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Learning at its Best

Khan Academy does not constitute an education revolution, but I’ll tell you what does

Chris Anderson, the visionary leader of the TED conference, recently wrote about “The Year’s 7 Most Powerful Ideas.” He highlights some important stuff, but regrettably misses the mark when he takes on education.

Powerful Idea No. 3 comes from Salmon Khan, the founder of the Khan Academy. Anderson writes, “The classroom flip can revolutionize education. Khan was a hedge fund analyst when he started posting video tutorials online. Now, over 2,000 of his videos are viewed by more than 100,000 students a day around the world. What if teachers used these videos as homework so kids could learn at their own pace, and used classroom time to help if someone gets stuck!”

Khan’s idea does not represent a “revolution.” Posting video tutorials online is a great idea, and I have no doubt that some teachers find value in “flipping” the curriculum so that students can utilize class time to get one-on-one help. But to suggest that this is a revolution—or that it will have even a modest impact on our overall education system—is pure delusion.

Anderson is a brilliant entrepreneur. However, like so many other pundits who have never been a classroom teacher, he presumes that the primary reason our education systems needs a revolution has something to do with academic content transfer. If we can just figure out a more effective way to transmit academic content, the theory goes, we can fix education.

Ask any classroom teacher. Undoubtedly, many appreciate this new resource—it’s yet another tool they have available to them—but I suspect the overwhelming majority of them will tell you this does not solve the most important issues they face in trying to reach students.

Even better, ask any group of students. They will tell you. They show up at school and attend the standard fare of required classes. The curriculum in these classes is typically irrelevant to their lives, except for the need to earn grades good enough to placate their parents and impress college admissions officers. When the academic content assigned has no meaning to them, and their engagement with it is solely to attain extrinsic rewards, of course they’re not going to retain it.

This is true if the homework is to study a textbook, listen to a podcast, or watch a video on Khan Academy. It’s all the same thing. In the lives of students, it’s all the same noise and stress that pulls them away from engaging in activities that bring them joy and feed their soul.

Here’s a metaphor: if I planted seeds in a desert and no crops grew, would it constitute a revolution if I invented a machine that planted seeds in a desert?

The real revolution comes when we decide to plant seeds in fertile soil. The real revolution comes when we decide that school is the place where we ask kids what they’re passionate about learning and match them with talented teachers who are passionate about teaching it.

(NOTE: It’s tangential to the point I’m trying make above, but I should mention: I recently had a conversation about Khan Academy with a friend who has a Ph.D. in physics. He stated flatly that some of the academic material posted by Khan is, simply, wrong. He said, ”It’s like getting a physics lesson from someone who got an ‘A’ in an introductory physics course instead of from someone like me. The material is factually inaccurate. If it was going to be printed in a textbook, it would never pass the peer review stage.”)

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51 thoughts on “Khan Academy does not constitute an education revolution, but I’ll tell you what does

  1. Wouldn’t it be more useful for your friend to contact Khan Academy, volunteer to update, correct and contribute? Open access education is not really something to be put down.

    Posted by Jenni | November 13, 2011, 12:58 pm
    • With Khan Academy’s millions of dollars in donations, isn’t it Sal Khan’s and the KA team’s job to ensure that their content is factually and pedagogically correct?

      Posted by Frank Noschese | November 13, 2011, 4:44 pm
      • Frank: Please differentiate for me factual correctness from pedagogical correctness. Much obliged in advance.

        Posted by Mike Ridgway | November 16, 2011, 3:02 am
        • Ha, ha, I just couldn’t help chiming in here! While I worked in Silicon Valley for 20 years and created products like Oracle databases and Ford Customer Relations systems, the schools in CA were falling apart (symbolically). I didn’t know this until later taking my credential and entering the field. What is “factually,” or “scientifically correct,” such as a computer program, has no relation to what is pedagogically “correct.” The number of times I had to “do,” and “redo,” and “redo” papers I had written, lessons I had prepared, administrative forms and the like, prove that pedagogy has its own reality, which, as far as I can see, is completely separate from my understanding of reality. Sorry – couldn’t resist the bait.

          Posted by urbaned | November 16, 2011, 3:33 am
        • Hi Mike. I don’t understand your reply to Frank. Why do you ask him to differentiate between factually correct and pedagogically correct? If a teaching method contains nothing but correct facts, does that make it pedagogically sound? I think Frank is implying that there are factual errors in Khan’s videos with his reference to content. I have seen commentary on various physics listservs noting as much. Wouldn’t it be prudent for content-area experts to be hired to look over the videos with a fine-tooth comb so that the videos are error-free? Frank is also suggesting that the millions of dollars could be better spent figuring out how to address the pedagogical limitations of the same old “teaching by lecturing” method Khan implements. I hope this helps you understand his question. Frank is pointing out that both could be improved through wise use of donated resources…or at least the content. I think the pedagogical problem needs the most attention.

