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Khan Academy

Research Synthesis
Lindsay Tucker

Salman Khan, MIT (two BS and one MS degree), Harvard (MBA) graduate, and a former hedge
fund analyst is the founder of Khan Academy. Khan Academy began in 2006 and has taken the
online education market by storm. Khan began by posting short lesson on YouTube to help tutor
his cousin who preferred videos that she could watch, rewind, and fast forward at her leisure to
talking with Khan over the phone. Khans tutoring video popularity grew among his family and
others and then was eventually seen by Bill Gates who is now an investor in his non-profit
company, Khan Academy. As with most trends in education there are many supporters and many
critics. Supporters love the fact that it is free; there are 5,000+ videos and an infinite amount of
exercise available for anyone to access for no charge. Critics emphasize the terrible quality of the
low-tech videos, as well as blame Khan for his lack of creativity, and the drilling nature of the
exercises. Khan Academy focuses on mastering a skill before moving on and in order to master a
skill a student must complete five exercises correctly in a row. The website and app also provide
real time data for individual students and/or teachers to access. One teacher, Sandra McGonagle
said, Khan takes away a lot of the fear about math by letting kids backfill their gaps and then
move ahead at their own pace (Kronholz, 2012).

The videos, exercises, and data available through Khan Academy have been used mostly by
individuals but recently teachers have also used it to flip their classrooms or to offer a blended
learning experience. Not much research has been conducted on its value in educational settings
because it has not been used long enough to determine its success or failure. Past research has
determined that self-regulatory learning has improved student achievement in traditional learning
environments. Now that there are options available for computer-based instruction, such as Khan
Academy, more research will be conducted to determine if a self-regulatory online learning
environment can also be created successfully for students. Khan Academy is well on its way by
having options available for students to track their own learning as well as setting their own
learning goals. Only time will determine Khan Academys success as more research is tied
specifically to its use as an online learning tool.

Khan AcademyThe Past and Present

Ani, K. (2013). Khan Academy: The Hype and the Reality. Education Digest, 78(6), 23-25.

Khan Academy has gained momentum and hype as becoming the next big thing in
education, not because that is how Salman Khan is selling his academy, but that is what
Bill Gates, 60 Minutes, and others are claiming it to be. Educators have begun to push
back because the videos are of poor quality and Khan admits himself that often he does
not know what he is going to say when he sits down to record a video. Also, his pre-
lesson routine consists of a google search or visiting Wikipedia. Educators do not
appreciate the fact that Khan is being seen as revolutionary. Khan should be praised for
creating a free library of thousands of resources, but not for being a revolutionary, good
teacher. In this article, a speech from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is
summarized. The challenges of K-12 education are not going to be solved by watching
videos, but instead by investing in professional development and providing teachers with
support, resources, and time to collaborate so that they have a better understanding of
content and how children learn.

Hill, P. (2012). Online Educational Delivery Models: A Descriptive View. EDUCAUSE
Review, 47(6), 85-97. Retrieved from

Although this article is written with the focus on higher education, it is a very informative
paper that describes the evolution of online delivery models. This article is written as a
way to let traditional institutions know that they will be dealing with (and most likely
already have) the discussion of how online classes will be incorporated and how both the
successes and failures will be handled. Educational technology is rapidly changing and
the number of approaches to online learning is growing. Hill says that Khan Academy
has been a leading force for the flipped classroom in K-12 math education; however, with
continued funding it is only a matter of time before more subjects and higher education
content is made available.

