Is Khan Academy heading in the wrong direction, back to being institutionalised?

What I originally thought was interesting about Khan Academy was how it worked outside the norms and mechanisms of institutional education. It seemed that just turning over the keys to the learning resources, and letting people choose what they wanted, rewind and fast forward without supervision, led people to feel empowered to organise their own learning experiences.

With the interest and investment that Khan Academy (KA) has attracted, that seems to be changing. The blog post below is from a Singularity blog. Singularity people are no strangers to hyperbole and credulity, yet still the claims that KA is “the best thing since Socrates” and “represents the future of education” are quite bold by any standard. So I was especially sad to find that this future looks rather like the parts of the past that I hoped we were leaving behind.

Here’s what I think is regressive about the new features of KA as outlined in the blog post and in the Salman Khan’s video (which unfortunately I was unable to embed here, but it’s at ):
1) KA has built a Learning Management System (LMS) at the point when many educationalists are abandoning LMSs in favour of platforms that are more oriented around activities and dialogue, and less around tracking learner behaviour
2) Where KA’s offering was originally aimed at learners and nothing but learners, now it’s all being reframed in terms of supporting teachers. It’s about shepherding learners where it used to be about liberating them.
3) And its model of teaching seems to be one that limits teacher autonomy and may deskill teachers. Teachers “intervene only when a student is stuck.” Like Charlie Chaplin on the production line in Modern Times, their job is now to step in when the technology has failed and patch things up so that the flow of learners along the conveyor built continues as smoothly as possible.

Yes, I assume it’s still possible to use the Khan Academy videos in the ‘old’ way if you want to. But something in the ethos of the site has switched. Where it’s open field of possibilities used to push learners to take responsibility for themselves, the new approach leads them towards paths that have been planned and organised by others.

I hope I’m wrong.

Clipped from
I’m just going to come out and say it: the Khan Academy is the best thing that has happened to education since Socrates. The brainchild of Salman Khan, the Khan Academy became famous by teaching simple math lessons for free through over 2000 YouTube videos. Now, after millions in donations and an expansion of the company, the academy is so much more. The website for the Khan Academy already had exercises you could use to test your understanding of the videos you just watched, but in the past few weeks the website has exploded with wonderful new features. You can create a profile for the site simply by logging in through Google or Facebook. You can track your progress with some wonderful metrics. Teachers (or ‘coaches’) can monitor student progress in groups. Students can earn badges to keep them interested. The list goes on and on and it’s all free. Free, I tell you! In true Khan Academy fashion, Sal explains these new features in the video below. As they continue to expand beyond math, and increase the sophistication of their platform, I am left with little doubt that the Khan Academy represents the future of education. And it’s already here.


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