          Posted by Rob Spencer | November 17, 2011, 9:39 pm
    • So, the professor has a responsibility to become an unpaid employee of Khan Academy, and fix all their mistakes?

      Posted by Human power | November 14, 2011, 11:14 am
    • Jenni,

      I appreciate your solution and collaboration orientated approach! We can all throw stones at glass houses, but perhaps the real challenge is can we use those same stones to build bridges!

      Perhaps criticism would be warranted if we heard that KA was resistant to or wrote-off sincere comments about accuracy of their content.


      Posted by Adam Burk | November 17, 2011, 1:54 am
  2. The value of such a sites is clearly knowledge dissemination, particularly important to those with limited cases to traditional paper=based materials. The revolution is not in the pedagogy, but in the delivery. Yes, of course there are validity issues, but there are solutions too. The site which I set up within applied linguistics for example ( guarantees quality by only hosting talks form those who have published in a peer-reviewed journal.

    Posted by Huw Jarvis | November 13, 2011, 1:07 pm
  3. Unfortunately, “…talented teachers who are passionate about teaching…” are few and far between, thanks, in large part, to the corporatization of education. Passionate teachers are told to leave it at the door and perform a puppet show on which they will be rated. This is not teaching. At this point, I’d be happy to have any subject-matter knowledgeable, safe, kindly and caring community member teach my children. Think about indigenous societies. Did they have expensive credentialing programs and timed delivery requirements? Today’s programs and scripted lessons make fertile ground for a revolution.

    Posted by urbaned | November 13, 2011, 3:22 pm
  4. Public school education is never going to have the money to pair every student with an extraordinary teacher everywhere in the world. Let’s please find real solutions to the real problems our schools face. The good teachers we have could be very clearly assisted immediately by maximizing our use of technology. Let technology provide interesting content delivery solutions, and assessments with immediate feedback and then our teachers will have time to better meet the needs of each of their students.

    We need to stop thrashing anyone who comes up with a solution that involves technology instead of some imagined warm fuzzy that mostly doesn’t happen in modern classrooms with 40 kids or more crammed into them or science labs made for 25 that have 40. Teachers who have to grade papers for 250-300 kids could use the breaks that blended learning can provide.

    This business about accuracy is also ridiculous. K-12 textbooks have so many errors and are 10 years out of date when they go to press – many reviewers have said there are no good ones. Good teachers must always inspect the curricular materials they use. Also, secondary science teachers very often teach subjects for which they have had only beginning courses and sometimes no background courses at all – some of them do an incredible job in spite of that initial lack of content knowledge and some of them would be far better off with an electronic content delivery system.

    Posted by Ann Wellhouse | November 13, 2011, 6:31 pm
  5. When you detect the problem with the underlying assumptions of the statement – “The real revolution comes when we decide that school is the place where we ask kids what they’re passionate about learning and match them with talented teachers who are passionate about teaching it” – you have detected the fallacy of the entire article. Of course students would be more motivated if they were taught World of Warcraft, soccer, or the art of listening to Rihanna. There would be enough intrinsic motivation, all right. But why have schools then? Why not do as Pink Floyd famously suggested “teacher! Leave those kids alone!”?

    1. Not all school content is out-dated, nor will be in the foreseeable future (languages, science etc).
    2. There are important differences between academic and everyday knowledge which we would be wise to pay attention to.
    3. Education is primarily about opening up new worlds of important understanding for students. Their existing understanding is used as points of departure on our journey towards our destination which is the construction of new understanding about things that matter, a process which depends to a great extent upon the teacher.

    Why seek radical solutions with unforseeable consequences? Why not look to and learn from school systems which seem to succeed in their efforts? Why not talk about the creation and maintainment of aspirations instead of feeding into the alleged motivational crisis?

    Implications: I would argue for the the continued relevance of much of the academic content, but be critical of systems of measurement and of instrumentality which scare off the kind of teachers most suited for the task – those with the best academic and relational abilities.

    First step forward: Look to FInland.

    Posted by Thomas Arnesen | November 14, 2011, 6:34 am
    • Thomas, thank you for articulating your thinking here – and, of course, for the Floyd reference.

      Three sets of questions come to mind immediately:

      First, why is it beneficial to keep the academic and the every day apart? Why not educate so that the two – so that learning inside and outside school across topics – become seamless? Why not connect learning – and even schooling – with what students enjoy?

      Second, why does learning about new things that matter depend on a teacher?

