Khan Academy’s Lab School Touts Personalized Learning

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Sal Khan, the founder of online education resource Khan Academy, has launched its first lab school and welcomed its first cohort of students in last September. In a bid to usher in a new model for learning in the classroom and beyond, the Khan Lab School is a full-day, full-year school in Mountain View, CA that is currently accepting learners ages 5 to 12. The school aims to expand to become a full K-12 education provider.

The mixed-age school departs from traditional brick-and-mortar classroom settings in that it is mastery-based with no student grading or grade level; students of different ages learn independently in the same classroom. There’s no homework in the traditional sense, either. As Khan explains, the Lab School’s philosophy resembles the Montessori method in which students are encouraged to carry independent, research-based study and learn through inquiry-based activities:

‘[Y]ou could almost imagine this is a bit of a Montessori 2.0. I mean, the whole principle of Montessori is students learn by exploration, play, they learn at their own time and pace, they have mixed age. And mixed age allows older students to mentor and younger students to get that mentorship, and what we’re doing is exactly that.”

Enrolled students pay $23,000 per year at the Khan Lab school. Students in grades 6 to 12 pay $25,000 – a ‘hefty’ price, Patrick May of the Silicon Beat says, not just compared to similar schools, but also compared to Khan Academy, for which there’s no fee to access its online material.

During the first half of their school day, learners engage in personalized learning that focuses on sharpening their entrepreneurial skills and creativity. For the remaining school hours, students are engaged in the design, creation, building and testing of what they’re encouraged to make.

As Khan explains, online learning material and even virtual schools are not to be construed as stand-alone entities, but rather as one component of brick-and-mortar learning. Virtual learning, Khan says, provides liberation for the modern student:

“We view the virtual as something that can empower the physical — that if students can get lectures at their own time and pace, they can get exercises, they can have a programming platform, that doesn’t mean that the classroom gets replaced; it means the classroom gets liberated,” Khan said to Eric Westervelt of NPR.

One of the problems of modern-day learning that Khan Academy is trying to tackle is the ‘artificial time constraints’ students are forced into and which set them up for failure, Chicago Inno reports.

Due to tight deadlines and overloaded curricula, students amass gaps that make subsequent learning difficult, or in some cases, impossible. Students are expected to move toward more demanding topics and concepts with little, if any, time to properly understand the basics. That’s where Khan Academy comes in by offering self-paced learning material to support students’ learning.

Khan Academy started as simple YouTube math lessons that Khan created to help out his niece. The videos’ effectiveness in teaching small conceptual bites made them popular, and soon he had to scale the process so that more students could benefit from these online math videos. Khan received positive feedback, and it wasn’t long before Bill Gates helped him with product development funding.

Today, Khan Academy offers thousands of instructional videos on a wide array of topics and numbers more than 32 million registered users.