Khan Academy and linear teaching

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

Wired has a great article about the Khan Academy. The Khan Academy has assembled a mass of online videos each a short lesson on an aspect of maths science and a sprinkling of other subjects. The article is a good review of what he Khan has accomplished and of what his fans and critics make of it.

What I like about what Khan is doing is that it supports people in learning at their own pace and starts to really mess with way schools try to teach a class of pupils as if they are all the same. There are lots of parallels here for they way organisations hold meetings – and connections to what I’ve blogged before about the teacher trance.

I thought this paragraph got to the heart of how Khan threatens serious disruption to at least part of the school system.

Even if Khan is truly liberating students to advance at their own pace, it’s not clear that the schools will be able to cope. The very concept of grade levels implies groups of students moving along together at an even pace. So what happens when, using Khan Academy, you wind up with a kid in fifth grade who has mastered high school trigonometry and physics—but is still functioning like a regular 10-year-old when it comes to writing, history, and social studies? Khan’s programmer, Ben Kamens, has heard from teachers who’ve seen Khan Academy presentations and loved the idea but wondered whether they could modify it “to stop students from becoming this advanced.”

That echoes what sometimes happens when organisations start to get Open Space and similar processes… they start to sense how radically disturbing they can be.

The piece has some interesting reflections on whether Khan’s approach may be liberating at one level, but possibly rigid at another – has he busted rote learning or simply repackaged it with gamification? I quite liked Khan’s perspective here:

Though the ranks of reformers include many Wall Streeters and Silicon Valley honchos, Khan himself winces when I apply the label to him. He says he has no particular animus toward the public school system; in fact, his experience with Los Altos has shown him that public school teachers can be as innovative as anyone else. “Don’t call me an education reformer, all right?” he says. “We’re not out to fight some political battle. We’re out to build stuff that’s useful.”

I like that attitude: he’s not affecting to have some grand overall solution for a system, he’s focussed on trying stuff out. Good improv practice.

Hat tip: @davidgurteen

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