      Third, why will radical reforms will produce unforeseeable consequences? Countless schools and other learning environments – private and public and F2F and virtual – provide us with ample information about how students choose to learn in spaces that are not traditional schools. That we, as a nation, system, and government refuse to research these places and their outcomes says more about our biases than it does about what kind of learning is happening in these places.

      I’m interested to hear more –

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | November 14, 2011, 10:21 am
      • Thanks for your response, Chad. Important food for thought!

        First, I do not say we should keep the academic and the every day apart, just that we should be aware of important differences between the two, e.g. that everyday knowledge is usually highly context specific (e.g. knowing your way around Azeroth, or the abilities most useful to the class of hunters on WoW) and as such of little value in terms of education since the likelyhood of positive transfer to other situations is reduced. The relative abstract knowledge of schooling is open for transfer to a greater extent as that knowledge is less context specific (e.g. knowing maths is applicable in a range of situations etc.). Bernstein (1996) provides more depth to this rather feeble attempt at explaining the more epistemological differences of importance. This is NOT to say that everyday knowledge cannot be utilised pedagogically, as points of entry to educational knowledge, or as Bernstein would conceptuallise it, to move from horizontal to vertical structures of knowledge.

        What kind of everyday knowledge would you seamlessly integrate with school learning across topics given the identified differences between the two forms of knowledge? What would students learn, and why? Are there reasons to believe that such an integration would provide the motivation and joy for learning you anticipate?

        Second, independently of which theory of learning you subscribe to, most scholars see the beneficial effects of the scaffolding provided by a more competent other. Of course this role can and is played by peers and other actors in the environment, but I would argue that it is beneficial to learn the art of surgery from an accomplished surgeon.

        Third, I agree, radical reforms do not necessarily produce more unforseeable consequences than other reforms. In fact, there is a body of evidence suggesting that e.g. active and intelligent instruction is beneficial, whereas minimal instruction has detrimental effects on learning outcomes. As convincingly argued by Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark (2006), minimal instruciton is neither effective nor efficient as large bodies of controlled studies show. It may even facilitate the acquisition of misconceptions and disorganized bodies of knowledge. It is simply not the case that we refuse to research learning in other learning environments. In fact, these perspectives have been firmly on the agenda ever since Lauren Resnick held her famous presidental address about out-of-school learning for the AERA conference in 1988, thereby instigating the veritable anti-school movement with the situated perspectives in pedagogy. As early as in 1929 Whitehead complained about the ‘inert’ nature of school knowledge.

        To conclude, I suggest we say less about ‘learning’ in the abstract, and more about the ‘learning of something’. The nature of that something is not without importance in education. Not everything that is, is educationally desirable. Unlike ‘learning’, education always entails content, purpose and relationships, thus educational cultures are learning cultures framed by purposes (Biesta, 2012).

        All the best!

        Posted by Thomas Arnesen | November 15, 2011, 4:49 am
        • Thomas, thanks for such a thoughtful reply. I remain curious about the benefit of being “aware of important differences” between life and learning inside and outside school. When I look at a piece of school content or a piece of WoW content, I think less about the content learning going on and more about the skills being learned that might transfer between contexts. The name of a character in a game might not be of importance at school (unless game lore becomes part of building positive relationships and communities), but the puzzle-solving or prioritizing of tasks of management of time and relationships in-game seem directly transferrable – to me – to any learning environment. If the argument goes “content that isn’t part of an academic class doesn’t apply in such a class,” then I question its premise as it a)privileges teachers as gate-keepers rather than students as meaning-makers and b)it presupposes a lack of connectivity that discourages connection-making in learning. Help me understand more of what you mean? Is there also a benefit to viewing the differences you cite as opportunities for learning through personally meaningful connections? If student background knowledge can be “utilised pedagogically, as points of entry to educational knowledge,” I don’t see the need for policing a distinction between kind of learning so long as personally meaningful learning of lasting benefit occurs.

          I wouldn’t set up a prescriptive program to integrate knowledge, but I’d work to build a learning community of questioning and inquiry and negotiate “work” with students so that they can take advantage of the connections they see – and that I would point out in support of students – between topics inside and outside school and between disciplines. I’m not teaching kids to be teachers per se, in my mind – I’m helping them find relevance and quality in the work they do in and around civics, economics, and the arts – so the surgeon metaphor doesn’t fit my notion of a teachers’ work. I would agree that learning surgery well from surgeons is important; however, I think learning how to learn well from a teacher-learner requires less adult authority and more sharing of the responsibility for learning between kids and adults who – as individuals – can bring connections and “quests,” questions, and/or projects and motivating discontents to class that others cannot.

          In that this is the work I attempt daily – and that issues like those you raise are the ones I think we need to attend to – this all feels concrete to me, so thank you for the on-going conversation.


