What Can Khan Academy Teach Corporate Training?

What Can Khan Academy Teach Corporate Training?
Summary: Corporate America’s training departments have been providing online education for over 15 years so what could Khan Academy, launched in 2004, targeted towards childhood education, possibly teach adult/corporate education?

For those that haven’t heard of Khan Academy it’s the brainchild of Salman Khan, a former hedge fund analyst that first created YouTube tutorials (in 2004) for his niece who was having difficulty in math. His videos caught on with thousands of kids and adults. Bill Gates and others saw the value and now Khan Academy has a platform for; math, science; biology, chemistry, physics, computer programming and the humanities with playlists on finance and history. The site currently provides; 4700 videos, 560 practice exercises and Computer Science lessons with interactive ability and offered in 28 languages, in 216 countries,  in 20,000+ classrooms and reaching over six million students worldwide. Students learn at their own pace and here’s the kicker, it’s absolutely free! Their mission is to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.

Again you say, “that’s great but corporate “training” is not free and its mission is to train/educate for company/job success not educate employees for altruistic enlightenment.” Hang in there with me, there is relevance to be gained, for those passionate about adult education and instructional design it’s worth reading Khan’s book, The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined. (2012), in which Khan provides his views on pedagogy (child education) and how Malcolm Knowles’s views on andragogy (adult education) may be more attune for kids than our current system provides. His book is a good read and challenges many of the default institutional norms we have about education in America and he proposes how we can rethink the best ways to learn.

He challenges the 200 year old Prussian model of teaching that moves learners along regardless of mastery. He has a daunting task with education reform, just ask Michelle Rhee how that one goes. Khan’s critics say he’s not an educator, nor has he been a teacher in a classroom, they say he doesn’t see the level of interactivity, classroom projects and teacher involvement.

For those of us that focus on corporate/adult education we tend to influence changes in childhood education and college education because of technological advancements. But in this case, Khan Academy has focused on child education and it is impacting adult education and certification.

The Flipped Classroom Model

You may have heard of the Flipped Classroom Model and Kahn readily admits he did not discover this concept but for a variety of reasons his timing has resonated with many. The flipped classroom is using the lecture time at your own pace, at a distance and replacing classroom lecture time with interactive problem solving using the teacher as a coach.

So I get back to, so what, we’ve been using distance education for years. For sure we’ve been using distance education but some have forgotten the second part of the equation – providing the classroom time as interactive problem solving time and using the facilitator as a coach.

We can hardly blame training (developers, SMEs, managers.) because we’re products too of this two hundred year old model and we model the behavior we were taught. This is why we’ve seen too many eLearning modules that are just automated mind-numbing lectures, with little to no practice and feedback. And similar to teacher issues, SMEs reluctantly provide their input because they’re overworked, undercompensated and fear job security. If there are assessments/ knowledge checks they’re not written correctly and they provide no or little feedback. Most don’t provide any diagnostic as to the participant’s thinking or areas of need.

Think about the Instructor Led Training (ILT) formats, in which most still are lecture based eLearning modules using Captivate or Articulate software to provide minimal animation. Some provide their interactivity in the form of a cross-word puzzle exercise or scavenger hunt while others have embraced Social Media as a means of peer and SME interaction online.

In a recent interview Kahn states that there is growing interest for corporations. So what is he doing that may be of interest to us in training? He may have just blended the right amount of things we do know and should do in adult education -coupled with the right timing of technology and caught a strong social media tailwind, regardless of how he got here there are things he offers that as life-long learners we should take time to explore with the same curiosity he provides, not defensiveness.

Those in a training capacity should review the Khan Academy Foundations with curious consideration. The foundation categories include: mission, flipped classroom model, self-paced, responsibility, time, length of unit, conversational style, visual style, failure, creativity, content, knowledge map, demonstrating mastery, badging, learning dashboard, data analytics, and ease of navigation.

So why hasn’t distance learning revolutionized corporate training?

Why can’t everyone do the right thing at work, work hard at gaining the most knowledge, being the best at what they do and reach beyond their current situation?  For the same reasons that changing our educational system is difficult; culture, human nature – fear of change, fear of losing turf, fear of exposing lack of skills. But it’s also in our approach to the expectation of technology itself.

Khan’s approach to technology is to use it to really drive more meaningful in-person interactions. He wants this first version of the Khan tool enhance a more holistic education experience that provides for true mastery, where the student takes ownership and peer-to-peer teaching is taking place and each student is achieving an interactive education based on inquiry and exploration. Khan Academy really puts an old Chinese proverb into action, “Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.

The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) awarded Khan the 2013 Champion of Learning Award “for his revolutionary work at the intersection of technology and learning". Anyone in training and adult education should be encouraged to review the site and make your own judgments. To listen to more interviews about Khan Academy and their philosophy click Khan Academy Talks and Interviews.

