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Old School, New School: Mastery-Based Learning

By Beatrice, a guest blogger who is a junior in high school

The high school I attend in Silicon Valley requires all juniors to spend one week participating in an internship or shadow week. I was lucky to be able to spend my week at Khan Academy.  During my shadow week, I learned how Khan Academy reaches people all over the world who are driven to deepen their education. It was also a chance to attend communications team meetings, learn about the testimonial process, and understand how press release requests are handled. Throughout the week, I also realized that Khan Academy, Khan Lab School and the Waldorf school that I attend share the belief that students understand concepts best through mastery-based learning—an educational pedagogy that allows students to learn at a pace that is suitable to them.

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At first glance, it might seem surprising that an online learning experience like Khan Academy, a startup like Khan Lab School, and a Waldorf school that has roots in a philosophy that goes back nearly 100 years would have anything in common. (Waldorf schools are based on the teaching principles of Rudolf Steiner and were founded in the early 20th century.) Noticing the common thread of mastery came as a complete surprise during my shadow week. While there are many differences among the three organizations, mastery-based learning is an approach they share.  

At Khan Academy, over 200 team members are dedicated to providing learners all over the world with a free, world class education. Students, whether they are in classrooms or working independently, can go as fast or as slow as they want, and mastery is central to the way students learn and advance their understanding of Khan Academy subjects.

At Khan Lab School, mastery-based learning frequently occurs in blended or project-based environments. This approach advances the idea that students working in a self-paced setting will fully master concepts and skills. In many schools, the time students spent learning is constant and the level of content mastery varies. The opposite is true at Khan Lab School.  The amount of time it takes to learn something can be variable and everyone eventually achieves a mastery level understanding of each subject area. I also learned that students use Khan Academy at Khan Lab School, especially for math and computer science.

At Waldorf, mastery is neither blended or online, and our use of technology in high school classes is lower than at other schools. The Waldorf philosophy is based on the idea that a student’s natural desire to learn is unleashed in an environment where they are seen, feel safe, and have an opportunity to undertake hands-on work. I feel that the interdisciplinary and multimodal approach combined with the ability to resubmit work until it is mastered has given me agency over my learning, critical thinking skills, and a sense of empathy. At Waldorf, I have learned that it is not the academic skills that matter most but rather the ability to learn how to learn. Interestingly, Khan Lab School has a similar philosophy.

During my shadow week at Khan Academy, I learned that there are many different facets to the operational side of an educational organization. Shadowing Barb and Rachel from Khan Academy’s communications team gave me a feel for what they’re trying to get across to students, teachers, districts, and the wider world. One way they do this is by communicating with the media and arranging interviews for Sal, Khan Academy’s founder, and other members of the Khan Academy team. I enjoyed having a front row seat to this one area of Khan Academy.  

One last thing I’d like to share is that Khan Academy reaches 18 million learners a month in 190 countries in over 30 languages as a nonprofit. I personally know of many students who would not be able to use Khan Academy if they had to pay a subscription fee. During my shadow week, I encountered even more students around the world whose lives have been changed significantly by Khan Academy. Because it is a nonprofit, Khan Academy depends on donations from individuals to help sustain the work they are doing now and the work they need to do in the future. For me, it has been heartening to learn how individuals have been impacted around the world through access to Khan Academy. Onward!

About  Beatrice:

Beatrice is an 11th grade student at a Waldorf school in Silicon Valley. Prior to moving to California she attended public school in New York.

About Khan Academy:

Khan Academy is a 501©(3) nonprofit organization that relies on support from people like you. Please donate today.

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Khan Academy students make it work in new documentary series

At Phillips Magnet Elementary School in Napa, California, where 65% of students are second-language learners and 85% come from low-income backgrounds, one group of students is bringing light to a community no longer willing to stay in the shadows.

Watch the trailer:


The new docuseries ‘Make it Work’, now available on Amazon Prime Video and The Roku Channel, features students who are inspired by their teacher and powered by lessons from Khan Academy. Follow their journey as they apply newfound skills to propose a public improvement project to make the streets around their school safer.

“I’m so proud of these students,” says Sal Khan, Khan Academy’s founder. “Their success shows us how students who have access to a high-quality education are able to unlock their full potential and accomplish great things. I want that for every child in America and around the world.”

Narrated by YouTube icon Hank Green and produced and directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmakers Kip and Kern Konwiser—‘Miss Evers’ Boys’ and ‘On Hallowed Ground’—the four-part series follows young disruptors as they use imagination and innovation to improve their communities.

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Sal joins the Cult of Pedagogy podcast to discuss mastery!

We’ve heard so many good things from Khan Academy teachers about the Cult of Pedagogy podcast and the teacher tools and resources found on its site that we had to get involved! Recently, Sal joined the podcast to discuss how our new mastery learning system can make a big difference in classrooms, the importance of teachers in unlocking the potential in every student, and why Khan Academy’s nonprofit status is more important than ever.  

🔊Check out the episode here https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/khan-mastery-learning/ 

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Can we diversify the law school pipeline? Yes, we “Khan.”

by Catherine Wang, vice president of marketing and strategic partnerships at Khan Academy, and Lily Knezevich, senior vice president for learning and assessment, LSAC 

Last June, the Law School Admission Council and Khan Academy unveiled an ambitious—maybe even audacious—joint venture to offer free online LSAT prep to prospective law school students. The goal was simple, but profound. We wanted to expand and diversify the pool of people who were considering a career in law and advocacy by making it easier and more affordable for people to prepare for the Law School Admission Test, the gold standard assessment that is a critical first step for virtually every candidate applying to law school.