          Posted by Chad Sansing | November 15, 2011, 1:32 pm
  6. Steve,

    The phrase “new and improved” is one of the most powerful marketing tools out there. “New” does not a revolution make (even in an ‘information economy’). There have been any number of silver bullets used in the past. “Back in my day”, filmstrips, slide and overhead projectors, and movies were innovations that young students thought were pretty hot items. My father, soon to be 94, had thought the radio was pretty amazing — he now navigates emails and other ‘newfangled” stuff.

    The broad sharing of information can be useful, but teachers and humans everywhere might take note that advances in technology made possible the cramming of more students in smaller spaces for the purpose of presenting information that they,en masse, are to magically and simultaneously absorb-through-exposure. This approach might be subjected to a sober examination of why ‘shool’ and becoming ‘educated’ is at all important.

    I’m simply suggesting that we beware the “authority” of technology… Is your Field of Dreams a digital, virtual landscape or one that includes humans?


    Posted by Brent Snavely | November 14, 2011, 8:13 am
  7. This article definitely gives a sense of what does not constitute an education revolution, but I really did not get any sense of what does.

    Posted by Human power | November 14, 2011, 11:15 am
  8. I do think the flip model that the Khan Academy promotes is a kind of revolution. This isn’t to say that by itself, it IS the revolution…I think it would be idealistic and premature to say so. But the conversations happening because of the Khan Academy model are, I think, the beginning of a revolution when it comes to the role of the formal school in a child’s learning.
    I think a lot of people don’t give that much credit to the impact of the Khan Academy because a lot of the discussions about it tend to focus on the flaws in its implementation. Yes, I’ve also heard that there are mistakes in the lessons. Yes, this is unfeasible as a national program if low-income areas can’t also hop on board easily. But the essential concept behind it, that base knowledge education is best when it’s student-driven and that the role of the teacher extends well beyond just teaching facts, is what’s really changing the way a lot of people, from what I can tell, are thinking about education.
    This isn’t to say that I agree or disagree with the model. I’m just saying that it’s made quite a splash, and I think there is a revolution coming in education in which the Khan Academy has played a big part. The technology piece, I feel, is really a minor point.

    Posted by Ricky Steele | November 14, 2011, 10:20 pm
  9. Steve is talking about reform that would make a difference in student’s lives. He is talking about using today’s technology for schools to do BETTER THINGS, not just do old things better! One key change needed in today’s model of education is to stop forcing all high school students to take three or four years of all core subjects. Allow high school students more choices. Allow them to focus on areas that interest them – whether it is a core subject or an art subject! High schools, for staffing reasons, have traditionally required a minimum number of students before offering a class. Technology could be used to provide classes to meet even the needs for individual student!

    Yes, background knowledge is important. But a curriculum could be designed to provide the “background knowledge” ALL students need during grades K through 9! Yes, we need scientists and mathematicians, but every student will not become an expert in every one of those subjects. Let the students that enjoy those subjects spend several hours a day studying them.

    Today’s students are not stupid! Many high school students just think they are being forced to set in classes that are irrelevant to their lives. The vast majority of them, if given the chance, will not choose to study video games or music superstars. But it is possible that one who did would become the next millionaire game programmer or teen idol!

    Posted by Jim Askew | November 14, 2011, 11:44 pm
  10. Wow, Steve. Tough crowd here this time ’round. I love your idea of focusing on cultivating the fertile soil in which to plant the seeds of learning. Indeed let’s rededicate ourselves to making schools are places of passion and joy. I agree that using technology to streamline the process of pouring in the information is in no way revolutionary – maybe it even just makes the insidious goals of top-down, government-articulated and corporate-controlled schooling with pre-determined, age-tied outcomes all that much more attainable. Yuck!

    As I posted earlier though I do think there is something to the potential of enabling kids to no longer move together in lock-step within a class, and freeing up classroom time for meaningful intimate relationship-based learning encounters. Khan claims that KA, by taking lecture out of the classroom, can “humanize” schooling. Maybe it’s a stretch for you, and I’m not sold on it either. Just wondering still.

    In general, I AM WITH YOU! Thanks for the post.


    Posted by holisticdancingmonkeygmonkey | November 15, 2011, 12:24 am
  11. Students should be already be exposed to the different fields that they would encounter in college so they have a clear idea of what they’re interested in studying by the time they apply. They shouldn’t be wasting time retaking GE courses in college or wasting time being “undeclared”. Students are capable of learning all of the “foundation” within their high school years.

