How Khan Academy Can Help Personalize Your Math Classroom
What are the benefits of using Khan Academy in the classroom? In a previous post, I wrote about what schools should consider when choosing an online math platform. While Khan Academy meets all the basic criteria addressed in that post, it goes 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 their site that generates personalized recommendations and useful data.
Khan Academy began as a labor of love from Salman Khan to help his niece, and has grown to become a world-wide phenomenon. Rather than spending time and money on marketing and pay walls, Khan Academy focuses on providing a quality, completely free product. It was originally meant for students working at home, but has since evolved for use in schools.
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 through content at a uniform pace. Rather than teaching for mastery, we measure understanding in percentages. As soon as one topic has been “covered,” the class moves on to the next.
This teacher-centered model eventually creates gaps for some students that prevent future learning. Other students learn new content quickly and become bored and disengaged. In either case, by middle or high school, many students become frustrated by schools not suited to their needs.
Teachers who use Khan Academy in the classroom can allow each student to progress at a comfortable pace. They can address gaps from future grade levels, while also allowing ambitious students to move forward. The challenge is finding a way to fit self-paced learning into traditional classrooms.
Benefits of Using Khan Academy in the Classroom
Using Khan Academy in the classroom provides teachers more options. It’s not about replacing teachers or spending every day on the computer. Dedicating some time each week to personalize learning creates several positive outcomes. When students can work at their own level, they become more motivated and develop better relationships with math. Teachers benefit by having fewer worksheets to grade and having access to detailed information about their students’ strengths and needs.
One reason why Khan Academy missions are so effective is that they give students some control over their learning experience. Teachers can notify students to start a “mission” (grade level), but students can still explore different levels or topics.
Some see this as a bug, but I see it as a feature. Students often lose motivation when they are unable to take ownership of their learning. When students have ownership, some will make 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 missions also allow 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.
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.
Personalized Learning is not “Teacher-Proofing”
Sal Khan has also noted that introducing Khan Academy in the classroom is not a strategy to replace teachers. It can 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, teachers can use Khan Academy to inform planning of whole group or small group lessons.
Several schools have begun to use our Three Bridges Design for Learning when introducing Khan Academy. 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.
Ready to Bring Khan Academy into Your Math Class?
There are many was to use Khan Academy in the classroom. We developed an effective system that has helped a number of teachers get started. If you want to get Khan Academy up and running tomorrow, check out our free Quick Start Guide. We also have a five day course covering Khan Academy Basics and an in-depth 5-Week Course that will make you a Khan Academy expert.
Prefer live events? Our workshops page will tell you if we have an upcoming session in your area.
If you think personalized learning with Khan Academy will add value for your students, you’re probably right. Of course, it won’t work perfectly at first. It may even take some outside-the-box thinking. But if you start small, and keep with it, your students will thank you in the end.