A Commentary on Khan Academy

I found Khan Academy a few years ago when I was taking my math certification subject area test.   I had forgotten how to multiply matrices.  Sounds ridiculous for a math teacher, right?  Well, it was my reality.  Of course, right away, I Googled “multiplication of matrices”.  Sal Khan’s video on this was one of the first things to pop up.  I was excited that I found a video and not a written explanation because I am a very visual learner.  I watched the video and the information came flooding back to me.  I actually understood it better this time than the first.  For me, it was important that he was talking and writing as a teacher would be if they were standing right in front of me.   I started to look around his You Tube channel and found that there were many more videos.  I occasionally referenced his videos when I wanted to be more clear on a topic or to find an alternative way to explain something to my own students.  You might say that Sal and I were best friends, HA!  I kept our “friendship” under wraps.  I wasn’t purposely not telling anyone, I just never thought to share my new experience.  Fast forward a few years and I am watching a 60 minutes broadcast as I normally do on Sunday nights and there he was, my friend!  I was only familiar with Sal Khan’s You Tube Channel and they were talking about a whole different program that you can use in your classroom!  I thought I was in heaven.  I was finally able to share my best friend!!  The next day I went into school and bragged to our director how awesome this guy is.  She took a look at the story from 60 minutes and was equally impressed.  We immediately applied to be a Khan Academy pilot school (still waiting to see if we made it) and started using a few videos in class.  Now here we are in summer and I have plenty of time to kill so I decided to do more research about his program and even started a few students on Khan Academy.  I was surprised when I found some negative attention for Sal Khan.

One of the most preposterous accusations is that technology will replace technology.  Yes, we have had a multitude of lay offs in education and our system is suffering because if it, but that is certainly not Sal Khan’s fault, it is the economy that we are living in.  He is producing educational videos to HELP teachers, not replace them.

By now, unless you are living under a rock, you have heard that Bill Gates has given Khan Academy a very generous donation.  Why is this under attack?  A billionaire gives a donation to a non-profit because he believes in the vision.  Sure, Bill Gates has his opinions on education and some of these opinions you may not agree with but Gates is not giving Khan a donation and saying he must subscribe to his belief system.  He is giving Khan a donation in order to proceed in KHAN’s vision.  Gates does not dictate education policy or reform.  He is simply willing to lay down a few bucks to see where Sal Khan can go with this program.

The biggest complaint, Khan Academy is only exists in a lecture environment.  Students need more than this.  They need hands on experience.  I wholeheartedly agree!  The reason I feel that we should not attack Sal Khan on this yet is because, his program is not completed.  That is what Gates gave him the money for!!  Maybe, just maybe, Khan will give tools to teachers to use to provide this type of experience.  Let’s give the man a chance before we decide he isn’t what math education needs.

The bottom line of Khan Academy is it isn’t finished.  Right now, I cannot use it as my sole curriculum in my classroom.  The videos and activities have too many holes in them. It doesn’t offer a student the full picture of an Algebra 1 class, or any other class.  One day, maybe it will.  For now, I will use Khan Academy in my classroom for diagnostics, drills, reviews, and enrichment.  I teach in a blended classroom with multiple levels.  I teach Algebra 1 at the same time I teach Geometry and Algebra 2.  Khan Academy is the answer to many of my problems as a teacher.  You don’t have to believe in the program, but I do ask that you think beyond a normal mainstream Algebra 1 class where the teacher is dedicated to teaching that particular class all period.

All in all, I don’t think the question should be if Khan Academy revolutionizes math education, it should be how do WE revolutionize math education.



Most of my commentary was a discussion to go with The Wrath Against Khan:  Why Some Educators are Questioning Khan Academy, by Audrey Watters.




8 thoughts on “A Commentary on Khan Academy

  1. I am a HUGE fan of Khan Academy and while working as a tutor at a community college, not only did I recommend it to every single student that came in for help, but I visited the site daily myself to refresh concepts I had forgotten or never learned. It is an invaluable resource for students and teachers. The fact that the material can be revisited as often as needed is one of its greatest benefits – we don’t get to have things repeated 10 times in ‘regular’ class but we can re-visit these videos anytime.

    • The whole idea of a flipped classroom really appeals to me. As a math teacher, most of my questions come from the homework, not from in class work. If students could listen to the lecture outside of the classroom and then practice in my classroom, that would be great! With that said, I haven’t tried it yet. I maybe thinking of some sort of Utopia that doesn’t exist. Written in words, it all sounds great but put to practice, it may not work. I would have to get back to you on that. I think that Sal Khan has created a wonderful place for students and teachers to reference. He IS an innovator, but even innovators take time to fully perfect their projects. Given time, I think that Khan Academy can be what SOME math teachers are looking for. It isn’t for everyone, but for me, I really enjoy it. We will have to wait to see what it brings us in the future.

      • Tanya, I asked the question about pedagogy and the Khan Academy because when I see the Khan Academy discussed in the media (and by most teachers that I interact with) they all talk about how innovative these videos are. However, if you look at the pedagogy behind the videos themselves, it is basically direct instruction. It is someone lecturing to the students.

        Now if we did this in a classroom setting (i.e., lecture to our students), most of these media-types, and a good many of the teachers too, would say that we were not teaching in an effective manner. Really the only thing the videos allow is for a learner to fast forward, remind or watch again. Any teacher could do that be recording what they do in the classroom and sticking it online (and I know many teachers that do that (although not so much in the US – where connectivity is much better than the other places I see this being done).

        I always point out that these videos are simple lectures – direct instruction – because regardless of how the media and educational reformers may have made lecturing out to be a bad thing, the bottom line is that it works. Direct instruction is an effective means of delivering content, and one of the best pieces of research to support this is the Visible Learning project by John Hattie (which has resulted in a couple of books over the past few years, including one targeted to teachers).

      • I don’t find the videos very innovative (although he is the first to put it all online for free) but I do find the Academy portion to be very innovative. I can log on and see where my students are struggling without them saying a word to me. This doesn’t just happen once a week, like it would through assessment. It happens daily and constantly while they are using Khan Academy. I can look at a list of my students and see who is struggling and where, and it is FREE. I have never seen anything like that before.

        I agree, it is direct instruction BUT the student has the ability to fast forward, pause, and rewind. Entirely different? Probably not. BUT, it certainly does help. You mention the teacher being able to do this themselves. How funny you mention that! That is exactly what we are going to include at our school. We will be using our curriculum with Khan Academy when appropriate. If they still don’t understand the Khan videos OR there is no video, I will make one, live, in front of the class to post online for them to refer back to later. I particularly like direct instruction, especially in math. It may not work as well for other classes, but for me and my students, it is usually quite effective.

        Thanks for the reading recommendation!

  2. Khan Academy serves as great tutoring for students at my school! Although I don’t teach math, we have aperiod of time in the day that students can work on other school work and I love trying to remember geometry and algebra. Sounds like I should probably spend a little time refreshing myself 🙂
    Thanks! –dm

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