Khan Academy Foundations and Consideration for the Curious in Corporate Training


Khan Academy Foundations Considerations for the Curious in Training
  • Provides a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.
  • Think of how to expand your mission, does it include empowering the intellectual curiosity of all employees globally?
    • How would you harness this intellectual energy?
  • Many give lip service that their human resources are their greatest asset, how would you motivate your employees to become life long learners?
Flipped Classroom Model 
  • Removes passive lecture learning and uses the classroom for teaching, coaching, peer exploration, allows for experimentation and failure and provide the lecture component online.
  • Humanized Classroom Model – The Academy wants to use technology to humanize education and ensure that teacher time is spent on human interaction not lecture.
  • Use classroom facilitators and subject matter experts (SMEs) as coaches and allow for experimentation and failure.
  • Stop creating mentoring and leadership programs launched with enthusiasm and then dissipate – launch with a clear plan to maintain.
  • Change the culture using eLearning online as pre-work and the classroom for coaching.
  • Change the culture - eLearning is not the only component of training.
  • For something mundane like a compliance training use the lecture as eLearning and use the class time to work through issues;  identify how to minimize handoffs in the supply chain or provide feedback to product engineering , marketing, etc.
  • eLearning of the original lecture content allows students to move through subject areas at their own pace and interest. If they don’t know something they can replay it.
  • The eLearning allows students to take the stress out of the in-person confrontation when they are first introduced to content.
  • Students might be embarrassed that they forgot building concepts and can review as they need in their own learning.
  • Self-paced challenges the factory model of teaching, moving all students through content at the same time and then advancing on to the next area.
  • Self-paced is based on the notion that the current one size approach does not fit all.
  • Corporations are the original factory model, they are the factory. Corporations currently provide self-paced eLearning but usually for a role/job specific task. Some may block content areas by role, remove blocks, if employees are curious they should be allowed to explore.
  • Employees should be allowed to work on content together during the course time.
  • Employees should be able to use the content learned and be rewarded for it.
  • Reinforce use it or lose it. Many attend training and then managers do not reinforce or it takes a long time before it gets used and the concepts are not remembered.
  • “Taking responsibility for education is education; taking responsibility for learning is learning. Only by taking responsibility does true learning become possible. Personal responsibility is not only undervalued but actually discouraged by the standard classroom model, with its enforced passivity and rigid boundaries of curriculum and time.”
  • Students stop short of full commitment when they’re denied the opportunity to make basic decisions about what they will learn and how they will learn.
  • Learning how to learn is fundamental to a student’s future success.
  • Encourage mixing of ages and peer to peer mentoring.
  • Change from mandated training to self-empowered model.
  • Enforce rewards for commitment and for failure through exploration. For those that do not wish to participate they may not be in the right role.
  • Mix roles in training and mix generations to cross train to their strength.
  • Encourage internships in other departments, we’ve moved away from a job rotations or short term assignments - in order to move up a person had to experience other departments to gain experience – maybe it should be more the standard.
  • Reward and allow time for peer mentoring. Make this a priority in performance review metrics, in Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • Create a culture that values learning (Senge’s learning organization)
  • Students are self-directed in terms of their time. They should be allowed to use it as they see fit.
  • Employees have to attend training in addition to their workload and there is resistance to completing eLearning on what is considered uncompensated or your own time. Allow employees the ability to shift their work to attend training or take self-paced training during work hours. This is true for most employees but their workload does not get diminished, make adjustments to deadlines and expectations to allow for training time.
  • Remove company limits to the amount of training that employees can attend (i.e. ten days a year)
Length of Unit
  • Students have a ten minute attention span, give or take.
  • eLearning usually adheres to this adult attention span time limit but if modules are longer than 12 minutes they should be resized. (Determine your policy 8, 10, 15)
Conversational Style 
  • Keep the tone conversational, as if someone was learning and exploring right at your side.
  • Some read the slides and do not explain the logic or provide links to content areas or the big picture view. Review your products and see if you can improve them or at least moving forward make this a standard to provide logic, big picture, linkages.
  • Keep the tone of the instruction conversational, ask yourself if you really have the right narrator for the content.
Visual Style
  • Keep the coach’s face out of the learning.
  • Many narrations for eLearning do keep the coach’s face out of the eLearning. The Academy has had great success in learning without sophisticated graphics but rather drawings using a blackboard like platform.
  • Provide and encourage room to experiment and fail.
  • Many trainings are passive lectures with no ability to experiment and fail. Failure is frowned upon but often it takes lots of failure to lead to creative inspiration and success. Science is founded on failure, trial and error. Change the culture, reward for failure that is trying to make a difference.
  • Creativity is the single most important factor that the current [pedagogical] model squeezes out.
  • Reward creativity, for those that look at things differently and take initiative.
  • Some look at creativity as the job of only the R&D department. You want people who break the rules, think outside the box, get out of their own silo and see things differently, apply concepts from other areas to their areas.
