Can the Khan Academy help to find the next Einstein?

Source: Psychology Today, Dec 2012

our vision for the future is that everyone will be able to learn at their own pace and it should be competency based. 

I can imagine a world where there are students who want to go deep and go fast and they’re getting it at a deep level and they’re getting it quickly, who knows what might happen.  One dimension is that you can empower that student, hopefully where one day Khan Academy will be taken very seriously where someone will say “Wow, so you did that on Khan Academy? You’re ready for the next level now.”

Some kind of certification?

Yeah, a certification or a micro credential or whatever you want to call it.  And then there’s the whole issue of talent identification when there’s someone off the charts.  We’re going to get the data, the analytics, on all these kids and we don’t just get these snapshot SAT scores or whatever else, we get these data narratives. 

… the blended learning model?

if you could have a classroom where everyone goes at their own pace, there’s a lot of peer to peer tutoring going on—where the gifted student is tutoring others or even the non-gifted student is tutoring others—which I think questions some of the definitions of gifted.  A learning model where it’s not lecture based but focused on small group activities with peers and teachers and their projects. 

That I think is the right model, a competency based model, where I’m going to learn at my own pace, show you that I know something, and then we’re going to move on.  And I’ll retain that knowledge state as well.  I think this is a good idea, it’s what my book is about, and that’s what a lot of the research has backed up. 

Historically that has just not been easy to implement.  The technology in blended learning makes that a reality.  That experiential thing is the goal and blended learning is a means to that goal.  For me it’s about getting to a self-based competency based world.

Sometimes I think people confuse rote learning with traditional conceptual instruction.  A good traditional conceptual instruction is what I got from my better professors at MIT.  They would be at a chalkboard, and they would literally be explaining something and working through a problem, but it wasn’t rote.  They were explaining the underlying theory and processes and intuition behind it.  And some people just assume that if you have an equation on the board or you are working through mathematical symbols that it is somehow rote, which is not the case.  We do also have a lot of worked examples on the site, in fact probably six or seven hundred.  And perhaps this is where people come up with the perception that these are just a bunch of step by step problems, but I personally think it’s valuable to see worked examples.

Deliberate practice is when we say “Look, we’re going to have you solve a bunch of equations.  And solving these questions will help you get into the rhythm and logic.”  I personally believe that most of the time if you’ve worked yourself enough, your brain starts to draw connections.  Sometimes the connections happen before the problem solving, sometimes the problem solving happens before the connections.

… my main thing is to make sure that students really deeply understand the conceptual underpinnings.  In regards to your point about the Asian comparison, I would say that the kids who do well in math in the US actually have the best of both worlds.  They’ve done a lot of practice and different types of problems, but at the same time they have thought more critically and more out of the box about things.  … If you do look at Singapore math they are actually less rote than the American system.  The books are very small and they’re focused on hitting the concepts on multiple dimensions.  They’re not about doing as many mindless problems but doing pure problems that are more interesting. 


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