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Is Khan Academy effective? How is it different than other resources available?

OUR WEBSITE

With thousands of videos, it is easily the most exhaustive collection of instruction on the Internet allowing learners to know that they can fill in almost any of their "gaps" with the content on this site. The content is made in digestible 5-20 minute chunks especially purposed for viewing on the computer as opposed to being a longer video of a conventional "physical" lecture. The conversational style of the videos is the tonal antithesis of what people traditionally associate with math and science instruction. The less obvious distinctions are, however, what make the site hard to reproduce. 

Sal describes his teaching style as follows: “I teach the way that I wish I was taught. The lectures are coming from me, an actual human being who is fascinated by the world around him. The concepts are conveyed as they are understood by me, not as they are written in a textbook developed by an educational bureaucracy. Viewers know that it is the labor of love of one somewhat quirky and determined man who has a passion for learning and teaching. I don't think any corporate or governmental effort--regardless of how much money is thrown at the problem--can reproduce this."


"A lot of my own educational experience was spent frustrated with how information was conveyed in textbooks and lectures. There would be connections in the subject matter that standard curricula would ignore despite the fact that they make the content easier to understand, enjoy, and RETAIN. I felt like fascinating and INTUITIVE concepts were almost intentionally being butchered into pages and pages of sleep-inducing text and monotonic, scripted lectures. I saw otherwise intelligent peers memorizing steps and formulas for the next exam without any sense of the intuition or big picture, only to forget everything within a matter of weeks. These videos are my expression of how the concepts should have been expressed in the first place, all while not compromising rigor or comprehensiveness.”

OUR LEARNING MODEL
Our model is applicable to any learner - it can be used as the core learning platform or a supplementary one. While many other models have created physical schools to enable their respective models, ours is a virtual classroom that facilitates existing physical schools to deepen the learning that happens within any classroom. It is also a model that can be extended to any learning environment with a device and an Internet connection - for group or individual learning, inside or outside the classroom.

IS IT EFFECTIVE?

Students have always liked Khan Academy.  The YouTube comments Sal Khan received when he posted his first videos in 2006 are what motivated him to keep going (and create thousands more).  However, it is still astonishing to see the impact our resources can have.  If Khan Academy changed just one student's life, it would have been worth creating Khan Academy.  The fact that this so easily scales to millions is what makes Khan Academy special.

Khan Academy seems to work well with supplemental learners, but how well does it work in schools?  We have always believed that a great teacher can take our resources and push learning to new heights, by better focusing on the individual needs of each student.   With the student mastering core skills on the computer, the teacher can leverage the classroom time for more engaging and dynamic activities such as project-based learning, peer tutoring, or lively discussion.

In the 2010-2011 school year, we started piloting our platform in a few schools in Los Altos, California.  Our goal was to create better tools by directly observing how teachers and students interacted with our product.   Los Altos was a fantastic partner, and our team built out many significant features based on their feedback (e.g., student knowledge map, teacher dashboards, badging infrastructure, new exercises).   

At the end of the school year, we all knew it was a success.  Teachers could see a dramatic change in their students’ excitement and enthusiasm towards math.  Students who traditionally struggled with the material were more confident and engaged.  Other students were challenging themselves to levels we never thought possible.  Common sense told everyone involved that we were on to something.   

We did not do a controlled research study.  In part, because our organization was only 5 people for most of the school year, and we were just trying to build something worth researching.  Things changed fast for us, and the system the students were using at the end of the school year was very different from the system they started using in November.

However, we were curious to see how they did on traditional assessments like the end of year CST exam.  It is not the ideal exam since it only tests performance on a narrow set of grade-level skills.   Many of our students were remediating topics they should have learned years ago, or challenging themselves with much more advanced topics.  None of these gains would be captured.   However, the CST clearly mattered, so it was worth understanding how our students performed.

The initial results were quite promising.  Our pilot included a couple of 7th grade classrooms with students who typically struggled in Math. We saw a significant improvement in this group.  The number of Advanced or Proficient students increased dramatically, from 23% to 41%

This was very heartening.  Usually, the performance gap widens with students who struggle in Math, particularly when they get to more advanced topics like pre-algebra.  The fact that these students were closing the gap (non-pilot classrooms saw no significant change in their CST performance) was very promising. 

Our pilot also included a few 5th grade classrooms.  Los Altos is a high performing district, and these students typically do very well on the CST.  This year was no different, with 96% of the students in pilot classrooms scoring Advanced or Proficient.   While these are great results, they are not statistically different from the non-pilot classrooms in the district.    It turns out, in both pilot and non-pilot classrooms, the students were doing great on the exam and didn’t have much room for improvement.

However, we could see amazing things happening with the 5th graders.  A majority of students were attempting early algebra, and many students were experimenting with trigonometry and calculus.  These students were excited, engaged, and loved being challenged.  Inadvertently, we highlighted a distinct but not often discussed problem with standardized, age-focused education.   Students performing at high levels are often not sufficiently challenged.  Teachers shouldn’t take kids who already know the material, and make sure they already know the material.  Teachers should be pushing and challenging the students to their full abilities.  Los Altos didn’t think everything was perfect because their students were scoring well on standardized exams; they saw significant value in creating an environment that was engaging and challenging for all students.

Based on these experiences, Los Altos decided to expand the implementation district-wide for the 2011-2012 school year to over 40 more classrooms, and we decided to expand and work with a number of additional schools that represent different use cases (e.g., charter, independent, low-income, special needs) to understand how students react to our resources in these different settings, as well as try out better evaluation methodology that reflects learning gains across multiple grade levels.

We are completely convinced that our resources can have a huge impact on the learning process.  But why exactly does Khan Academy work?   Some people have a hard time understanding how online videos and practice exercises can make such a big difference.  Or they misunderstand what Khan Academy is all about.    

Putting videos on YouTube is just a small piece of the equation.   What Khan Academy enables is a fundamentally different way for students to approach learning.   Here’s my take on the many innovations we are bundling together into a coherent experience. This is what is really making the difference.

  • Students are free to learn anytime, anywhere
  • Students can jump to where help is needed most, and spend as much time as necessary to master concepts 
  • The content is short, fun, approachable, and easily digestible
  • There is a clear and continuous path to learning complex topics
  • Students feel an increased sense of ownership - they are learning, not “being taught”
  • The focus on core conceptual understanding ensures students build the necessary skills that are applicable in any curriculum used in schools
  • Interactive practice ensures concepts truly sink in
  • Rich analytics help teachers monitor progress and provide focused support
  • Teachers are empowered to make their classroom experiences much more fun, engaging, and social, with less lecturing and more project-based learning and peer tutoring

 

The results so far have been promising.   However, in our view, we’re just getting started.  We still have a long way to go to reach our vision for technology-enabled education. For the full blog post, check out www.khanacademy.org/about/blog/post/10243685407/impact-from-using-khan-academy


Your stories about the impact Khan Academy has had on your life truly inspire us. We love reading them and sharing them with others. To read these stories or to share yours, please visit  www.khanacademy.org/stories.

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