khan ted talk

According to Sal Khan, the necessities to learning are mastery and mindset.  This educator and founder of Khan Academy explains in a TED talk how he found that students almost always accumulate gaps in their learning, particularly in math classes.  Eventually, they feel that they aren’t meant to purse that subject or career due to their confusion.  But, when a student uses outside resources such as Khan Academy, their confidence is boosted, and they feel capable of taking on new material.

Practicing the basics and then advancing to the more challenging topics is the best way to learn.  Despite this method, a typical academic model is currently set up by various lectures and homework assignments, all followed by a test.   When the test reveals the gaps in student learning, the students aren’t given time to review and relearn missed concepts, but are instead forced to continue on to the more advanced topics that often build from the previous lessons.  At some point, students will “hit a wall” because what they never had time to review will catch up to them, and this causes students to disengage.

Khan compares this rigorous cycle to building a home.  Let’s say that some builders are given two weeks to construct the foundation of a house, and at the end of this deadline, an inspector comes and gives the foundation a grade, say an 80%.  This is a passing grade, so the builders immediately move on to building the first floor.  If homes were built in this ridiculous fashion, all of them would be guaranteed to collapse.  The process was too constrained, and the outcome came from building off of partially complete projects.

Instead of putting a time restraint on learning, what if mastering the material was prioritized over the time it took students to master concepts?  Mastery learning has been used in the past, and yielded strong results, but it was not widespread due to logistic difficulties.  Each student was working at their own pace, meaning they may have needed private tutors, different worksheet, and so on.  Khan believes that using online sources and readily available exercises, mastery learning is quite possible now.