  • Make time for creativity – can it be accomplished in a noisy cube area?
  • Innovation and rocking the status quo, often does not come from those within the field.
  • The content should be provided to instill excitement and a sense of wonder and nurturing this sense of wonder should be education’s highest goal; failing to nurture it is the central tragedy of our current [pedagogical] system.
  • Content is dictated based on the job or competencies required or by compliance.
  • Some fail to help make content transfer to the job and support the new content on the job. How can you make transfers to the job, support on the job or even instill a sense of possibility with the content? (To move beyond the content and explore root causes, alternative interventions, etc.)
Knowledge Map /Learning by Associations
  • Stress the connections among subjects and give learners a visual picture of where they’ve been and where they’re going to encourage students to follow their own paths— to move actively up, down, and sideways, wherever their interests take them.
  • No subject is ever finished. No concept is sealed off from other concepts. Knowledge is continuous; ideas flow.
  • Provides software that threads these together and automatically assign new exercises.
  • Encourage big picture and systems thinking, in corporations there tend to be siloed thinking or divisions among organizations, departments, roles or industry sectors.
  • Onboarding programs often miss an opportunity to teach employees the basics of the business. Let them explore, reward them, make it a necessary part of their job to know your business.
  • Onboarding fails to continue throughout an employee’s career and teach employees about other business silos.
  • Enhance the curriculum map to provide a knowledge map that allows for self- directed creativity.
  • Review your Learning Management (LMS) capabilities and gaps.
Demonstrating Mastery 
  • Provides feedback and identifies gaps in knowledge before the student moves on from one level of mastery to the next. The current model of learning for students does not expect mastery – they push you on to next topic/level regardless of your score.
  • Currently the mastery for the Academy is answering ten questions in a row to advance to the next level.
  • Khan Academy Skill Levels:
    • Struggling
    • Needs Practice
    • Practiced
    • Level One
    • Level Two
    • Mastered
  • Many currently use weak knowledge checks in self-paced learning that don’t necessarily demonstrate a high level of mastery.
  • Many don’t provide practice and feedback before moving on to the next content area.
  • Many tests are not written correctly and do not move beyond a knowledge level and do not have a correct passing score.
  • Companies should expend as much time and energy in testing as they do in building the eLearning.
  • Tests should be written to test standards and take into account the level of mastery that is expected and advertised.
  • To provide mastery levels there has to be a database of test items – writing them will become more important than ever before. (Track # complete, to demonstrate mastery, how long each item and over how many days.)
  • There are legal ramifications for improper employer testing in the U.S.A. Review the legal guidelines for testing.
  • Critics may state that mastering knowledge for education’s sake is different than mastering content for job application. (here’s an opportunity to explore if and why there are differences)
  • See corresponding Blog on What Khan Certification Learn
  • Reward & recognition points are validating and addictive to kids of this gaming and online generation.
  • Khan questions our current [pedagogical] testing system and asks are we promoting initiative and comprehension and original thinking, or just perpetuating an empty game? He suggests perhaps a “creative portfolio” of work as a central part of a student’s college transcript.
  • Badging will be gaining more traction and be used to demonstrate competencies – knowledge, skills and attributes Companies should review Mozilla's Open Badges Initiative which provides portability and social media display of competencies the people learn anywhere.
  • Part of Khan’s philosophy is to promote creative portfolios as part of the college of the future where creative projects will be more important than which college degree they have obtained. This is already in evidence as the traditional resume is on its way to becoming as quaint as your old calendar. What can you do to support this and provide employees with digital recognition?
Learning Dashboard
  • The Academy dashboard and underlying software platform is more sophisticated than most corporate LMS, which just show you course completion of a module or course, some have assessments.
  • The dashboard shows mastery in subject areas and areas remaining in that subject along with areas for badges, goals, activity, focus visual, skills progress, with area for connection to community discussion, programs and coaches.
  • Have data that proves over and over that kids previously labeled /tracked as slow or incapable do move ahead and become faster and more proficient given time but may have been placed in a track based on a single test or failure that determined a lifetime path.
  • Most corporate LMS dashboards are basic and have difficulty with incorporating data with legacy systems.
  • Many features for tracking competencies or other granularity are at additional cost or not instituted throughout the corporate enterprise infrastructure.
  • May have people pigeonholed in the wrong jobs.
Data Analytics 
  • Provides real time data analytics for teachers/coaches to identify specific areas of difficulty for each student.
  • Uses software and data analytics used by hedge fund analysts and applies them to teaching.
  • Previously this type of analysis was not available real time to teachers.
  • Analytics consistently points out kids that are slow to start but then excel when concepts are mastered. These kids would have previously been mis-categorized or tracked throughout their entire academic career.
  • Corporations have large LMS’s but most analytics are not utilized by the instructors or SMEs, only the training department has limited access and use only the most basic completion or pass/fail rates.
  • Employees may not have access to their own data or ability to see content completed.
Easy Navigation
  • Some LMS systems are difficult to navigate or companies may have different legacy systems to use for different types of training. Other assessment/certification programs are external to the training. How can you make things easier to navigate?