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The Learning Myth: Why I'll Never Tell My Son He's Smart

By: Salman Khan

Join the #YouCanLearnAnything movement

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My 5-year-­old son has just started reading. Every night, we lie on his bed and he reads a short book to me. Inevitably, he’ll hit a word that he has trouble with: last night the word was “gratefully.” He eventually got it after a fairly painful minute. He then said, “Dad, aren’t you glad how I struggled with that word? I think I could feel my brain growing.” I smiled: my son was now verbalizing the tell­-tale signs of a “growth­ mindset.” But this wasn’t by accident. Recently, I put into practice research I had been reading about for the past few years: I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at, but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows. Between the deep body of research on the field of learning mindsets and this personal experience with my son, I am more convinced than ever that mindsets toward learning could matter more than anything else we teach.

Researchers have known for some time that the brain is like a muscle; that the more you use it, the more it grows. They’ve found that neural connections form and deepen most when we make mistakes doing difficult tasks rather than repeatedly having success with easy ones.


What this means is that our intelligence is not fixed, and the best way that we can grow our intelligence is to embrace tasks where we might struggle and fail.

However, not everyone realizes this. Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University has been studying people’s mindsets towards learning for decades. She has found that most people adhere to one of two mindsets: fixed or growth. Fixed mindsets mistakenly believe that people are either smart or not, that intelligence is fixed by genes. People with growth mindsets correctly believe that capability and intelligence can be grown through effort, struggle and failure. Dweck found that those with a fixed mindset tended to focus their effort on tasks where they had a high likelihood of success and avoided tasks where they may have had to struggle, which limited their learning. People with a growth mindset, however, embraced challenges, and understood that tenacity and effort could change their learning outcomes. As you can imagine, this correlated with the latter group more actively pushing themselves and growing intellectually.

The good news is that mindsets can be taught; they’re malleable. What’s really fascinating is that Dweck and others have developed techniques that they call “growth mindset interventions,” which have shown that even small changes in communication or seemingly innocuous comments can have fairly long­-lasting implications for a person’s mindset. For instance, praising someone’s process (“I really like how you struggled with that problem”) versus praising an innate trait or talent (“You’re so clever!”) is one way to reinforce a growth ­mindset with someone. Process­ praise acknowledges the effort; talent­ praise reinforces the notion that one only succeeds (or doesn’t) based on a fixed trait. And we’ve seen this on Khan Academy as well: students are spending more time learning on Khan Academy after being exposed to messages that praise their tenacity and grit and that underscore that the brain is like a muscle.

The Internet is a dream for someone with a growth mindset. Between Khan Academy, MOOCs, and others, there is unprecedented access to endless content to help you grow your mind. However, society isn’t going to fully take advantage of this without growth mindsets being more prevalent. So what if we actively tried to change that? What if we began using whatever means are at our disposal to start performing growth mindset interventions on everyone we cared about? This is much bigger than Khan Academy or algebra — it applies to how you communicate with your children, how you manage your team at work, how you learn a new language or instrument. If society as a whole begins to embrace the struggle of learning, there is no end to what that could mean for global human potential.

And now here’s a surprise for you. By reading this article itself, you’ve just undergone the first half of a growth­-mindset intervention. The research shows that just being exposed to the research itself (­­for example, knowing that the brain grows most by getting questions wrong, not right­­) can begin to change a person’s mindset. The second half of the intervention is for you to communicate the research with others. We’ve made a video (above) that celebrates the struggle of learning that will help you do this. After all, when my son, or for that matter, anyone else asks me about learning, I only want them to know one thing. As long as they embrace struggle and mistakes, they can learn anything.

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You can view the original op-ed in Huffington Post here.


KA Lite update: Khan Academy reaches beyond the Internet

Our mission at Khan Academy is to enable everyone, everywhere to achieve a world-class education, and the Internet has played a pivotal role in fulfilling that mission. Recognizing that the majority of the world still does not have access to the Internet, we told you back in December of 2012 about the KA Lite project, started by a former KA intern, aiming to make Khan Academy available to communities that don’t have the prerequisite Internet access.

At the time KA Lite was launched, 65% of the world did not have Internet access. In the intervening 18 months, Internet penetration has increased a mere few percent, while KA Lite usage around the world has blossomed, supported by the KA Lite team that banded together to form the non-profit organization Learning Equality. KA Lite has now been installed in over 120 countries, in contexts as varied as low-income schools in India, orphanages in Cameroon, prisons across the United States, and First Nations community centers in northern Canada. Learning Equality has just announced a map of the world showing where thousands of these KA Lite installations are located, including a number of featured deployments with stories and photos.

