The Inside Agenda Blog

Guest Post: Why Khan Academy is Not the Answer

by Daniel Kitts Friday April 12, 2013

As part of TVO's Learning 2030 series, the future of higher education will be the subject of Monday's Agenda broadcast. One topic the broadcast will examine is the increasing use of distance learning and virtual classrooms in higher education. As a preview of that conversation, producer Mary Taws recently interviewed Minli Virdone of Khan Academy, a not-for-profit organization that provides thousands of lectures and video tutorials via the Internet for free.

In response, elementary school teacher Andrew Campbell, who has contributed to The Agenda's blog before, sent us something he had written about the Khan Academy on his own blog, Looking Up. With his permission, we are reposting his original blog post about the Khan Academy below. 

Are you an educator -- be it elementary, secondary, or post-secondary -- who has an opinion on distance learning or one of the other topics being tackled by TVO's Learning 2030? If so, send us something to, and we'll consider publishing it. 

Identifying the Right Problem

"The problem with television lies not in the quality of resolution but the quality of programming."

Nicholas Negroponte, "Being Digital"

Nicholas Negroponte is a genius and one of my heroes. He played a major role in creating the MIT Media Lab, Wired Magazine, and the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program. His book, Being Digital, was transformative. Every time I turned a page I read something that blew my mind.

One revelation was Negroponte’s thoughts on the future of TV. In 1995, HDTV was on the horizon and millions of dollars were poured into increasing screen resolution. Negroponte pointed out that what stopped people from watching more TV wasn’t screen resolution, but lousy programming. They were innovating on the wrong problem.

Before we solve a problem it’s important to make sure we’re working on the right problem. We need to do the same when improving education.

Focusing on the Wrong Problem

Popular efforts to improve education are focusing on the wrong problem. Millions of dollars and hours of innovation are being spent on improving how we deliver content in an era when content matters less and how we interact with it matters more.


What do all these all have in common? They are one-way content delivery systems, and large corporations stand to make a lot of money from them.

However, the weak link in our current learning paradigm isn’t content delivery. Traditional textbooks deliver content efficiently and effectively, and access to content is cheaper and easier than at any other time in history thanks to the Internet. It’s only with the guidance of a skilled teacher and interaction with other learners that content becomes relevant and engaging. That’s what makes good teaching important. Future education is better served by investing in and developing tools that support discussion and interaction, not improving content delivery.

Focusing on the Right Problem

New uses of the Internet (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) are social. Web 2.0 is about users interacting and collaborating. The power of YouTube is that users create, share, and discuss their own videos. That’s what makes it unique. Using it to show lectures so students can watch their homework while playing World of Warcraft turns it into a TV channel, and nothing more.

Promoting interaction and discussion is the most effective way to use technology to support learning. Social media promotes and extends discussion, which is far more effective and transformative than putting lectures on YouTube or textbooks on tablets will ever be.

Some Examples:

  • Google Hangouts facilitates face-to-face discussions when students can’t be in the same space. Use it for after school study groups or to connect remote learners working on the same topic.

  • Twitter allow students to discuss learning and share insights over mobile devices or asynchronously.

  • Skype can effectively and easily connect learners to experts in the field they are studying so they can ask questions and delve deeply into topics.

We need to focus on using and developing technological tools that make learning more interactive and collaborative. It’s a more effective and innovative way of improving learning than simply finding new ways to deliver content.

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