    Posted by Audrey D | November 15, 2011, 3:01 am
  12. I’m stunned! What you wrote resonates with me beautifully, and I was set to expand on it. Kinda shocked to find a world of disagreement here. (Nah—not after all my years teaching! Nothing shocks me.)

    I disagree with the naysayers and say hello to the folks who are clearly my type of educators. Those who don’t settle, don’t see the imparting of facts and formulas as the be-all and end-all of learning, those who realize the future in the new world we live in is in knowing enough to ask the right questions.

    I loved your post, and will be back. Thank you. 😀


    Posted by Paula Lee Bright | November 15, 2011, 4:16 am
  13. Good post on an important subject – and excellent comments. Thank you very much.

    Coming from Finland and working in the area of delivering the best of learning to all connected devices [Ympyra – the learning enabling system] – I would like to make a couple of comments:

    Finland – the success of our educational system has a lot to do with the fact that learning is held in very high regard in all areas of our society. Kids learn to visit libraries in kindergarden, kids tv-programming is “pedagogic” in its approach, families are engaged in the process of education delivery – and the teachers want to deliver. And have the power to deliver.

    Questions vs Answers – the changes in society, technology, economy, all areas of life keep on getting faster and faster. That means that the answers become outdated quicker. To develop life skills for the future means that we need to empower our pupils and ourselves to pose the correct questions in addition to the answers.

    Mobile and Classroom – it actually works. Kids, parents, teachers love it. Watch a two minute overview of the research we conducted in Mexico.

    Last but not least – Both yeasayers and naysayers are required. Constant discussion, argumentation, iteration, development, movement is required to keep the process of alive. Making that process progress is our common task.

    With best regards,

    Posted by Aape Pohjavirta (@aape) | November 15, 2011, 7:28 am
    • Aape,

      Thanks for joining the conversation here. It’s so refreshing to have direct interaction with someone in Finland, rather than interpreting things from afar and second hand information.

      Your points are clear and on point.

      For anyone, I appreciate the differences of opinions that this post has given rise to. If we continue the conversation with a willingness to be changed by the “other” I think all of our thinking and attitudes will be strengthened by the dialogue.


      Posted by Adam Burk | November 17, 2011, 1:18 am
  14. The Khan Academy provides something similar to MIT’s OpenCourseWare or One World Youth Project: These initiatives allow education to be accessed by individuals in areas of the world where it isn’t (1) available or (2) encouraged.

    However, I agree that this isn’t the complete answer. As it was discussed here and in #globaledcon, it is so important to change the entire institution of education into something more dynamic. I think the flipped classroom model or integrating technology-education innovations like Khan Academy into a curriculum has proven to work in some classrooms. But education isn’t black and white and what works for one classroom might not work for another. And I think this is where the seed of an education revolution lies: More people are beginning to realize that the industrial revolution-styled classroom/school isn’t working anymore. It is sparking the conversation, analogous to how OWS changed the national conversation and raised awareness about problems in our current democracy.

    Each student learns differently and some need to go at their own pace. I foresee in the next few years an education system that utilizes low-cost methods via technology to ensure students are getting the most out of their experience. The fact that administrators and teachers are discussing integrating technology that allows students to learn at their own pace and break away from this “old industrial model” of education is already a clear sign that the revolution is coming.

    My last point would be to not forget education systems outside of the USA. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of MIT’s OCW or Khan Academy viewers are from countries outside of the USA. A real education revolution, especially operating within the reality of our interconnected 21st century, will not be US-centric and would be inclusive of every country in this world. The time has arrived: an education revolution IS coming. The seeds have been planted. The rain will fall on the desert. The soil will be nourised. Soon, trees will rise.

    Posted by Scott Shigeoka (@scottshigeoka) | November 15, 2011, 7:15 pm
  15. So, Mr. Miranda — you WERE a teacher but NOW you’re a school administrator. Have you implemented your REVOLUTIONARY idea? If so can I come and observe? Hopefully, you’ll have room for a lot of us. We’re still waiting for the sick patient that is public education to heal itself. We think it would be amazing if such a self-correction were shown to be demonstrably and documentably possible.

    Our contact information is available here:

    Mike Ridgway
    Former school teacher in a flipped classroom that was revolutionary in its day

    Posted by Mike Ridgway | November 15, 2011, 7:57 pm
    • Thanks, Mike! For sure, I’m trying to get as many people as possible to visit the school where I work. Here’s a link . If you’re ever in Seattle, feel free to get in touch.

      Congratulations on doing great work, keep it up!



