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Khan Academy – Tailoring Education to the Individual

I heard about Khan Academy way before I’d ever heard the name Salman Khan but I wished I had heard his name sooner…

About Salman Khan

Salman Khan is the founder and faculty of the Khan Academy – a not-for-profit organization with the mission of providing a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere.  It now consists of self-paced software and, with over 1 million unique students per month, the most-used educational video repository on the Internet (over 30 million lessons delivered to-date).  All 2000+ video tutorials, covering everything from basic addition to advanced calculus, physics, chemistry and biology, have been made by Salman.

Prior to the Khan Academy, Salman was a senior analyst at a hedge fund and had also worked in technology and venture capital.  He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, an M.Eng and B.S. in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT, and a B.S. in mathematics from MIT.

The first time someone shared Khan Academy with me, I thought, “Oh, you mean like Youtube for educational videos?”

It sounded like a nice idea and a wonderful way to harness technology in education but there was nothing “wow” about it – at least, I didn’t think so back then. After listening to Salman Khan, I’ve changed my tune. Although Khan Academy may have started out as a Youtube for educational videos, it has become much more than that, and the prospects that it offers are truly exciting.

What is Khan Academy and What Can it Offer?

In his TED Talk, Salman Khan talks about Khan Academy, how it evolved into what it is today, and the impact it can have on our education system.

It is a brilliant talk and I highly recommend watching it, but if you’re short on time, here are the main highlights from Khan’s talk:

Videos are Great Learning Tools

  • Videos are a great way to learn because you can pause and repeat them at your own pace, in your own time.
  • Videos remove the one-size-fits-all lecture in the classroom. Students get a self-paced lecture at home and when they get to school, they can do the work while interacting with their peers and the teacher so they can gain a better understanding of the material.

Traditional Classroom vs Khan’s Learning Model

  • In a traditional classroom, you have homework, lecture, homework, lecture, and then you have a snapshot exam. As long as you pass the exam, you move on to the next topic. Say you get 95% on the exam, that still means there’s 5% you might not have understood. The next topic builds on your existing knowledge with the 5% gap you didn’t understand. That 5% gap might mean you don’t fully understand the next topic either but you’re still able to get 90% in your exam. Keep moving forward and suddenly your good students start failing because of all these Swiss cheese gaps in the foundation of their knowledge.
  • Khan offers a terrific analogy to illustrate what’s happening in the traditional classroom: It’s like learning to ride a bicycle. You get a lecture on how to ride a bike and two weeks to practice. After that, you get a test. In your test, you score 80% for your bike riding skills. You might have trouble taking left turns and you can’t quite stop but you’re essentially an 80 percent bicyclist. Then you move onto the next topic – how to ride a unicycle.
  • The Khan Academy model encourages students to learn their subjects like riding a bike – keep practicing until you have mastery. It doesn’t matter how many times you fall off as long as you have mastery at the end.

See also: The Flipped Classroom.

The Los Altos School District Example

  • In the Los Altos school district, the students work on the Khan Academy software for half their math class.
  • The teacher monitors the students as they work at their own pace on a live dashboard. The dashboard shows the teacher detailed data on each student’s progress – how much time they spend, what they’ve learned, what they are spending more time on, what they’re struggling with. The teacher knows exactly which students are proficient and in what areas, which ones are working on it, and which ones are stuck.
  • The teacher can intervene directly by helping the students who are stuck or the teacher can send a student who is already proficient in that area to help the struggling student through peer-to-peer tutoring.

More about the program here.

Differentiated Learning

  • In every classroom you will see three groups of students – the ones who race ahead, the ones working at the level and the ones who are a bit slower.
  • In a traditional classroom, the group that races ahead is labelled the gifted kids, while the ones that struggled are the slow kids.
  • In a differentiated learning classroom where students work at their own pace, the students that take a little bit more time on one concept or another can eventually catch up and race ahead once they get past the bit they were struggling with. Suddenly your “slow” kids become the “gifted” kids.

Extrapolating the system

  • A system like this allows anyone, anywhere, any time to learn anything, like the adult learner who is embarrassed to go back and learn stuff they should have known before going back to college; like the street kid in Calcutta, who has to help his family during the day, and can’t go to school during regular school hours.
  • We can have peer-to-peer tutoring beyond the classroom, the school, the state, the country. You can have a global one-world classroom with students tutoring each other from another part of the world.

About Khan Academy

Khan Academy offers a personalized learning resource for all ages. They have practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalized learning dashboard that empower learners to study at their own pace in and outside of the classroom. They tackle math, science, computer programming, history, art history, economics, and more. Their math missions guide learners from kindergarten to calculus using state-of-the-art, adaptive technology that identifies strengths and learning gaps. They have also partnered with institutions like NASA, The Museum of Modern Art, The California Academy of Sciences, and MIT to offer specialized content.

Khan Academy offers free tools for parents and teachers to help them understand what their children or students are up to and how best to help them. The coach dashboard provides a summary of class performance as a whole as well as detailed student profiles so parents and teachers can see at a glance whether a child or student is struggling or if she hit a streak and is now far ahead of the class.

Khan Academy is a global classroom with millions of students all over the world. Their organization is a diverse team of developers, teachers, designers, strategists, scientists, and content specialists who passionately believe in inspiring the world to learn.

Khan Academy is available for free. For everyone. Forever. They have no ads, no subscriptions. They are a not?for?profit because they believe in a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. They rely on our community of thousands of volunteers and donors. Learn more about getting involved today.

Khan Academy can be accessed:


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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