Khan Academy as a Digital Learning Resource

Source: Forbes,  Nov 2012

The next half-century of education innovation is being shaped right now. After decades of yammering about “reform,” with more and more money spent on declining results, technology is finally poised to disrupt how people learn. And that creates immense opportunities for both for-profit entrepreneurs and nonprofit agitators like Khan.

According to a report from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, global spending on education is $3.9 trillion, or 5.6% of planetary GDP. America spends the most–about $1.3 trillion a year–yet the U.S. ranks 25th out of the 34 OECD countries in mathematics, 17th in science and 14th in reading. And, as in so many other areas of American life, those averages obscure a deeper divide: The U.S. is the only developed country to have high proportions of both top and bottom performers. About a fifth of American 15-year-olds do not have basic competence in science; 23% can’t use math in daily life.

Over the past two years Khan Academy videos have been viewed more than 200 million times. The site is used by 6 million unique students each month (about 45 million total over the last 12 months), who have collectively solved more than 750 million problems (about 2 million a day), and the material, which is provided at no cost, is (formally or informally) part of the curriculum in 20,000 classrooms around the world. Volunteers have translated Khan’s videos into 24 different languages, including Urdu, Swahili and Chinese.

Salman Khan’s ambitions go much further. “Now that there are these tools, where students can learn at their own pace and master the concepts before moving on, can we rethink this educational model that has been standard practice for hundreds of years?”

“We have a one-size-fits-all, one-speed-fits-all, one-path-fits-all model,” says Thrun. “And that is the result of one simple assumption that we are questioning. The assumption is that education takes place from teacher to student by spoken word–by synchronous, not recorded, spoken word. That means that all the students have to be at the same place at the same time.

Thrun, Khan and many of their fellow educational disruptors want to upend that. Broadly termed “flipping the classroom,” the idea is that students watch lectures and work through problem sets on their own time, at their own pace. Once they prove mastery of a concept, adaptive software will suggest new ones, much like Amazon recommends new books. Teachers are kept abreast of students’ progress through back-end dashboards. Class time once reserved for lectures would be devoted to mentoring and one-on-one tutoring.

… where does this brave new world leave teachers?

“What gets exciting is that you can imagine a lot of differentiation of teacher roles in the future,” says Michael Horn, coauthor with Clayton Christensen and Curtis Johnson of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns . “Some people might be content experts, some who are mentors and some who are handling nonacademic problems. That is significant change.”

<The book “Disrupting Class” is available at OCLS.>

“Recent history teaches us that the Internet ultimately revolutionizes any industry that has an information or media-based product,” says Knewton’s Ferreira. “If you can put a chunk of that product–not all of it, but a lot of it–through a pipe and get it to people directly, it’s inevitable. The last two that haven’t changed yet are video and education, and I think both needed more broadband and better devices.”

Khan has recently published a book, The One World Schoolhouse (Twelve, 2012), that recounts the story of Khan Academy and outlines a radical vision of the future of education. Khan would like to re-create the once common mixed-age classrooms that he believes encourage older kids to take responsibility for younger ones. He wants multiteacher classrooms to provide students with different perspectives. He would abolish summer vacation–”a monumental waste of time and money.” And he would eliminate letter grades altogether, preferring a more qualitative approach to assessment, what he terms a “running multiyear narrative.”


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