We’re proud to announce new survey data that shows that African Americans, women, and economically disadvantaged students are among the heaviest users of Khan Academy Official LSAT Prep. The swift growth in people using this free resource has been just as encouraging. In less than a year since the launch, we are now seeing an average of 40,000 users of Khan Academy Official LSAT Prep per month.

Starting with the June LSAT, first-time test takers were asked whether they had used the new Khan Academy Official LSAT Prep to prepare for the exam. In June, just two months after the release of the beta version, we were pleasantly surprised and excited to see that nearly a quarter of the respondents said they had accessed the free Khan Academy Prep to study for their exam. By the July LSAT, the percentage was up to 32%. By September, it was up to 33%. And by the November LSAT, the most recent test for which we have data, 44% of respondents said they had used it.

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And when we started digging into the numbers, we got even more excited. Based on the early data from the first four LSATs, the free, high-quality test preparation resources from Khan Academy and LSAC are seeing particularly high use among women and students from underrepresented minority groups.

Based on our survey(1) of candidates who took the LSAT for the first time in November 2018, we found the following:

- 52% of African American respondents reported they use our Khan Academy Official LSAT Prep to help prepare for the exam.

- 47% of Puerto Rican respondents reported using Khan Academy to prepare. 

- 42% of Native American and Alaska Native respondents reported using Khan Academy to prepare.  

- 41% of Hispanic respondents reported using Khan Academy to prepare.

- 38% of Asian respondents reported using Khan Academy to prepare.

- 46% of women respondents reported using Khan Academy to prepare, compared to 41% of male respondents.

We hope this is the beginning of a new and exciting trend. One of our top goals is to expand and diversify the pipeline of candidates who can see themselves pursuing a career in law and advocacy. Providing the right tools and resources to attract more women and minority students to law school is a critical part of a broader effort to create a legal profession that truly reflects the full diversity of our society.

Based on responses to surveys of all first-time LSAT test takers between June and November 2018, students from disadvantaged economic backgrounds are recognizing the benefits and opportunity of our Khan Academy Official LSAT Prep. Students who rated their family income as “below average” or “far below average” compared to other members of their communities had the greatest proportion of test takers who prepared using the free LSAT prep.

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Another huge issue we wanted to help address with free LSAT Prep was the burden of student debt, which affects so many young people today and can have a chilling effect on their educational and career choices. It’s hard to envision spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars for commercial test preparation services when you’re already saddled with huge student loan debt. So, we hoped that free, high-quality, individualized LSAT prep through Khan Academy in collaboration with LSAC could be a game changer for many students. So far, survey response data appears to support our hypothesis. In general, the survey responses indicate that the higher the level of student debt a candidate has, the more likely they are to use Khan. For example, for respondents who reported some undergraduate debt up to $39,999, about 37% of them reported preparing with our free Khan Academy Official LSAT Prep. For respondents who reported $40,000 or more in debt, the number was even higher—41% reported using it.

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While the survey results reflect use of the free LSAT Prep among first-time LSAT test takers, prevalence among candidates taking the LSAT for the second or third time is somewhat lower, as we expected. Khan Academy LSAT Prep wasn’t available when many of those candidates started to study and prepare for the LSAT. But even among all LSAT test takers, we see a similar pattern of an increasing trend toward using Official LSAT Prep to prepare for the LSAT.

This has truly been a groundbreaking partnership. In less than a year, our investment in free, high-quality online LSAT prep resources and tools is helping thousands of students—particularly women, minority students, and economically disadvantaged students—get the practice and individualized help they need to demonstrate their full capabilities on the LSAT and pursue a career in law.

It’s amazing to realize that 40,000 students are using our free online LSAT Prep tools and resources every month. And we know that behind every number and every data point, there is a real person. It’s gratifying to know these tools and resources are expanding opportunity for all.

If you or someone you know is considering a career in law, please let them know about our free online Khan Academy Official LSAT Prep resources.  

(1) Based on the November Post-LSAT Questionnaire, which was completed by 7,450 first-time LSAT takers of the November 2018 LSAT, for a survey response rate of 38.2%.

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The app your Baby Shark will love

Good news! Khan Academy Kids, our educational app for children ages two to six, is now available  for Android devices. You can find our apps at Google Play and the Amazon Appstore.

With thousands of personalized, interactive activities—like counting with Baby Shark from Super Simple Songs—books, and educational videos, we think Khan Academy Kids is an app that parents will love and kids will love to use!

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Khan Academy Kids takes a holistic approach to learning by tackling early literacy, language, and math while also encouraging creativity and social-emotional skills. We’ve been getting terrific feedback from parents and critics alike. Common Sense Media gave us a 5-star review, we received the Parents’ Choice Gold Award from Parents’ Choice Foundation, and we won an Editor’s Choice Award from Children’s Technology Review.

And, yes, the app is 100% free—no ads, no paywall, and no strings.

Find the Khan Academy Kids app in Google Play, Amazon Appstore, and iOS

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