May 21, 2013

Flipping the Classroom

Khan Academy founder, Sal Khan, on digital learning and the flipped classroom

In recent years, Sal Khan and the Khan Academy have upped the ante on video and its use as part of classroom instruction. Thanks to the flexibility of digital media, including its ease of production and anytime anywhere availability, the Academy has innovated a robust platform that boasts “3,000 videos covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history.” The result: Khan Academy videos are just as often part of the classroom experience as they are a homework aid for students (and parents) struggling with quadratic equations and binomial formulas.

All this is certainly a departure from the traditional use of film to augment classroom teaching. Remember those days in elementary school watching classroom teachers wrestle with filmstrips and projectors? Or later, when VHS cassettes offered a diversion that included the time spent watching a favorite teacher search for that point in the video that offered the day’s key takeaway?

With the transition to digital media, it's not just the Khan Academy but producers like PBS and Discovery Education who have taken much of their educational content and broken it down to illustrate specific topics or issues. Matched with lesson plans and delivered via iTunesU, YouTube, or a host of online services, the combination reduces much of the guesswork—and time—for teachers integrating educational media into their classroom environments.

Using media in this way helps teachers reach students who learn differently. It helps engage others. And it reinforces and supplements concepts covered through lectures, lab time, or selected reading.

Lately, the success of the Khan Academy and the value of these educational media is leading some educators to “flip” the classroom experience—that is, utilize class time for more problem solving and project-based learning activities while making use of online lectures and other digital media as homework intended to reinforce critical lessons.

Now innovators like Sal Khan are going a step further, arguing that a flipped classroom that also utilizes digital learning tools for self-paced learning is the real key to 21st century education. In these environments, students will have the ability to master content on their own before transitioning to more complex lesson plans and subjects. What’s that all look like? Who better to explain it than Sal Khan in one of his distinctive videos. Have a look:


The story of the Khan Academy and its impact on teaching and learning is a remarkable one. But the Khan Academy approach also has its detractors. For more, check out this piece from the July 2011 issue of Wired.

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