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Khan Academy on 60 Minutes

March 12, 2012

If you watched 60 Minutes last night, then you saw the segment on the explosion of Khan Academy on the education scene.  (See the story at Khan Academy: The Future of Education?)

I have been following Khan Academy’s progress over the past 8-12 months.  It is definitely a creative and interesting internet platform for helping students learn concepts in a variety of disciplines.  With Bill Gates recent involvement and promotion, Khan Academy has accelerated its success.  My concerns are not meant to be overly critical or diminish the hard work and creative talent of Sol Khan and his team.  They are clearly making a difference in some educational settings, especially in California.

The biggest question in my mind is: Does Khan Academy change the game-plan for education in the 21st Century?  If students need to learn new content and skills to be highly functioning in a more globally-connected world, then how does an online learning academy devoted to providing traditional instruction through highly structured, mini-lessons change the game-plan.  I don’t see this as the innovation we need in schools.

The innovation we need in schools has more to do with students getting involved in project-based learning (PBL).  We need to create learning environments where students are at the center of the learning.  Where they explore and generate the knowledge needed to understand important concepts and problems.  The cycle of inquiry involved in PBL engages the student in more authentic ways that what I see happening in a Khan Academy model of education.

It strikes me that only some of the skills needed for a 21st Century learner—critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, written and oral communication, creativity, self-direction, leadership, adaptability, responsibility, and global awareness—are advanced by the Khan Academy model.  It is really lecture style teaching, modeling problems in an online environment.  In watching the program, the “light bulb moment” for me was the comment of a female student who indicated that she liked Khan Academy because it allowed her to replay the lesson over and over again until she understood, stopping and pausing to think about the problem.  That seems to me to be an advantage of the online learning environment.

Does Khan Academy help if we want to flip our classrooms—complete the “lecture of the lesson” at home—and then use classroom time to apply the knowledge learned at home.  Maybe?  I see it as a technology tool that is available to teachers to use.  Creative teachers will use it in creative ways.  Less creative teachers, schools, or school districts will use it improperly.  It will become s set of glorified worksheets with more elaborate instructions.  The 21st Century skills like communication, creative thinking, leadership, problem-solving with more complex ideas, and written and oral communication will not be advanced by using Khan Academy was we saw it illustrated on 60 Minutes.

More questions remain, but Khan will be on the forefront of the educational conversations for years to come.

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