      Posted by stevemiranda | November 15, 2011, 9:34 pm
  16. If I have the means to get there, I’ll be sure to drop in. But you haven’t answered my question. Is your school REVOLUTIONARY? Or just another place where kids get convinced that “I’m not good at subjects a-x” and give up. I’m tutoring a 24-year-old native of St. Louis with a high school diploma who cannot tell me with certainty that 10+9=19 or that B R I C K spells brick. So forgive me for being skeptical. If my friend learns to read with my assistance, won’t that be revolutionary — for him? I think it will. If the Internet allows me to tell his story without a ten million dollar budget and others take courage from his success, won’t that be REVOLUTIONARY?

    You see, as polite as you are being now, you lost me at Hello.

    Posted by Mike Ridgway | November 16, 2011, 3:28 am
    • Mike – you gotta join this group (I know some people from this blog already have):

      Posted by urbaned | November 16, 2011, 3:39 am
    • Mike, I greatly appreciate the kernel of your questioning – I love learning more about Steve’s school and I value how he works from a student-centered place, so thanks for asking!

      I would invite you to read around and get a feel for our norms – while we have a lot of push here and critical friendship, we strive for constructive questioning. It seems like your use of the teacher/administrator split and ALL CAPS are rhetorical techniques that pre-suppose Steve can’t offer teachers advice because he’s an administrator and that his school can’t be REVOLUTIONARY in the ALL CAPS sense of the word. I invite you, also, to consider ways to rephrase your essential questions in non-rhetorical ways – e.g., “Steve, now that you’re an administrator, how do you get these ideas into classrooms?”, or, “As revolutionary as you would like your school to be, what parts of the status quo are still obstacles to your vision?”

      I think our goal is probably to figure out these problems that we have rather than to make one another feel attacked for sharing.

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | November 16, 2011, 7:38 am
    • Hi Mike,

      I don’t think Steve said that Sal was delusional. Rather, he said that to suggest that posting video lessons on line is revolutionary is “pure delusion.” The difference in part is that Steve is making a general statement suggesting that we, as reform-minded and transformation-minded educators, should not be satisfied with technological strategies. We must continue to push for deeper re-thinking of the entire top-down educational paradigm. Your overall tone, as well as your altering of Steve’s post into a personal attack of Sal, in addition to your own personal and sarcastic dig at Steve, honestly makes it challenging to engage with you seriously. But I am going to take a deep breath and give it a shot.

      Let’s strive towards some respectful communication, and an open exchange of ideas, if at all possible. Okay?

      I think what Steve’s school does is truly allow students to share authority, as in “being the authors of” their own learning. I think what he sees in Khan’s approach is a strategy that although innovative, still continues to exemplify a model where an expert is dispensing pre-digested information to a learner who is expected to passively receive it. I think what he is hoping for is a much greater paradigm shift that encourages learning by actively constructing and organizing knowledge. He (and I) are urging reformers and innovators in education to not be satisfied with streamlining and improving the efficiency of what is, I believe, a dated and industrialized/mechanized vision of education.

      How can we get kids more actively involved in their own learning? Is it possible to envision the process of education as one that includes exploration and adventure, wonder and mystery? Perhaps Khan offers a step towards this? Do you think?

      Thanks in advance for the continuing thoughtful dialogue, Mike. Let’s keep it on this level and strive for civility. Okay?


      Posted by Paul Freedman | November 16, 2011, 10:26 am
  17. Mike,

    I do recommend you look at his school before you pass judgement. Also your work with the student is revolutionary not because you use Khan Academy but because you center it on relationship, it is centered on helping the student learn, not on the delivery of content. Also just to be fair, their might be better ways then Khan to teach your friend also. Khan is a tool, a good one, but a true revolution would be the learning not being based purely on the content you can delivery but on helping the student learn the ways that best fit their needs and passions.

    Open Source learning models have been around before Khan and hopefully they will continue to grow and evolve past transmission style delivery models.

    Please reread the article because I think you misread this post.


    Posted by dloitz | November 16, 2011, 3:44 am
  18. Mike is absolutely right in his scepticism of Miranda’s so-called revolutionary idea. It is fairly obvious that letting kids decide the content of education based on their passing passions (“school is the place where we ask kids what they’re passionate about learning and match them with talented teachers who are passionate about teaching it”), could easily have disastrous negative effects. What if the child decided that reading was not for him? Writing?

    This is NOT the same as advocating simple transmission of content from teacher to student. It is simply an acknowledgment of the fact that mastery of disciplined knowledge, together with socialization and person-building are still essential for proper and intelligent functioning in the knowledge society. In the quest for developing each and every student’s basic skills, such as reading, writing, arithmetic, and maximising each and every student’s understanding of the world and meaning making of core subject areas, such as science, civics, languages, the teachers should use any means deemed appropriate – “whatever it takes” to cite some of my Finnish colleagues “to make the individual child learn the essential content”, by forming communities of practice, increased connectivity, individualising, transmission, group and project work, use primary interests as points of departure, etc.etc. whatever it takes to make the individual child learn the essential content. As Mike noted, that kind of learning really constitutes a revolution.