Khan, S. & Slavitt, E. (2013). A Bold New Math Class. Educational Leadership, 70(6), 28-

In this article, Khan and Slavitt discuss the importance that Khan Academy puts on
learning at your own pace. Two different methods of implementation are discussed in two
pilot schools where the focus is on self-paced, mastery-based, and interactive learning.
Summit San Jose School has a mixed class of 9
and 10
grade students where 200
students are helped by a team of math teachers. After the first year of using Khan
Academys exercises, videos, and having the students create their own learning goals,
students at the school scored in the 85
percentile for student growth. On the other hand,
Eastside College Preparatory School had a more traditional approach with one teacher in
charge of a certain number of students. This teacher would teach the introduction to a
lesson to the entire class and then subsequent lessons would be taught in small groups to
the students who needed additional assistance. While these methods help students prepare
for college by taking ownership of their own education and being able to ask for help
when it is needed, Khan and Slavitt admit that there is still more room for growth where
students would have a more cohesive learning experience.

Kronholz, J. (2012). Can Khan Move the Bell Curve to the Right? Education Next, 12(2),
16-22. Retrieved from

In this article, Kronholz says Khan Academys greatest strength is that it is created to be
data driven for individual students. She does admit one potential problem could be the
fact that some students are too far behind. If teachers start them where they are, they
might never meet the standards or accomplish the level of math they are supposed to.
Two schools that are piloting the use of Khan Academy, Los Altos and Envision Schools,
are not ready to claim that it is a success and state that more time and data must be
collected first. They are ready to say there is promise for a future. For Envisions
summer-school Algebra class that used Khan Academy spent half of the time on algebra
skills and the other half on remedial skills and they performed better than the traditional
Algebra class which spent the entire time on Algebra skills. Kronholz says that some
administrators are scared that it has the potential to be a babysitting tool in large
classroom environments, especially for those kids that are really struggling. Others
advocate its use for blended learning, but know that it is necessary for teachers to be
properly trained and to have pilot teachers available in district as advocates. Training the
community because parents can log on and see the same data as the teachers and see if
their student is really working and achieving what they should.

Light, D. & Pierson, E. (2014). Increasing Student Engagement in Math: The Use of Khan
Academy in Chilean Classrooms. I nternational J ournal of Education & Development
Using I nformation and Communication Technology, 10(2), 103-119.

In this study, Light and Pierson explore the ways Chilean teachers are integrating Khan
Academy into their lessons and how its use impacts teaching and learning. Observations
and interviews of teachers, administration, and students are used to discuss and draw
conclusions on the impact of Khan Academy in the classroom. Five schools in the
developing country of Chile took part in this three-year pilot project. It was concluded
that while in the lab situation using Khan Academy, teachers took on a more fascinating
role and that the students were doing math instead of the teachers. Because of the
nature of the country and most students not having access to the internet outside of
school, Khan Academy was used to help students improve their math skills instead of
flipping the classroom. Light and Pierson concluded that Khan Academy provided
students with the opportunity to do more math by having contact with unlimited exercise.
Also, when students asked a peer for help, they did not simply receive an answer, but
instead guidance towards how to come up with the correct answer. The increased
interaction with the mathematics was shown to impact both student engagement and

Martin, A. (2013). Khan academy's impact on motivation, confidence, and skill level in
mathematics. (Order No. 1544809, Saint Mary's College of California). ProQuest
Dissertations and Theses, 87. Retrieved from (1439933002).

Martin, both teacher and researcher in this eight-week action research study wanted to
determine the impact of Khan Academy in relation to student motivation, confidence, and
skill level. As a result, she determined that at some point each students motivation,
confidence, and skill level was positively impacted. Student and parent impressions were
taken into considerations and at time mixed results of positive and negative comments
and feelings about Khan Academy were stated. It was determined, which would typically
be the case whether technology such as Khan Academy was used or not, that students
with higher level skills would have a higher level of confidence and motivation. Of
course the opposite would be true for students with a lower level of skill. As far as
implications for Martins classroom and teaching as well as for others outside of her
class, providing students with a program such as Khan Academy that allows them to
monitor their own learning as well as learn at their own pace provides an opportunity for
them to succeed in mathematics.

