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Khan Academy Founder Says There’s More to Education’s Future Than E-Learning

July 16, 2021 by Kate Michael

WASHINGTON — The pandemic may have changed the way students learn and how educators incorporate tools for remote learning into their classrooms, but the founder of one of the most recognizable online tools to help educate students doesn’t believe that in-person education should be going away, or that online offerings are ubiquitous enough to usurp it. 

“If I had to pick for my own children or anyone else’s children, between an amazing in-person experience with amazing teachers versus the fanciest technology, I’d pick the in-person every time, but the best is when you can leverage the best of both worlds,” Sal Khan, creator of the non-profit educational organization Khan Academy shared in conversation with Axios.

From the time Khan Academy was created in 2006, students have sought out its online tools and videos as supplemental materials. But the pandemic accelerated its use, from the place where students went when they were having trouble understanding photosynthesis or factoring polynomials for an exam to an educational resource teachers relied upon for virtual lessons. 

“It’s accessible at home, the standards aligned, it works with classrooms, it works with teachers, it covers multiple subjects and grades…” Khan said. 

But the trusted resource, which saw traffic increase over three-fold during the pandemic, also raised some questions over hybrid education and accelerated the conversation around the digital divide. 

“What’s interesting about the world where we can create Khan Academies is that the marginal cost of delivery to a new student is close to zero, so we can make these things much more accessible,” Khan said. “Though obviously, Khan Academy cannot do the work it does without people having suitable internet access.”

Khan granted that online learning tools like his are valuable tools in the education system, but acknowledged their limitations if access doesn’t extend beyond the classroom, since students couldn’t complete homework assignments or follow-up studies without reliable access to the internet. He praised actions taken during the pandemic to meet this challenge, including the distribution of electronic devices, with support, as well as free internet access, and cited legislation in place for increased access to broadband across communities. 

But Khan also said that making sure everyone has internet access doesn’t fully solve America’s future education concerns either. 

“I think the reality is that hybrid education has been the present and the past as well… [but] the physical environment is always going to be central.”

While technology is being touted as essential to the future of education, Khan says it shouldn’t be an either-or proposition.

“We can surround the student with learning, but make sure that they are the center of it.”

“As we go forward, some of these principles that [Khan Academy has] always believed in, that learning should not be bound by time or space… if you want to learn something, there’s ways for you to pull it. But this is not technology for technology’s sake, [but instead] working toward pedagogical goals.”

He said that useful takeaways from hybrid learning over the last 18 months have been: practice with immediate feedback, new ways of explaining things, personalization to the needs of students, and perhaps a lower teacher-to-student ratio. Despite this, he believes remote learning isn’t the impetus that is changing education, but economic development may be.

“The workforce of the future is going to change, regardless of whether there is remote learning or not… So the people who do it well are going to be the people who don’t wait to be told what to learn,” Khan said.

“I think it’s really important that we encourage kids to start building this muscle of learning how to learn. And the students who do that well, they’re going to be unstoppable.”

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