Will Khan Academy Replace the Traditional Classroom?

The flipped classroom model has begun to pick up speed in classrooms around the country, allowing students to watch lectures at home and teachers to spend more one-on-one time with students in the classroom as they complete work that would typically be done at home.

Khan Academy is an open-source website that has attracted many followers, from teachers creating a curriculum that require students to watch a Khan Academy video to students looking for online help to complete their homework. Many experts in education believe the flipped classroom, with the help of Khan Academy or websites like it, will change the traditional classroom for the 21st century student. However, Khan Academy and the freedom that comes with learning behind a computer doesn’t come without its critics.

The New Argument Against Khan Academy 

A video of two math teachers critiquing a Khan Academy video has gone viral bringing negative attention to the often heralded educational website. The two teachers sarcastically comment on the quality of the video and the poor examples Sal Khan uses to teach his math lesson, even with millions of dollars from Bill Gates, they jab. In his article “The Trouble with Khan Academy,” mathematician and educator Robert Talbert defends his friends and stars of the viral video. However, Talberts own “criticisms of Khan Academy are more at the top level than in the specifics of any one video.”

He sets up his argument by defining what Khan Academy is and what it is not. He says: Khan Academy is a demonstration of mechanical processes. It is not a substitute for a class, a live teacher, or a complete educational resource. Talbert believes learning cannot happen on a deep enough level for the students to achieve mastery of a subject when using these mechanical videos to learn on their own time. A Khan Academy video doesn’t ask students to use “higher-level thinking skills” needed to apply mathematics to the real world.

The New Role of Teacher in the New Classroom

As math teachers these three critics have a different perspective on the abilities of a Khan Academy video than us outsiders. However, these teachers are approaching the videos with the expectation that the video has the power to do all the teaching. In his article Talbert says the videos are “not enough” — and he’s right. The higher-level thinking skills he longs for his students to gain from watching an instructional video will not come from the video. It is the role of the teacher during regular class hours to facilitate deeper-level thinking, while the role of the video is to teach the mechanics of math.

A flipped classroom that uses video instruction also gives students more control over their education, which rather than scaring them as Talbert suggests, gives them more of a buy-in. In another recent article, “Three Things to Unlearn About Learning,” Will Richardson, a veteran educator author and consultant, is quoted saying the number one thing educators need to unlearn is how they deliver knowledge. The article paraphrased Richardson saying educators will need to hand more control over to the student and realize there are many ways for students to learn.

Is Khan Academy the be all, end all of education? No. Khan Academy is the beginning of a new way to look at the classroom and the 21st century student who has new demands of their education. As more classrooms adopt the flipped classroom model, I’m confident more attention will be paid to the quality of each lesson and many more options will be available to those teachers who don’t want to jump on the Khan Academy bandwagon.



“The Trouble with Khan Academy,” by Robert Talbert. 3 July 2012. The Chronicle. Accessed on 13 July 2012. http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/castingoutnines/2012/07/03/the-trouble-with-khan-academy/

“Three Things to Unlearn About Learning,” by Tina Barseghian. 9 July 2012. Mind/Shift. Accessed on 13 July 2012. http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/07/three-things-to-unlearn-about-learning/

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