Murphy, R., Gallagher, L., Krumm, A., Mislevy, J., & Hafter, A. (2014). Research on the
use of Khan Academy in schools: Research brief. Palo Alto, CA: SRI International.
Retrieved from

This research brief focused on a two year study of 9 different sites which included a total
of 20 schools, 70 teachers, and 2,000 students in grades 5-10. This research brief focused
on how Khan Academy was implemented at three different sites as well as how Khan
Academy is working closely with the schools to explore ways of transforming how
instruction is organized, delivered, and experienced by students and teachers. Khan is
focused on creating a better product to meet the needs of teachers and students. The
effects of the use of Khan Academy alone cannot be separated from other elements
implemented at the same time to improve math instruction at the schools, but
nevertheless it can contributed to improved test scores among the other improvements.
As a result of the student positive outcomes were found in both teacher and student use
and perceptions. It was also found that a positive association was found between more
Khan Academy use and more problem set completed and 1) improvement in student test
scores and 2) improvements in nonacademic outcomes such as math anxiety, math self-
concept, and academic efficacy. Khan Academy is working hard to eliminate some of the
challenges that teachers faced such as the organization of content and how it is not
aligned with grade-level curriculums. One important piece of information to note was the
importance of the teachers role in education; this technology is not made to replace the
face-to-face interaction between teacher and student.

Schaffhauser, D. (2013). The Math of Khan. T.H.E. J ournal, 40(1), 19-25. Retrieved from

Plenty of people are advocating for the use of Khan Academy as well as criticizing its
use. Either way it is sparking conversation about math instruction which is a good thing,
no matter what side of the fence you are on. One criticism centers on pedagogy and the
accuracy of the instruction saying, isnt it really just kill-and-drill? Also, videos
explain broad concepts and dont focus on the misconceptions that students might have. It
also focuses on practicing instead of problem solving. The videos are receiving most of
the criticism, but that is only a small part of what Khan Academy has to offer. Its strength
lies in the data and open-ended and interactive math exercises. The incorporation of Khan
Academy has been most successful when implemented in a blended model, not as a
replacement of the teacher. The teacher still designs the curriculum; Khan Academy is
just another tool in the toolbox that a teacher can pull from.

Thompson, C. (2011). How Khan Academy is changing the rules of education. Wired
Magazine, 126. Retrieved from

This article is a summary of how and why Khan Academy began. In 1984 Benjamin
Bloom conducted a meta-study on students who had been pulled out of class for one-on-
one instruction and found that those students performed two standard deviations better
than their peers. It is known that one-on-one instruction is extremely beneficial to
students; however, it is financially impossible to afford. Khan has figured out a way to do
this without meaning one teacher for one student. He began with his cousins and found
that they had to haveautomatic mental processing before they could handle more-
advanced material. Khan continued recording videos, uploading them, creating
problems, and watching the data pouring in from his cousins. He decided to then create a
nonprofit and help other students instead of just his cousins. Soon Khan ended up with
financial backing from Bill Gates and Google. Now, Khan has collected millions of
pieces of data that he will begin to use to help better understand how students learn and if
they struggle in one area, what others might they also struggle with?

Khan AcademyThe Future

Khan, S. (2013). What College Could Be Like. Communications of the ACM, 56(1), 41-43.

In this article, Khan describes what college could, and arguably should, be like. Many of
his thoughts are based on what the University of Waterloo is already doing in Canada.
Many students from American universities are leaving their undergraduate experience
with huge amounts of debt and unable to find a job. Khan poses the possibility of
designing a different college experience that bridges the gap between what students
expect, the strengths that universities have, and what employers need. Khan also does not
believe that his idea would replace what already exists at universities and colleges across
the country, it would just be offered as a different option for some students who do not
want the traditional college experience. The idea is to have student interns work on real
projects with real professionals all the time, not just during the summer. This new college
idea would produce students who already had experience, most likely a job offer, and
little to no amount of debt. The school would help scaffold and support internships and
supplement with EdX, MOOCs, or Khan Academy.

