Imagine that you only learned how to swim 75 percent? Or that you only learned how to ride your bike 75 percent? Or as a pilot, you only learned how to fly an airplane 75 percent? We’d likely feel the downside of partial mastery, with scrapes and bruises—or worse–along the way. As silly as this sounds, this is the framework we’ve agreed to as a society for children’s education throughout most of the world. You earn a 75 percent on a test, and you take that “C” grade into the next school year, never fully comprehending the subject matter. Why do we allow this?
Recently, the Economist Magazine took a deep dive into this subject from many different angles, including “EdTech” and personalized learning. It explored how our Skoll Awardee, Sal Khan asked this fundamental question when he developed his interactive video platform that encourages students to move at their own pace. What began as a way for Khan to tutor remotely a cousin struggling with math, has become Khan Academy, a free, world-class online resource used by some 100 million people annually across the globe.
Why should age be the key determent of where your brain is in its developmental journey? Short changing our students should not be an acceptable standard. We know children are naturally curious. They want to fully understand a topic, and have it presented in a 360 degree manner. Our education systems should follow their lead, not demand students conform to outdated and outmoded models of education. The world is a fundamentally different place now, and our education approaches need to reflect that.
Khan Academy has disrupted the education paradigm by providing alternative learning opportunities that both augment what is being taught in the classroom, and allow a user to learn at his or her own pace to master a subject. Khan Academy also collects data on student performance to structure learning models according to student outcomes. Now doesn’t that sound reasonable? From learning to code and art history, to math and financial literacy, the Khan Academy platform continues to expand to meet the needs of learners at all ages and levels.
In 10 years, Khan Academy hopes that every K-14 core subject can be learned independently or in conjunction with a physical classroom using Khan Academy, making it a primary tool for teachers. Some California school districts are working with Khan Academy to achieve this goal, and at no cost. Studies have shown students prefer the interactivity of this platform over textbooks, and teachers have ranked it as their top online learning tool. Khan Academy is also revolutionizing how students prepare for standardized tests like the SAT and had reached some 1.5 million unique users.
A one-size-fits-all approach has no place in the classroom. Khan Academy has helped a personalized, curiosity-led approach to education become mainstream. Some experimental brick and mortar schools are building their entire curriculum around a personalized learning approach. AltSchool in San Francisco has no traditional grade levels and a digital platform that tracks learning plans and progress—a Personalized Learning Plan based on the students’ own interests, strengths, and weaknesses.
Curiosity catalyzes learning, and the future of education must engage and excite students. A clear challenge for tech-powered personalized learning is the need for reliable high speed internet connectivity and a computer, but this isn’t about tech as the fix all solution—we will always need energized and creative teachers leading the learning process. What Khan Academy has been able to do is shift mindsets towards awareness that students with agency are better learners. Access to quality education, with minimal or no cost to the user, can help the brightest minds in the most remote places rise to their individual potential, regardless of the economic or social circumstances. Now isn’t that an idea worth supporting?
Sarah Borgman will speak this week at the 2017 WISE Summit. She will join a panel discussing the potential for social entrepreneurship to shape the future of education, and moderate a philanthropy roundtable.
This post originally appeared on Wise Ed Review, an initiative of the Qatar Foundation.