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Sal Khan on Digital and Physical Learning

In his trademark style, Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, walks viewers through the many ways digital technology can impact teaching and learning in a blended learning environment.

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Video transcript

In honor of digital learning day, I thought I would do a video on at least how I view how digital materials in software can be used in conjunction with a physical experience. And this idea is typically called blended learning. You’re blending the physical with the virtual or with the digital. Now the most basic way to do this is the physical experience fundamentally doesn’t change and the virtual or the digital materials, the soft wares, sites like khan academy, uses a supplement and it could be either teachers might direct students their saying “Hey! We’re covering or understanding quadratic equations right now, why don’t you go to this site, do some practice problems, do some videos at your own time, at your own pace and that’ll help reinforce what’s going on in the traditional curriculum?” And frankly And frankly most of the Khan Academy users are using it in this way. There are four million unique users most of them that are using it have a traditional experience and they are using it as a supplement. Maybe they missed some days in school or maybe they needed more reinforcement or maybe right before the exam, they wanted to review the material. Now the next level, I would call it, is using the digital material in a more subjective way in a way that is actually starts to impact what you can do with the physical time in the classroom so obviously you are all familiar with the traditional motion, it doesn't happen in all classrooms but the traditional notion is inside the class you have lecture and some degree of review, homewoork and things like that, but it is traditionally lecture based, although not all classrooms are like that fundamentally classroom-lecture based and then at home is where you do problem sets, typically called homework now, when I started doing these youtube videos (and it wasn't my idea, this predates khan academy, a good bit of teachers have been doign this even before khan academy videos existed) but teachers said - hey you already made a video on lapidal's rule or you already made a video on newton's laws, I don't need to do that lecture anymore to introduce students to that concept, so I am having students to view your lecture at home and sometimes the teachers also make their own lectures, and that frees time in class to do problem sets and more open-ended projects and it seems like a very subtle thing, and this typically is called the Flip Homework in the classroom, and then lectures in home. And I want to highlight the fact, and this isn't our idea, although it's associated with us, but there are some huge advantages that happen in here. What is is that at least in my mind, this is where a lot of the learning happens Where students are learning problems, they are engaging with it, they are actively thinking about it. But the problem with doing it at home is when students get stuck. When they don't have an older sibling, or a parent to help them, they just kind of flail around, they don't get feedback about how they are doing. There is also a problem with the traditional lecture in the classroom. In the traditional lecture in the classroom it is one pace for the entire classroom If the student doesn't remember something from a few years ago, she is probably embarassed to bring it about And even if she brings it about, it might not even be appropriate for most of the classroom There is no chance to pause and repeat A lot of times, especially in college, students spend more time taking notes than actually trying to pay attention and understand the material What happens when you put the lecture on demand at home: now students will be able to watch it when they are ready for it When they are ready to be engaged with it, not 7 in the morning when they maybe didn't get proper sleep Their mind is wondering on other things Probably more important about is that they can review thigns that they would be embarassed, or maybe there isn't even time to cover in the class. If you are an 8th grader and you are little fuzzy on multiplying decimals, there isn't an outlet for you in the traditional one-pace-fits-all classroom, but now there is. You can go watch all those lectures, to make sure you understand what is going on. Or if in an on-demand video the video producer has a term you don't understand, you can pause Go look it up in the Internet, and think about what that term actually means. And may sometimes, people may say: wait, a lot of students aren't doing their problem sets right now well won't they skip out on lecture, if they weren't already doing their problem sets? And I kidn of have an idealistic view on that, and a cynical view on that The idealistic view is that I think most students do want to do their problem sets and the reason they don't, is that they have trouble with it. and they find it not engaging - because they have trobule with it - they find it frustrating and that is why they give up on it and if they are allowed to work on things that are exactly according to their pace, that they can actually engage with, they can learn new ideas, they are allowed to engage at an level that is appropriate to themselves I think most students will do what is recommended for them at home, and on top of that sites like Khan academy have ways for teachers and students and parents to track what happens at home and that even gives more information on, hey, why is this student watching lectures or doing homework problems at 2am at home now all this