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Considering Khan Academy for Your Classroom?

What are the benefits of using Khan Academy in the classroom? In a previous post, I wrote about the factors schools need to consider when choosing a personalized learning platform. While Khan Academy meets all the basic criteria addressed in that post, it goes well beyond the basics. Khan Academy’s key features are its mission: to bring a world-class education to anyone, anywhere; And its “Missions”: the part of the platform that generates data and personalized recommendations.

Khan Academy began as a labor of love from Salman Khan to help his niece, and has grown to become a world-wide phenomenon. Unlike EdTech and textbook execs, Sal Khan is an education visionary, and Khan is a non-profit organization. The difference is clear in the platform. Rather than spending time and money on marketing and pay walls, Khan Academy focuses on providing a quality product. It was originally designed for use by individual students working independently.  The site has adapted to better suit a school setting, but the mission and philosophy remain.

(Note: I receive no compensation from Khan Academy either for this post or for serving as an ambassador — I just really like the site.)

Khan Academy’s Unique Approach to Personalized Learning

In his TED talk, Salman Khan describes the core problem facing today’s schools: scale. To provide education to many students at once, teachers march students through content at a uniform pace. Rather than teaching for mastery, we measure understanding in percentages. As soon as a topic has been “covered,” the class moves on to the next. This teacher-centered model eventually creates gaps for some students that can prevent future learning. Others learn new content quickly and become bored and disengaged due to the slow pace. In either case, by middle or high school, many students become frustrated by schools not suited to their needs.

When using Khan Academy, one senses how it grew organically from a philosophy about learning, rather than as a product to take to market. Products make promises about ease of implementation, guaranteed results, and student enjoyment. Such grand promises rarely come to fruition. Khan can be an important tool in a well-developed teacher toolkit, but it doesn’t attempt to replace teachers. It allows students to explore new avenues for growth, but doesn’t try to force them to learn.

Get the support you need to personalize learning in your class:

Personalized Learning Means Ownership, Inquiry, and Engagement

One reason why Khan Academy missions are so effective is that they give students control over the experience. Teachers can notify students to start a “mission” (grade level), but students can still explore different levels or topics. While some see this as a bug, I see it as a feature. Students often lose motivation when they are unable to take ownership of their learning. When students have ownership, the will make some poor choices. But these twists and turns become crucial life lessons. Working collaboratively with students to set goals and manage difficulties allows them to learn more in the long run.

Khan Academy Playlists Allow Students to Choose From Among Appropriate Topics

Khan also allows students to learn through inquiry, rather than through information delivery. Many still see Khan Academy as a video platform, but my students spend less than 10% of their time watching videos. Many of my students don’t use videos at all. Instead, we take an inquiry-based approach to learning new skills.

When questions are within a student’s ZPD (i.e., just outside their current skill set), they can learn without direct instruction. Students use reasoning, trial-and-error, or Khan’s built-in ‘hints’ and ‘videos’ as resources. This process lies at the heart of active learning. The results are clear: deeper understanding, better retention, and increased engagement.

Problem Sets Allow Students to Use ‘Hints’ or Videos as Needed

Personalized Learning is not “Teacher-Proofing”

Sal Khan has also noted that Khan Academy is not designed to replace teachers or schools. It is designed to be used independently by students, or as a tool for teachers to better understand and support their students. This philosophy is reflected in the design of the platform, as teachers play a crucial role in supporting student progress. Often, use of Khan Academy can inform instruction in other areas of the course.

Data Sorted by ‘Skill’ in Khan Academy

Several models support the integration of Khan into a school’s curriculum and schedule. Several schools have begun to use my Three Bridges Design for Learning. This framework balances Personalized Learning, Inquiry-Based Learning, and Direct Instruction. The three reinforce one-another, and traditional teachers have a clear path for exploring new methods.

While Some platforms take a “teacher-proof” approach, I have rarely seen this have a meaningful impact on learning. These platforms have some initial appeal, due to their ease of use and promise of quick results. One such program, iReady, offers a built-in solution for every issue. Trouble monitoring students? The platform locks them into the assigned skill. Teachers nervous about implementing technology? The platform can run even without teacher involvement. Kids don’t like math? The cool cartoon characters will dress up dry content so they don’t get bored.

The marketing can be convincing, especially to administrators who need fast growth on state tests. I’ve seen iReady rolled-out (and abandoned) by several schools who found it unable to live up to its marketing. Fortunately, I was able to help some of them transition to Khan Academy and a 3-Bridges Curriculum.

Is Personalizing Learning Easy?

Of course not. Nothing worth doing is easy. Khan Academy has revised and grown its offering, but there are still inevitable hurdles to implementation. First, it is still a technology platform. To use it, a school will need to have (and maintain) enough devices to allow students to use the platform. Students and teachers will also need accounts — and there will be passwords to remember. I recommend allowing several weeks for an effective implementation, assuming strong technology management. Having Chromebooks and a Google domain are especially helpful.

Since my own system for using Khan Academy in the classroom had evolved gradually, it took me some time to communicate the entire process to other educators. implementation process, complete with checklists and supporting materials. This way, other teachers don’t have to reinvent the wheel and meander through years of experimentation to have an effective launch.

Eventually, I was able to identify the most important aspects of a personalized learning initiative and design a five-weekI use this process in workshops today and even created an online version for teachers who can’t attend in person. This is same process allows Room to Discover consultants to support personalized learning in schools – if your school would benefit from support in using Khan Academy to support differentiation, we’re happy to help! E-mail or use our Contact Form.


Remote coaching can provide the support and advice you need to start using hands-on, collaborative math tasks in your classroom. 

*I receive no compensation from Khan Academy for this or any other endorsements – I’m just a big fan!
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