    Finland laid the foundations for their educational revolution 25 years ago (demanding a master’s degree in the subject you teach as well as pedagogy in TE), and today Finnish students outrank all other western countries in reading, writing, science and arithmetic according to the international PISA and TIMSS tests. Neighbouring and prosperous Norway achieve on average in PISA, yet every year roughly 20% of students finishing junior high are functionally illiterate. The Finnish students are on average two years ahead of their Norwegian counterparts. Only the very best students from high school are admitted to Finnish TE (grades, interviews and test lectures) and the profession is highly respected. Across the border, most TE institutions struggle to attract qualified applicants and those admitted are recruited have poor grades from high school.

    Education is not about the adjustment to ‘what is,’ but requires judgments about whether ‘what is educationally desirable. This is why it is important to ask to what extent, in what ways, and under what conditions the opportunities offered by youth culture are educationally beneficial and when they are not (Biesta, 2011).

    In short, trying to make school more like youth culture might just de-privilege it, teachers and knowledge, while valorizing the attributes of the tech-savvy student.

    Posted by Thomas Arnesen | November 16, 2011, 6:58 am
    • Thomas, why does valorizing the student and de-privileging teachers equal a devaluation of knowledge or something disastrous? What do you think when you read about a school like the Sudbury Valley School or Northwest Passage High School?

      I’m still not sure why you argue against sharing authority and the design of learning with students. I’d encourage you to read widely here and to follow links to schools doing the work of democratic, student-directed learning. I appreciate the care and attention you give your comments, but they don’t seem very constructive or inquiring, and I think it’d be best if we were all open to questioning and learning from one another – we have a culture of push and critical friendship here, but we do not give face to jousting at one another.

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | November 16, 2011, 7:32 am
  19. Steve,

    The wonderful discussion we are having here is not what I would have thought a relatively innocuous observation would generate.

    Through this thread I have learned that individuals can be (or at least express themselves as being) very impassioned by the Khan Academy, find the authoritarian approach to educational content and method appropriate, and that games (and apparently their underlying theories) are without value (causing me to wonder whether there how some who used game theory became Noble Laureates).

    I remain heartened that others find valuable the human/humane approach to education. Keep up the great work!


    Posted by Brent Snavely | November 16, 2011, 3:49 pm
  20. I would contend that the author of this article would do as well to research Salman Khan more deeply as I would to get to know those who inhabit this part of hyperspace.

    I contend that Steve Miranda has created an awful straw man in suggesting that Salman Khan thinks that flipping the classroom *by itself* (there, no CAPS this time) is *revolutionary.”

    But don’t take my word for it. Take Sal’s:

    “‘That’s what caught on but [flipping the classrom]… we don’t think that’s the full transformation [revolutionary],” Khan says over the phone from the US. ”The real transformation [revolutionary] is when you allow kids to work at their own pace and just ‘flipping’ doesn’t allow for that.”

    Read more:

    Read even more:

    Posted by Mike Ridgway | November 17, 2011, 12:22 am
    • Mike,

      I appreciate you beginning to shift your tone, and hope that you will go further. As others have mentioned the culture here is one of critical friends–where we begin with a belief that each of us is good and has good intentions AND where we question and push each other’s thinking. I wish to emphasize questioning for a moment.

      Looking at your most recent comment, can you find ways to voice your concerns–the holes that you think might be part of Steve’s thinking–as questions rather than assertions? Can you do so in way that conveys respect for Steve while also giving voice to your concerns?

      Thanks for advocating for your point of view and being part of the conversation.


      Posted by Adam Burk | November 17, 2011, 1:44 am
  21. Steve, great post and great controversy! I’ve been back and forth about how I feel about Khan Academy. My current conclusion is that it can be a really great tool when situated within the “fertile soil” of learning relevant to the student. There’s no reason why this can’t be part of a larger, holistic environment.

    As this young app developer ( highlights, it is unrealistic to think that we could ever possibly match every student with the right content teacher relevant to his/her interest and abilities. Between student interests, available teacher pool, contracts, and more, its just too complex to create such resources on the local level everywhere.

    Why can’t open-source online media play a part? Aren’t we just waiting for superman if we think that the right teacher is going to come along or be available for every student? Why create such a limited context for how students access information that they have determined is important and relevant to them?

    On the coin side, I am not convinced that Khan and I have the same values regarding what the purpose of education should be. I would sure love to have that conversation with him though!