is getting lost The cynical view on it must say that whatever is assigned at home for some subset of students - just doesn't happen Just doesn't happen. And in that world, I actually think that if only, if you had to pick for one of these things to happen in the classroom, or if you can insure only 1, I think you should be doing the problem sets and the projects, rather than the lecture Because this is active learning, and because It allows the student to interact with the material It allows the peers to help each other, and it allows the teacher to see in real time before the exam, how well the students are understanding the material the real tragedy is when the students don't do this part, and they just passively watch a lecture And they are not getting either out of it. Because the lecture is inappropriate for them, and they are not doing the real learning part which is the problem solving and I want to be clear, what I just described here, the flipped classroom - this is I kind of view it as a transition step, it's an improvement but I think we can go even one step further, and we've started that with few classrooms and the one step further is using the power of digital learning to fundamentally rethink what you can do with a classroom. So right now, in this (1) and (2) scenarios, we still have , sometimes it's called the persian model, in week 1 everyone does concept A, and in week 2 everyone does concept B, and in week 3 everyone does concept C and the problem with this is - different people learn at different rates, and take different amounts of time to learn different things, and what this model does - it makes fixed when and how long you have to learn something and what ends up being the variable, and it has to be the variable, because something has to give, if you are marching everyone together at the same pace, what is variable is how well students understand and to some degree this is true for the supplement and this is true even for the flipped classorom because you are still moving people together at a fixed pace now that you have tools, and Khan academy offers it for free, we are not for profit: where students can learn material at their own pace, master concepts before moving on that is one of the big problems with variable learning if you have a C understanding of basic exponents, how can we expect you as we march you to the concept B which is logarithms, or more advanced exponents, how can we expect you to have anything other than cursory knowledge of that next concept at some point you'll hit an actuall wall so we are saying, why don't we let students learn and work at their own pace, so self-paced learning - and why don't we let them master concepts before they move on What happens is now the fixed idea is how well you master it - so it's mastery high level of comprehension, so what's variable is when and how long students have access to learning it and we've seen over and over again from some of the pilot classes we've done, when you allow students to learn at their own pace, master before moving on, we've seen that students that 6 months ago you'd have veiewed as maybe remedial students or slow students and because they've had a chance to build their gaps, now they are the best or second best student in the class and now it makes it difficult to say who is a strong or weak student, and what they self-paced mastery does especially when you couple it with data for the teacher, it empowers the teacher to instad giving a one-pace-gives-all lecture, it empowers them to give direct problem-solving for students to mentor them directly and it frees class time, the self-pcaed mastery learning can be done at home, or some fraction in class, definitely not all in class time and it frees up time for more open eneded and creative projects And the way I think of it: we've been seeing this in some of the classrooms we've been piloting in, If on this axis this is breadth of understanding, or breadth of material, and on this axis - depth Rote vs. open-ended If we view this row as maybe math, and this dimension - this may be your times tables, and this may be coming up with a completrely new math theorem or writing software of some kind, or something like that, what videos and software do , right now they may be around here They are around here. Can definitely do the rote thing, but on some videos we try to focus on intuition and conceptual development. And then we work as hard as we can to do manipulatives, and models, and simulations so that students can start understanding thigns better but as the software and videos start to get better - we think we are in the very early stages of this - what it does is it frees the teacher in the traditional classroom to have to worry about it SO now because of standartised tests, classroom is very worried about this part and instead of viewing the digital learning as replaced for the classroom, what it does, is that if the digital learnign can take care of this - it frees the classroom to focus on all of this, the classroom and the teacher and frankly, this is what the teacher is better at. You need the human to do the mentorship, you need the human to understand the emotions of the child, to guide the child into rich, deep, open-ended projects. And as soon as you do this kind of model, when students are working at their own pace, there is open-ended things, and creative thing they can do in the classrom, it enables you to rethink what the classroom might look like. If everyone is working at their own pace, you don't need to separate students by age groups anymore Do you have to separate classes that right now have artificial divisons - calculus, and physics, and algebra, and economics? These are all related classes, can they be merged so that students can start seeing the connections?