Schroeder, R. (2012). Emerging Open Online Distance Education Environment. Continuing
Higher Education Review, 76, 90-99. Retrieved from

Schroeder is the founding director of the Center for Online Learning, Research, and
Service at the University of Illinois Springfield and discusses in this article the next
generation of massive online open indicatives such as Coursera, edX, MITx, iTunesU,
Khan Academy, Ted Ed, and University of the People to name just a few. There are many
different uses for these online educational opportunities where students can build
knowledge in thousands of areas without ever going into a classroom. Others, such as
Khan Academy are used by schools and universities as learning tools to review or
supplement instruction. Schroeder also discusses what this means for the future of higher
education. He does not believe that it will ever fully replace traditional higher education
but it can potentially offer a more cost-effective option for students and he believes that
some colleges might consider giving credit for proof of prior learning based on
certificates/badges awarded upon completion of courses.

Seyedmonir, B. (2013). The one world school house: education reimagined. Distance
Education, 34(3), 399-405.

This is a critique of Salman Khans book, The one world school house: education
reimagined. Seyedmonir talks about the three themes found in the book: 1)
autobiographical account of how Khan Academy came to be 2) Khans critique of the K-
12 educational system in America, and 3) his vision for a new educational system that
encompasses a global community. Khans future vision for education globally is to have
mixed-age classrooms where older students provide leadership and act as role models for
younger students. In Khans class teachers would team teach large classes where the
teacher-to-student ratio is 1:25, there would also be no division of disciplines. Web-based
drilling, such as Khan Academy, would take place for 1-2 hours a day and otherwise the
students would work on real-world projects. He also does not envision summer breaks.
Students would be allowed to take shorter breaks at different times of the year and would
easily be able to pick up right where they left off, or watch videos and keep up while on

Self-Regulatory Learning Environments

Azevedo, R. (2007). Understanding the complex nature of self-regulatory processes in
learning with computer based learning environments: an introduction.
Metacognition & Learning, 2(2/3), 57-65.

Self-regulatory learning is defined as an active, constructive process whereby students
set goals for learning and then attempt to monitor, regulate, and control their own
learning (Azevedo, 2007). Azevedo also states that learners typically have the most
difficulty with self-regulatory processes when it comes to more complex topics such as
science and math. The call for continued research is necessary to examine the role of self-
regulated learning in computer-based learning environment; if not, we will fail to
understand their potential.

Winters, F., Greene, J. & Costich, C. (2008). Self-Regulation of Learning within Computer-
based Learning Environments: A Critical Analysis. Educational Psychology Review,
20(4), 429-444.

Computer-based learning environments (CBLEs) create an opportunity for fostering
learning. Studies show that students have had difficulty in the past with these types of
learning environments, so the authors looked at the evidence from 33 different studies to
draw some conclusions. The evidence reviewed showed that students who are more
academically successful tend to use more effective self-regulatory learning strategies than
those that are less successful. They also found that students with higher prior knowledge
tend to engage in greater planning and monitoring of their own learning.

Zimmerman, B. & Tsikalas, K. (2005). Can Computer-Based Learning Environments
(CBLEs) Be Used as Self-Regulatory Tools to Enhance Learning?, Educational
Psychologists, 40(4), 267-271.

In this commentary, the fact that computer-based learning environments are creative
ways to get students engaged is not sufficient enough for Zimmerman and Tsikalas. They
believe that more research needs to be conducted to determine the effectiveness of self-
regulatory learning in computer based environments. Research has determined that self-
regulatory tools such as goal setting, planning, knowing when to ask for help, reflecting
on your own learning, and knowing when to ask for help is beneficial for students in
typical learning environments, just at the time of this commentary not enough research
had been conducted in computer-based learning environments.

