Sal Khan on Remote Learning, Khan Academy, and Khan Lab School

Khan Lab School
November 19, 2020 / 5 mins read

This school year has been one like no other, calling for greater use of remote learning tools and virtual classrooms.Our founder, Sal Khan, was recently interviewed by The Vergeabout remote education, Khan Academy, andKhan Lab School's transition to remote learning amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sal highlighted KLS's approach to remote learning during the podcast episode. Here is a bit of what Sal shared with Nilay Patel on Decoder:

I feel like your decision set with Khan Academy has gotten ever more complicated because of the pandemic and the shift to remote learning. Many students are experiencing school in something that looks like Khan Academy every day. It's their primary form of learning. How has that changed for you and Khan Academy now?

I started [the school] where my kids go. I have three kids now, they're 11, nine, and six — the younger one just turned six. It's called Khan Lab School. The school was based on an idea of, okay, let's assume things like Khan Academy exist in the world. What could schooling then be like? Well, then the teacher shouldn't be about giving the lecture and you don't have to move all the kids in lockstep.

When people get together, the teacher should act as more of an adviser. How do you unblock kids, or how do you be the conductor so that you can get kids to help each other? So the school has always been about students' agency and the students being at the center of their learning, and that the adults are there to always help and unblock.

And that might seem like a small thing, but it's actually a huge thing. It's much harder and it takes a lot more sophistication than if you're just going through the same lectures year after year. That's always been the core principles of the school. And there's other principles; everyone a student, everyone a teacher, learning should not be bound by time or space.

We have a couple of kids at the school who are like Olympic-level athletes and if they have to go practice skiing in Tahoe, they should be able to keep learning. And so the school already had a lot of those muscles, [so] that as soon as distance learning happened, they just kept doing what they were doing, it's just people weren't able to come physically to the school as much.

And what I was really impressed with, especially for my older kids, my 11-year-old and nine-year-old, because the school had been investing so much in student autonomy and students being accountable and setting their own goals and reviewing their goals with their adviser, my 11- and nine-year-old really didn't miss a beat. I mean, my 11-year-old is on the other side of the house right now cranking through his goals better than I do. My six-year-old was a little difficult at first, but he eventually got it as well.

Do you worry that kid's cranking through goals? It's a very management approach to learning, right? You're going to set some goals, you're going to hit them, you're going to move on to the next set of goals.

Do you worry that these software tools end up teaching kids to think in that more rigorous corporate way? Or is that actually a good thing?

I mean, there are certain aspects of corporate thinking that I definitely wouldn't want to imprint on everyone in the world, but there's some things that are reasonably good.

If you think about the alternative, when you and I were in school, it was kind of like, “Teacher, what do I do next? All right. Now, what do I do? Is that going to be on thetest?” We all remember some kids would raise their hand, “is that going to be on the test?” which is a very passive mentality. You're really not taking ownership. You're letting stuff happen to you. You're doing what you need to do. You're not really very driven yourself. Butwhat I'm seeing in kids at Khan Lab School is they're saying, 'Okay, I want to learn something or I want to be something by a certain date.'I think that goal-setting muscle is a very healthy thing.

They're able to, if they're a little bit younger, with the help of peers or with the help of an adult, break those bigger goals down into smaller goals that are more attainable in a month or a week or even a day. That, I think, is a universally very helpful capability. And then they learn to organize around it, which is very helpful. I mean, it sounds maybe corporate, but my kids are better at — they haveGooglecalendars with their friends and they schedule calls. But it's actually in a very healthy way because they're also like, we're going to play a role-playing game together, and this is how we're going to organize. And you can imagine it's even been more important during COVID when they're not able to just go to each other's houses in the same way.

Read the full interview transcript at The Verge.