Reflections on Salman Khan's One World Schoolhouse

"Nurturing the sense of wonder should be educations highest goal; failing to nurture it is the central tragedy of our current system." 

Khan, Salman, 2012.  One World Schoolhouse.  Retrieved from 

In order to nurture his students, Khan has developed his vision on a few simple ideas. As I listened to his founding methods I found myself agreeing with his ideas. His most interesting founding methods included the idea of mastery learning and personal responsibility. In each case Khan does not take responsibility for developing the ideas. Instead he explains how through reflection and in some cases necessity he came to develop Khan Academy into a resource that has been used by 10 000 000 students. What is truly interesting about Khan is that though he does not have a teaching background; he understands how to meet the needs of students in order to create success.

According to Khan, his method allows students to learn and master skills at their own pace. This concept known as mastery learning is the idea that all students can learn if they are provided with conditions appropriate to their needs and that curriculum should not be based on time, but rather targets. Students should move at their own pace in order to comprehend the skills they need to master new concepts. In theory, all teachers agree that comprehension or understanding of skills is the key to learning; but in reality due to the amount of content needed to be covered, time often wins out. Are we doing a disservice to our students when we move them on thinking that they will develop the skills needed as time goes on?

With the use of technology, Khan feels that despite resistance, the time is right to change from a time driven curriculum to a target driven curriculum. As is with new ideas, some teachers find it difficult or are unwilling to change their teaching methods. Many teachers continue to follow methods that do not reflect our changing world. As teachers, we need to be leaders and change teaching methods by using and embracing technology in order to meet the needs of each student. Khan states that his videos allow students to learn, rewind and review content as needed. Without the pressure of time, students can absorb the content in order to get a deeper understanding. Also, by using resources outside of the classroom, students can come to class with prior knowledge. In a recent science class, I had the students go online and read a few articles and play some online games before a lesson. What I found was that more students were engaged in the discussion. They were eager to share their knowledge and I did not need to teach concepts, rather we consolidated their ideas. Student were able to go through the material at their own pace.

Khan also discusses the notion of the need for students to take responsibility for their learning. This is a topic of discussion in my class often. We discuss how much more we learn when we are interested in the topic. Khan suggests that we learn by committing and that learning is connecting concepts. Students need to know where they have been and where they are going. In order for students to do this they need to be able to access resources at all times. Khan also believes that students need the freedom to determine where and when their learning will occur. This brings to mind the blended learning model where students access material in class, at home and have face to face time with the teacher. Once again, Khan feels that with technology and the internet students have access to the material they need to facilitate their learning when they need it. By taking responsibility students become active learners and develop greater knowledge and skills. I have shared the idea of self paced learning when talking to the students about being responsible for their learning. The students seemed to be fascinated by this idea and it seems to appeal to all. Through the expressions on their faces, it seems that there is almost a sense of relief for those who struggle and a sense of excitement for students who excel. Every student gets what they need to master their learning.

How can we further the idea of self paced learning using technology so students can master skills? Can self paced learning exist with our current teaching system? How can we consciously ignore self paced learning when we know many students fall through the gaps because they do not fully grasp concepts in the amount of time allotted in the classroom? How do we overcome the drawbacks, such as our current curriculum guidelines, when trying to support a self paced learning model?

1 comment:

  1. Ray, you provide a strong example of how students can use inquiry and self-directed learning prior to the teacher initiating a new concept or skill. You post, in many ways, speaks strongly to the need for balance: Students investigating and researching on their own and teachers providing strong lessons, feedback and guidance. There is also a great deal of scaffolding happening here...but in a different way then we use it - students self-scaffolding based on their understanding or comfort with a new concept and thus, students moving at their own pace. Your comment/question regarding curriculum guidelines (or even standardized testing) reminds me that we need to start looking deeper into the pedagogical approach, at the policy level, of how standardized curriculum is developed and how the environment of schools can be changed based on the premise that students can learn more readily, at a self-directed pace.