12:19 pm
  3. In response to frank, bravo. Although, many people are taking about rich science & math, they just don’t get to do Ted talks. ;). Ted talks that differ too much from our collective schema of what school should be wouldn’t “sell”.

    In response to the post, I am honestly hoping it’s an April 1st thing.

    Posted by Jerrid kruse | April 1, 2011, 1:05 pm
  4. Above points are important ones. Isn’t Khan a media interpretation to the encyclopedia sets I grew up with?
    Currently I am required to place my students in front of computers each day to log in to a state test preparation site. Sure there are some advantages. Students work at own levels, are motivated (sometimes) to collect badges posted by their scores, we cover a lot of subjects at one time.
    But students sitting side by side, yet in their own little world, sometimes has an eerie feel to it. I’m always glad when we log off and come back together as a community of learners. When we question, search, communicate knowledge.

    Posted by Becky E. | April 1, 2011, 2:11 pm
  5. Great points everyone and thanks for posting them. Jerrid, my post was not an April Fool’s joke. I loved what I saw in both Sal Khan and Dan Meyer’s TED talks, and I don’t see these as either/ors. After my blog was cross-posted on my Facebook page, a friend posted that her 8th grade son is so excited to come home and do Khan Academy – FOR HIMSELF. He is doing 11th grade Trigonometry. The capacity to learn through the Internet is extraordinary to me, and I relish it. I love that it need not replace classroom learning, but can be something else entirely. There are times when learning a specific subject can be so much easier and more efficient this way, freeing up time in the classroom for projects, collaboration, discussion, and creativity. There are just so many more ways to learn certain things than in a classroom setting. For example, I took French from 2nd grade through AP French in 12th grade, and I couldn’t speak French despite all those years of studying, declining verbs, memorizing vocabulary, reading books in French, and watching French films. Then six years ago, when my family was hosting a Russian 11-year-old boy from an orphanage for 5 weeks, I decided I’d better learn some Russian. I got Pimsleur language tapes and in 2 months I was able to converse with Sasha. He actually thought my Russian was pretty good (although he scoffed at my inability to roll my Rs). I had always thought I was just terrible at languages because of my experience with French, but this wasn’t true. I just needed to learn in a much different (and much more efficient and effective way). I have a young friend who is struggling to understand Chemistry. She’s so smart and in honors Chemistry in high school and having the most difficult time. She comes home and on her own uses Khan Academy to understand the subject. I suspect it would have been just what I needed when I was struggling to understand Chemistry too. So, to me Khan Academy is a great thing. How it’s used might be problematic in some cases, but I am immensely grateful to Sal Khan for providing this venue for learning about so many subjects.

    Posted by Zoe Weil | April 4, 2011, 10:12 pm
  6. wow.. great ideas.. thinking… sharing..
    thanks guys.

    Avery – i esp like this:
    …, I think we should all reframe the question from “Is Khan Academy good or bad” to “What role can/should this medium play in helping students learn.”

    what’s cool today is that any learner can choose.
    nothing is for everyone. so let’s offer everything.

    Posted by monika hardy | April 7, 2011, 10:01 pm
  7. There are different ways that kids learn. Some like Kahn some like direct instruction, some like small group work. When we vilify one in place of another, we cast a pernicious judgement upon the user that prefers the “unacceptable” method. Which they internalize as a deficiency in their personal worth. Kahn is a tool- no more no less. Works for some. We need to get away from looking for the silver bullet (or standardized practice) for the right answer. Life is not standardized, which is why I like Baskin and Robbins – 32 flavors. Let’s imagine a world where the ways to learn in school includes at least 32 flavors.

    Posted by Jamie Steckart | June 2, 2011, 4:04 pm


  1. Pingback: Khan Academy – Educação e conhecimento livre na rede « O Futuro é a Liberdade - April 21, 2011

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