You can stay in the loop about Learning Equality’s work by following them on Facebook or Twitter, and subscribing to their newsletter. If you’d like to get involved in developing the open-source KA Lite project, or in helping with implementations, you can drop the Learning Equality team a line at info@learningequality.org.


The British Museum and Khan Academy—a partnership for learning

Post by: Beth Harris and Steven Zucker,
KA Deans for Art and History

Walking through the British Museum is to walk through the history of the great civilizations of the world. The Rosetta Stone. Aztec mosaic masks. Buddhist manuscripts that had been hidden for years in a cave. Some of the most extraordinary historical objects in the world live there, and we’re so excited today to announce that we’ve partnered with the world’s oldest national public museum. Both institutions, Khan Academy and the British Museum, share a wish to provide access to the world’s treasures to everyone, wherever they live. It’s hard not to be awed by this venerable institution—the breadth of its collection (geographically and chronologically) is virtually unparalleled, and it’s not surprising that it is one of the most visited museums in the world.

Sutton Hoo helmet Khan Academy has created tutorials selected from the museum’s more than 3 million objects that serve to educate people about the history and culture of the world’s great civilizations—objects from nearly every corner of the world. The British Museum’s collection includes objects from sacred caves, tombs, palaces, homes, and temples: both objects people used every day (pots, tools, jewellery, and coins), and objects they held sacred—and now you can learn their context and background—from wherever you are in the world.

On a personal level, we have a long history with the British Museum ourselves!

Steven first visited when he was 11 years old, and he remembers the ancient Egyptian mummies best, but he also remembers being amazed by how differently each culture portrayed what was important to them. Beth spent months on end in the circular, domed reading room of the British Library which was then in the center of the Museum, while writing her Masters thesis, taking her breaks in the galleries to get inspired. We’re so happy that many more people around the world can imagine themselves here, and perhaps one day visit themselves.

                             Begin your tour


Meet the MCAT competition winners

Post from Rishi Desai, MD, MPH, Khan Academy Medical Partnerships Lead

About two months ago we launched two competitions to find talented individuals that could help us by making videos, creating questions, or writing articles for the 2015 Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The 2015 MCAT is different from the previous MCAT exam because it will include new content in areas like psychology and sociology. To help students get ready for this new exam, Khan Academy has partnered up with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Association of American Medical Colleges, and so far we have put together a collection of 500 videos and 600 practice MCAT questions.

The competitions were a tremendous success and we found 12 video competition winners and 20 question and article writing competition winners. We asked all of them why they decided to participate in the competition. Meet our winners and see what they had to say:

MCAT Video competition winners:


Efrat Bruck

Columbia University Medical Center

Khan Academy has always been an invaluable resource for me. It enriched my undergraduate experience, aided me in preparing for the MCAT, and helped me tremendously in my educational work as a high school teacher.


Florence Doo

Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine

Between kindergarten and med school, I’ve always gravitated towards teachers who really engaged me. I hope to share my love of learning & teaching to future pre-meds and medical students.


James Howick

Georgetown University

I am honored to be contributing to the education of students around the world with Khan Academy.


Jubin Matloubieh

Match Corps: Chicago/University of Rochester

Education is key to humanity’s progress and prosperity, and teaching is my passion. I am privileged to champion Khan Academy’s mission to provide open-access education to all who seek it.


Brooke Miller

University of Texas, Austin

Khan Academy has always struck me as a better, more modern way to educate people of all ages and backgrounds. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to it myself.


Jeff Otjen

Seattle Children’s Hospital and University of Washington

Online education can be a great equalizer. I have always been an educator and am excited to help change the world in a new way.


Vishal Punwani

Melbourne Medical School

I was very well-supported by Khan Academy’s content on my journey to medical school, so I’m excited to now contribute in any way that I can.


Theodore Roth

University of California, San Francisco

I’m excited to get the chance to give back through the MCAT video competition!


Arshya Vahabzadeh

Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School

I thrive on pushing the limits. Education is a great equalizer and Khan Academy has leveled the playing field. I am very excited about the possibilities ahead.


Jordan Weil

University of Minnesota

I’m really excited to help my fellow aspiring physicians (and dentists, nurses, pharmacists, physician assistants, etc.) by sharing the skills that I picked up as an undergraduate and beyond.

