A New Educational Model

Salman Khan has received global acclaim for his videos on Khan Academy which have kicked off a discussion about how to leverage online learning within education. However, most of the press I see misunderstands his philosophy which is laid out in his new book "The One World School House: Education Reimagined." While technology plays a key role in attaining global reach, this is just a small part of his vision for the future.

He understands the difficulty of changing large systems and so he hasn't written a manifesto. Rather, the book is a mixture of personal anecdotes, a history lesson, and some very detailed ideas for change that are breathtaking in their scope. Since those are not getting enough attention, I want to paraphrase a few below.

Eliminate scaled evaluations (A,B,C) and demand mastery.

Kids either understand a concept or they don't. It is a disservice to allow advancement when certain core concepts are not understood, because they usually build on one another. Kids do not advance unless they can demonstrate mastery (like answering 10 questions in a row correctly).

Allow mixed ages to learn together.

Rather than trying to teach assembly-line style, provide the resources for kids to pursue knowledge at their own. This means allowing kids of mixed ages to coexist and help each other. Older kids learn responsibility, younger kids learn from the older ones and everyone acts more mature.

Remove boundaries between subjects.

Since knowledge is naturally connected and kids have different gifts, let them explore at their own pace and see how things connect when they are ready. Some may want to go deep into a technical subject, while others may pursue open-ended thinking and creativity.

Invert the place of lecture and homework.

Allow students to watch lectures at home, or on their own time. Then they can bring their questions and "homework" into the classroom to work through problems with their peers and teachers.

Manage environments by teams of teachers.

Since various separate classrooms have been combined in this model, teachers too can combine and help one another in a physical classroom and via the web around the world. This takes advantage of various strengths to address this multifaceted job. Further, they would act more like coaches helping them win (rather than a gatekeeper).

Use Summer rather than waste it.

A three month vacation every year robs students of momentum and causes unlearning. Instead, save vacations for when an individual needs one (like adults take). They can't "miss class" because they are working at their own pace. And the multi-age-no-grade thing would remove any stigma. Breaks can happen without shutting down the entire system.

Redefine transcripts.

Add things that measure individuals in qualitative ways:

  • A portfolio of creative work to see what students do on their own.
  • A multi-year narrative of what the student learned and how.
  • A record of their ability and willingness to help others.

Make internships a critical component.

Develop relationships with local establishments so that kids can experience how knowledge gets used in the real world and even taking on more challenging problems. If the students were actually developing valuable skills, paid internships might even address the growing problem of educational cost.

Decouple teaching and credentialing.

Learning happens independent of a university’s ability to give a degree. If a student has received a great education, it shouldn't matter where it came from. The removal of name-brand credentialing would level the playing field and help address rising costs.

What I love about these examples is how they combine wisdom and skill. Rather than treating them as mutually exclusive goals, he outlines how wisdom can be attained through skill. In his conclusion, he also addresses the question of "creativity, can it be taught?" He does not pretend to have that answer, but believes this open-ended approach would more effectively allow it to thrive.

Mr. Khan acknowledges the problems of a one-size-fits-all model, particularly globally. So, his proposals are mainly to help us realize that education can happen in a very different way.