Blended Learning Environments

Bernatek, B., Cohen, J., Hanlon, J., & Wilka, M. (2012). Case study: Summit Public
Schools. Blended Learning in Practice: Case Studies from Leading Schools. Austin,
TX: Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. Retrieved from

In this case study, the authors describe the learning environment of the 9
grade classes
at Summit Public Schools in San Jose, California. The case study focuses mainly on the
math classrooms that created a blended learning environment with the use of Khan
Academy as well as teacher led instruction in 2 hour block classes. The overall case study
examines the instructional, operational, and financial dimensions of the Summits model.
David Richards, the Executive Director of Summit Public Schools said a blended
learning environment allows for the use of better tools for great teaching. With the use of
Khan Academy, teachers are able to use real-time data to assist students in need and
instead of being forced to teach to the middle, they are able to create 35 different
experiences. The case study also addressed some of the successes that lead to a clearer
vision for education at Summit which was that innovation is a process and not a model
and the need for flexibility and adaptability of faculty. It also addressed some of the
challenges such as all teachers are like first year teachers and the underestimated amount
of technology infrastructure that was available in the beginning. In year two when both
ninth and tenth graders are at the school, some changes and improvements will be made,
and they will be further discussed in Wilka and Cohens (2013) case study.

Fletcher, J. (2012). The Keys to Success in Hybrid Programs. T.H.E. J ournal, 39(6), 27-31.

In this article, Fletcher says in order for blended learning to take place there must be face-
to-face interaction as well as online learning; however there are no set percentages on
how often either should take place. Several practices for achieving success were
discussed including collaboration (teachers experimenting together, community and
school assessing student learning, and working with vendors of learning management
systems), put learning needs before technology, and offer adequate technology support
for both teachers and students. Two other important pieces discussed was a hybrid model
for professional development so that teachers can experience successful models as well as
creating higher-quality face time between teachers and students.

Wilka, M. & Cohen, J. (2013). Its Not Just About the Model: Blended Learning,
Innovation, and Year 2 at Summit Public Schools. Blended Learning in Practice:
Case Studies from Leading Schools. Austin, TX: Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.
Retrieved from

Summit San Jose has gained national recognition in blended learning and has even
changed dramatically from what it was in the first year. The second year, which brought
combined 9
and 10
grade classes do not look anything like a typical classroom setting.
One hundred students are in a huge room with different options available for work
individually for personal learning time on Khan Academy, going to the tutoring bar for
assistance, or working with peers to better understand a concept. Adjoining the room are
four smaller rooms where groups of 25 students are listening to a lecture or working on a
group project for what is called core time. After an hour, the two sets of students
switch. Summits mission is to produce all students prepared for college and to be
contributing citizens. This case study highlights four key factors of innovation:
framework, data to drive learning and improvement, outside partnerships, and a culture
that supports innovation and change. The future of Summit schools looks bright. Two
new schools were introduced in the fall of 2013, and the data will continue to be
monitored and adjustments made as necessary. Only time will tell if the 9
graders that
began at Summit San Jose in 2011 will all go to college and graduate successfully.


Khan Academy has come a long way in the past few years and it could potentially have a bright
future. Salman Khan has worked hard to create a robust online learning tool to benefit teachers
and students. Although not many schools outside of California and Chile have made it well
known that they are using Khan Academy, it could be only a matter of time. Khan & Slavitt
(2013) know teachers must first change their mind set from being in front of a classroom full of
students all the same age, learning the same material and instead group students based on need.
They know schools will have to be open to experimenting with technology and new class
organization before their academy will really take off in the educational setting.

Bernatek, Cohen, Hanlon, & Wilka (2012) and Light & Pierson (2014) found that using Khan
Academy in a blended environment is best. This means that teachers would be teaching whole
group, small group as well as students having time to work individually online with Khan
Academy. Based on the research done with the students at the Summit San Jose and Chilean
Schools it would not be effective to use Khan Academy in isolation. Students only showed great
gains in basic and procedural knowledge with its use; a teacher is needed to ensure deep mastery
and drawing connections between topics.

Because of the new and continued growth of Khan Academy in educational settings, much more
research will be conducted in the near future on student achievement in high school and
preparedness for college. Khan Academy is built for students to be able to self-regulate their own
education, so Im sure there will be a lot of research focused on that aspect of the computer-
based learning environment as well.