MCAT Question/article competition winners:


Jason Batten

Stanford University School of Medicine

For the past six years, I have taught chemistry and physics to low-income students in South Central Los Angeles. I’m writing free MCAT resources so that students like these can have an equal chance at medical school.


David Bridge

College of the Redwoods

This competition is my chance to give back to such a diverse and wonderful learning community.


Jeff Collins

Westminster College

I want to give back to collaborative efforts like Khan Academy that make information and learning resources freely available to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status.


Aleksandra Degtyar

UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine

I applied for this competition because I’ve always loved medicine and education, and I wanted to help Khan Academy integrate the two.


Humberto Dutra

Life University

I am firm believer that high quality education should be available to everyone. This is a great opportunity to provide resources to anyone that wants to go medical school.


Bijaya Ghosh

NSHM College of Pharmaceutical Technology

I wanted to join this initiative because I believe that by offering equal education to an unequal world, we can help to remove barriers to success.


Rabee Haq

University of Maryland, College Park

I applied to this competition because I want everyone to be able to pursue their dream of being a physician, and that begins with making high quality MCAT content available for free.


Bradley Kolb

University of Michigan

This competition was an opportunity to use my expertise to contribute to the Khan Academy mission.


Clement Lin

DePaul University

I applied because I have always been interested in the sociology of health issues, and I’m interested in optimizing online education.


Kelly MacKenzie

American University

I have always loved learning and am excited for the opportunity to share what I know. I hope to make psychology topics relevant and interesting for those who may enjoy learning as much as I do, but may not have access to the same resources or materials.


Sruti Nadimpalli

Columbia University Medical Center

Having had the privilege of a quality education and excellent teachers throughout my medical career, I believe that any person driven to learn should have unfettered access to expert instruction.


Lucas Philipp

Emory University School of Medicine

Khan Academy has saved my (academic) life more times than I can count. The opportunity to return the favor in some modest way, is one that I simply could not miss.


Edward Sanchez

Orlando Regional Medical Center

I have always been interested in academics, and I wanted to help to provide free high quality education to those who desire to learn.


Chris Su

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

We learn in college and medical school that the best notes are written by students for fellow students. It’s time to give back.


Garrick Trapp

Columbia University Medical Center

Barriers to education can often stall dreams, so that’s why I revere the idea of free basic science education and test prep. I am humbled to join this community of learners and educators.


Anna Tsimelzon


I decided to take part in the competition because I am interested in education; particularly non-traditional and non-standard approaches. The MCAT competition was a chance for me to try myself at this new approach.


Sze Yan

University of Chicago

I am always seeking new and more impactful ways to contribute back to underrepresented and underserved communities. This competition was the perfect way to give back as I am truly passionate about by using my experience to promote equalizing access to resources..


Allen Zheng

Edboost Education Corporation

The opportunity to level the playing field for students, especially low-income high school students interested in pursuing medical education is what motivates me.

Winners of both MCAT competitions:


John Luckoski

University of Toledo College of Medicine

I have developed a deep passion for education since becoming a tutor at my school, where we have actually started our own initiative of online videos to supplement our lecture material.  I am eager to contribute to something larger than myself.


Matthew McPheeters

University of Minnesota School of Medicine

I am fortunate to have had access to great teachers throughout my career as an undergraduate and medical student. I hope to extend the influence teachers have had on me to others around the world.


New Series on the American Revolution from the Aspen Institute

In the summer of 2011, Sal shared a “Big Idea” at the Aspen Ideas Festival. The idea was to combine the power of Khan Academy with the network of the Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization, to bring the ideas and perspectives of some of the most respected authorities on various subjects to learners anywhere, for free.

Over the past several months, Khan Academy and the Aspen Institute have been working in partnership to develop a new and exciting series on the American Revolution. Just last week, we launched that series which includes tutorials on the founding documents, founding fathers, and founding mothers of the United States of America. This initial offering of videos lives up to the idea of bringing together respected authorities on the subject, and the videos feature conversations between Sir Walter Isaacson and a variety of phenomenal contributors including Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Joe Ellis, award-winning journalist Cokie Roberts, and our very own Sal Khan. 

Rather than offering simplified answers or shying away from unanswered questions, this first series of videos introduces learners to the complexities of the revolutionary era. They use the stories of the prominent individuals and revolutionary documents of the day to draw learners deeper into the history. Beyond the dates, names, and battles, the story of the founding comes alive and beckons the curious to investigate further.

These tutorials on the American Revolution are a great starting point and we look forward to exploring other areas with the Aspen Institute in the future. More to come soon! Check out this and other partner content available today on Khan Academy.

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