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Stupid is as Stupid does

The Reluctant Hero

Salman Khan never intended to be an education icon.

He only started making videos in 2004 to help his cousin learn math. Then other relatives joined in and so he started uploading some of his lectures to YouTube. Soon he was surprised when his videos were viewed by many unknown students in a world apparently eager to learn.

At first he didn't realise his teaching methodoloy had "flipped the classroom” - a formula that was simple yet brilliant.

How Khan Flipped his Classroom

The video lectures – the presentation part of teaching – were assigned as homework. His students could go through the video at their own pace…pausing and rewinding…until they thoroughly understood that lecture’s material.

So instead of a teacher delivering a lecture at one standard speed, to say 30 students, they could now get the same lecture at an individual pace they could personally digest and understand.

The videos were kept short - 10 minutes - mostly because that was YouTube's maximum length at the time.

Then, when they came back to the classroom, they “practiced” the material so as to “consolidate” from short term to long term memory thereby creating new knowledge - a state where you just know something. Usually this practice stage is done as the familiar "homework" that we were all given as kids.

This too had benefits. If a student got stuck somewhere, that individual student could now be targeted for specific and individualized intervention strategies.


This presentation-practice-consolidation teaching formula is hardly new. It’s a teaching technique as old as time.

What’s different is how the presentation and practice stages have been switched around allowing for greater optimization of each part.

Stupid is as Stupid does

A flipped classroom means that everyone digests the lecture at their own speed.

Traditionally, in a one speed classroom, the kids who got a new topic fastest were tagged smart and 'gifted.' The slowest were labeled "remedial" and sometimes both groups were assigned to differenent classes.

But in a flipped classroom when someone gets stuck on topic, intervention strategies kick in with the teacher and/or kids who've already mastered that milestone helping.

And here's the surprising result: once the slow kids "got it", they raced and caught up to the bright kids - sometimes even becoming the new stars of the class.

Khan thinks that some of us may "internalize" some our learning, which takes longer to process. But that doesn't mean that these types of learners can't understand. It just means they may need more time. Indeed, they may learn deeper and in the long run have a greater understanding.

But historically, these students are seen as not performing and often that leads to kids who say, "I'm not good in math." They begin seeing themselves as not smart and begin behaving accordingly.

The World's Largest School

What started with math videos for his cousins has spread around the globe. Word spread online and Khan began to notice appreciative comments appearing under his videos.

One of those early users was Microsoft's Bill Gates who used the videos to teach his kids.

This morphed in 2006 into The Khan Academy which today offers more than 5,000 free online lessons on an array of subjects.

And some 10 million students.

Khan Academy videos are viewed up to 200,000 times in a single day.

Along the way, the Khan Academy has gotten significant funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and from Google.

And most recently from Carlos Slim - the world's richest man. His foundation will "...get access to education and training courses by translating them into Spanish."

Why You Should Listen

Salman Khan’s original 2011 TED Talk inspired the world where he showed the power of interactive exercies.

He called for teachers to consider flipping the traditional classroom — giving students video lectures to watch at home, and doing their "homework" in the classroom with the teacher available to help.

Khan agures in this new model, empowers teachers as mentors - and not simply lecturers as in they were in the past.

Technology won't replace teachers. But teachers who use technology will replace those who don't.

About the Author

I’m the Managing Director at Vantage Siam, an authorized Cambridge English Exam Centre and management training firm.
We offer "flipped" English language training via blended learning to both students and professionals in Thailand and also to remote learners throughout China.

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