Is the Khan way the right way?

Posted by Glen on Nov 29, 2015

Last week I wrote a think piece detailing my support for the Khan Academy, arguing that it is an invaluable tool in aiding teachers and students to access maths learning in a flexible way. In this think piece I will argue why the Khan academy may not be as effective as it first appears, and instead presents the same impatient problem solving attitude that is gained from instrumental understanding, and not the relational problem solving mentality teachers are trying to achieve.

A video critique by Michael Pershan argues that the learning in the Khan academy, while flexible is still just as rigid as ever in the way it delivers information. By following the state school system of teach example and apply, students would be receiving the same standard of education they would if they were being taught this in school. On the surface this seems brilliant, but in reality presents a problem to both students and teachers, because that way of teaching, in my opinion at least isn’t an effective strategy. The video continues to display the contrasts between the teaching in the US and the teaching in Japan (A country much higher on the rankings) and shows that it is more successful because while both in the UK and the US we adopt the aforementioned style of teaching, in japan students are presented with a problem they have no initial idea of solving, and are expected to do exactly that, through struggle (or more appropriately effort) and even more importantly collaboration, students come to varying different solutions with very little input from the teacher, only the occasional hint to guide the students in the right direction, and this works because it presents students with the ability to recognise the multiple ways of solving problems, that i feel I’ve only tarted to learn while at University, when i was at school, i was expected to follow the curriculum, and apply formula where necessary, and use rules for everything else, i wasn’t expected to demonstrate problems and more importantly answers by using shape, or different methods, and that to me is the very reason as to why the Khan academy has limitations.

Blair empathises with the limitations of Western teaching and proposes that as teacher, classes should be centered around the idea of investigations, arguing that students and teachers would engage much more harmoniously, more effectively together when they had a common problem to solve, not expecting students to have level 1 knowledge, to be able to proceed to level 2 knowledge. I like this idea, that in class students and teachers could work effectively towards solving problems, and in doing so getting students to once again follow the work of Mayer and become problem solvers with relational understanding, and not just rules to apply impatiently throughout life.

While the khan academy does its best to present knowledge to students flexibly, allowing them to work on what they need to work on at their own pace, it fails to provide alternative learning to students, and robs them of an opportunity to mull over problems themselves before asking for the answer.


  1. Laura
    29 November 2015

    Hi Glen, I think you have raided some good questions here. I wonder, do you agree with Persian that Khan academy is the element that needs adjusting to abolish the repetitive EDIP method or do you think as a tool it has it’s purpose and adjusting teaching methods in the classroom may be more effective in combining learning styles and giving students a rounded education?

  2. pepsmccrea
    7 December 2015

    Brilliant to see you approaching things with such an mind open to change. Lots of good links being made with Meyer and now Blair. Keep up the hard thinking.

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