Khan Flips the Classroom: Classwork is now homework, and homework is now in-class activity

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A week or so ago I posted a simple blog entry about Salman Khan and the Khan Academy. It was primarily a link to an interview that PBS did with Khan and the Khan Academy, showcasing how his online on-demand video training is gaining attention – particularly from Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft.

More recently, Khan spoke to the TED conference and gave a tremendous presentation that is captured below, it’s only about 20 minutes long and very well worth watching. In the presentation, Khan summarizes one of the more obvious benefits of online on-demand training to his young cousins – for whom he originally created the videos – this way:

“They preferred me on YouTube than in person … Now they can pause and repeat … without feeling like they’re wasting my time.”

The ability to pause a video is self-evident. But video training has been around for years, yet there seems to be more excitement about the potential of video training delivered online. For one thing, it’s a lot easier to navigate hundreds of videos online via a web page than physically sorting through boxes of video tapes or physical DVDs.

For another, currency. There’s a fresh sense you can get from real-time video delivery that you don’t get for an old DVD. If there’s an update, you know you probably have it, or at least have quick access to it. There’s no sense that your DVD or VHS-based learning is probably several years old.

But there’s much more benefit to online on-demand training than this. In his TED presentation, Khan shared some positive feedback he’s received to his videos that was rather unexpected:

“Teachers … write, saying “we’ve used your videos to flip the classroom. You’ve given the lectures. So now what we do … is … assign the lectures for homework, and what used to be homework, I now have the students doing in the classroom … now it’s a human experience.”

Khan goes on to share how classrooms that are using his materials are now spending in-class time focusing on the student experience of applying their knowledge, working on homework assignments in an environment where, if they get stuck, they have assistance. They now spend their time at home going through lectures at their own pace, and their classroom time interacting with each other and their instructors in a much more meaningful way.

It’s quite a contrast. Traditional students spend time in class sitting quietly and listening. There is little two-way interaction. If they miss a statement or two by the lecturer, they might be embarrassed to interrupt and ask for a repeat.

The traditional student then goes home to apply the new knowledge on homework assignments. The irony is that this is when the student is most likely to generate questions on the material. Yet the traditional student does this work at home, out of the classroom.

The Khan model of “flipping the classroom” optimizes both experiences. Sending the student home to watch lectures on video allows the student who misses something to click “pause”, repeat, and continue, without embarrassment. The classroom time is then spent applying the knowledge doing homework, in a process that evokes questions and interaction when there is a teacher around who can answer it. Brilliant.

Did anyone see this coming? For those who might fear that online on-demand training might eliminate the need for teachers in the classroom – think again. ‘Flipping the classroom’ is a practice that can empower teachers to focus more on students and their individual learning experience. The potential here is remarkable, and my summary of Khan’s comments barely scratches the surface. See the full video below.

(P.S. Bill Gates makes a special appearance at the end.)


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