Sal Khan: Virtual Learning is Not a Complete Replacement

Sal KhanSal Khan, an education pioneer who took upper-level mathematics courses at the University of New Orleans as a high school student, holds three degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard, and founded the free online Khan Academy, says that a virtual environment cannot fully replace the value of some in-person learning.

In an interview aired on EdSource’s “This Week in California Education” podcast (8/3/20), Khan says that he has “huge concerns” about the feasibility of offering an entire school curriculum on such a large scale. He said, “for most students, especially for younger students, distance learning … should not be viewed as a substitute for a really rich physical experience.”

However, he said that a full-time distance learning curriculum can work for older students — mostly for the “unusually motivated or precocious students.” He added that direct online instruction, especially for younger children, should be broken down into 20 or 30 minute chunks, rather than two-hour blocks. Also, at a minimum, students should participate in three to five 30-minute “touch points” each week that are as interactive as possible.

Teachers should use techniques to “pull students out of the screen” and encourage them to participate. To do that, students should be given interesting tasks, and teachers should promote “Socratic dialog,” by polling students with questions like “What is your point of view?” Students could then be assigned to break out groups to discuss or debate among themselves.

Khan says he would also draw on authors like E.D. Hirsch, who has written up a “core knowledge” sequence for each grade level. Using all of these materials may not amount to what Khan says is “a full schooling model.” But it would at least ensure that students “learn some of the core knowledge and the core skills that are going to make sure they don’t fall behind.”

At the same time, Khan says that instruction must be tied to some form of accountability, with attendance and participation being recorded and assessed, and where students will be awarded a pass or a letter grade. This is especially important at upper grade levels, because college admissions officers will expect to see a transcript of high school courses, grades, and GPA.

Khan Academy Resources

Khan Academy, best known for the math courses created by Sal Khan himself over a decade ago – and now also offering video lessons in multiple other subjects – has created a suite of programs for education. Here are some of the resources:

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