Sal Khan on ‘pandemic learning’ and the mastery framework in education

October 27, 2021
Sal Khan on ‘pandemic learning’ and the mastery framework in education

New learning approaches are continually being unveiled and the disruptions in schooling during the COVID pandemic only accelerated experimental approaches aimed at individualized education. 

Washington Post tech editor Christina Passariello recently talked to Khan Academy founder and CEO Sal Khan. She observed that, “if there’s really a topic that people have thought a lot about over the last 18 months, it has to be education and the role of technology in education.”  

She started by asking Sal Khan: “How do you think that the pandemic shifted the way that society views technology in education?”  

His answer may be surprising to some who view Khan Academy as pushing a unitary approach – online learning. Sal Khan said that “pandemic learning” was far from the best sort of online learning.   

If I had to pick between an amazing in-person teacher for myself, for my own children, for anyone else’s children, versus the most amazing technology distance learning, et cetera, I would pick the in-person every time. I’d also emphasize that these don’t have to be mutually exclusive. They got to be a little bit mutually exclusive during the pandemic because we could not be in person. But the ideal is not having to pick and actually using both — having great in-person experiences and actually leveraging technology in ways that meet pedagogical goals, that can help personalize for students, and who actually can — that can actually increase interactions between students and teachers, and students and each other. 

That said, Khan Academy continues to offer learning content that students can tailor to their attitudes and needs. That’s a sure path to a student’s self-actualization and lifelong learning.

Khan Academy is committed to “adding content that’s available in this mastery framework. Our content, we have high school, college level, not just math but sciences as well — biology, chemistry, physics — obviously the math side calculus, statistics,” Sal Khan said. 

A new initiative at Khan Academy is a not-for-profit called, a free tutoring service distributed over Zoom.

“The way that we’re doing that is actually leveraging high-quality vetted volunteers,” he said. “And we’re hearing from many, many students that many of the tutors that they’re getting on are better than tutors that they have access to in their local communities even if they — even if they were paying. So we’re just trying to do a full court press and support parents, teachers, and students in any way we can right now.” 

And it’s no surprise that Sal Khan has been doing a lot of thinking about the future facing Gen Z (a loose category of young people born mid-to-late 1990s to the early 2010s) and now working their way through the education system: 

I think they want and they need agency over their learning. I tell everyone we don’t know what the jobs are going to be in 10, 20, 30 years. But we do know that it’s not going to be a world where you can just learn a set of skills between, you know, K-16 and then work at some employer for 20 or 30 years and then collect a pension. That’s not the world of the future. That’s not even the world of the present. We know that the people who are going to stay relevant, yes, there’s going to be some foundational skills you’re going to get from school. But the most important skill is how do you take control of your own learning and learn how to learn. 

Read the full interview at Next Generation: Education with Sal Khan and Marley Dias in the Washington Post.  

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