    As for Chris Anderson, its tough to pin his views on education solely on his picking of Khan Academy as one of the seven most powerful ideas of the year. (If it was more important to you to point out and discuss that he’s not an educator, that’s a different) Anderson is sophisticated and his number 2 pick is Dan H. Pink’s “A whole new mind” ( The caption reads in part “He’s recognized a crucial mismatch between what science knows and corporate ‘carrot-and-stick’ rewards. What really motivates us is the desire to do things because they matter because they’re interesting.”

    So if in the same collection of powerful ideas Anderson has selected is that we need to recognize that motivation is really about what we find interesting, perhaps he also thought about that in the context of learning? His endorsement of Khan Academy doesn’t note support of the reward structures that have been built into the learning environment (and it doesn’t note his disapproval either) but perhaps, and just perhaps, Chris Anderson’s view of what education could look like ideally is not about “academic content transfer” solely. But I would guess that it is part of it, as it should be for all of us. Perhaps its a question I will try to ask him.

    Thanks for kicking of this great conversation.


    Posted by Adam Burk | November 17, 2011, 2:17 am
  22. One of the big problems in education reform is idol worship, be it for people like Rhee, Gates or Khan, or schools like Kipp, and HCZ or programs like TFA, or RTTT. There is not a superman and education revolution will not come from making traditional transmission/banking model more efficient or flashy, it will come when we make education about meaningful, engaging learning that is connect to the life of the children and the community, not test scores or outcomes geared to keep the Corporations and rich in power!

    Posted by dloitz | November 20, 2011, 4:24 pm
  23. I’m a home-schooled student and I use Khan Academy (along with other websites) to study. I must say, Khan Academy is a classroom for the whole world to learn. I think the way Sal teaches makes the subject pretty interesting. He breaks math and science into simple language that anyone can understand. Every student wants to learn at his/her own pace and not be overshadowed by fast-learners if they happen to be slow-learners. Khan academy is progressing to be a model of the 21st century classroom, especially with its use of technology.

    I disagree with this statement “The material is factually inaccurate.” Because I use McGraw Hill’s textbooks alongside Sal Khan videos and the information is the same and accurate.

    Posted by Line Dalile | February 10, 2012, 6:23 pm
  24. I do hope you have realized your mistake sir and have adjusted your views on the real world accordingly. I don’t have time to go read through these comments but I sense an overwhelming support for Khan academy and Sal; I agree with him. I apologize in advance if any of this is repetitive.

    I just finished watching between 30 – 45 minutes of educational videos ranging from the periodic table and quantum mechanics, electron configuration, parabolas, quadratic functions, and video is playing on my second screen about communism and Karl Marx. I could not be happier with Khan academy. (Insert great quote from Aristotle about learning here)

    It may have been a while since you were in a high-school classroom, but here is the breakdown:
    You may or may not have a good teacher, because we do not live in a perfect world.(As you suggested with matching kids up with the right and “good” teachers; We can’t even hire competent cashier workers to work in Walmart!) And putting a kid who would be content with working that Walmart job for his/her life in the same room with an aspiring physicist ready to make love to the Higgs Boson, and structuring their learning in the same manner is asinine!

    The beauty(or really, the point.) of Khan Academy is to allow students to learn at their own pace! It is worth mentioning that this pace fluctuates at the drop of a hat. If you so much as drop your pencil or daze out the window, the rest of the lesson will be gibberish to you…. you’re screwed.

    I’m out of time, I’m sure others have done a better job then I have at writing a rebuttal to this argument. This is my real motive for writing my first comment on an internet article. I’m an aspiring programmer, and a rather nervous one since now in some countries they’re teaching that to second graders. My school doesn’t provide an adequate classroom for me to learn my field/ career. I mean, having to repeat to 25 kids that they forgot a semicolon at the end of their “else” statement might sound like a good idea to you since the teacher is a trained professional and all the kids are passionate about learning programming because its awesome; but it’s not.

    Thanks to Khan Academy/Code Academy I’m learning: when I want to, where I want to, and because I want to.
    My only limit is myself. (And this 512 MB laptop I’m stuck with xD) Khan Academy is the future; and now my future is possible because of Salman Khan. The method he has works, and I can’t thank him enough. I ask that you don’t slow it down.

    Thank you.
    -A student.

    Posted by A student | November 15, 2012, 12:59 am
    • Thanks for this comment – I think our viewpoints of anything new speak towards all the ways in which they can be used.

      I’m glad you decided to comment; I’d encourage you to continue commenting and reading through other comments to get a feel for our norms in how we try to push one another to consider new ideas without attacking one another. “I do hope you have realized your mistake sir and have adjusted your views on the real world accordingly,” might not be the best way to get the author to consider your viewpoint –

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | November 17, 2012, 2:36 pm


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