Khan Academy: Why the Flipped Classroom Won’t Save Education

This guest post by Derrick Waddell was previously published in his blog, Teach the Cloud.

With 60 Minutes touting it as “the future of education,” and backing coming from tech industry giants like Bill Gates, Khan Academy and the concept of the flipped classroom have been brought to the forefront of the education reform debate.  The Khan Academy does offer some great resources for supplementing and differentiating instruction. It’s this kind of content that will lead us away from the idea of digital textbooks and toward the idea of teachers curating content from across the web that is specific to the learners in their classrooms.  However, I don’t think it’s the “savior” in and of itself.  In fact, I think the idea of the flipped classroom is inherently flawed.  Here’s why:

1. It’s Still Consumption.

How can initiatives like Khan Academy, the flipped classroom, and digital textbooks reform education when they are still presenting information for students to consume?  The future of education isn’t a new way to consume, it’s new ways of thinking about how students learn like project-based and collaborative learning.

2. Teachers are Accountable for Student Achievement.


The flipped classroom puts control of learning into the hands of students.  Not a bad concept, but it does pose a problem with the US education system as it is today.  Teachers are tasked with educating every student and are held accountable for proving it.  How can they be held accountable for learning that is supposed to be taking place outside of the classroom?  Before ideas like this can work, we must change the way we think about education as a whole.
3. Not Every Home can Support a Flipped Classroom.My biggest problem with the idea of the flipped classroom? Access to the flipped classroom is not ubiquitous. With much of the country still without broadband internet, especially rural areas (link to PDF from FCC) and areas with high poverty rates, an overwhelming number of students in our country would not be able to access Khan Academy videos from home.  Those who could would only increase the academic achievement gap between high- and low-income families prevalent in American education.  Until broadband is in every home, the flipped classroom will disenfranchise a segment of US students.

Like I stated earlier, the Khan Academy offers some outstanding resources for supplementing and differentiating instruction.  These kinds of online resources offer opportunities to students and teachers that they haven’t had in the past.  I just think it would benefit educators and non-educators alike to step back from the excitement of the idea of the flipped classroom and stop praising it as something it’s not.

Yesterday, I saw a comic strip posted over on The Innovative Educator Blog that characterizes the way I feel about Khan Academy:

(Original can be found here)

Since posting this commentary, I’ve had a some conversations where I have been taken to task for my opinions on the topic.  Allow me to clarify: The point of this post isn’t to bash Khan Academy–I love what they’re doing, and I’m glad it has given teachers and students resources that they lacked previously.  The point was to step back from the glitz and glamor and examine the flipped classroom from another point of view.  The point was to shed some light on my concerns with the idea of the flipped classroom and open the eyes of some people who have failed to consider the negatives, especially to rural areas of the country.  The biggest of these concerns is access to broadband internet, which I will discuss at length in an upcoming blog post.  Feel free to post in the comments, positive or negative.
Thanks for reading,


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Khan Academy: Why the Flipped Classroom Won’t Save Education by Derrick Waddell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

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5 thoughts on “Khan Academy: Why the Flipped Classroom Won’t Save Education

  1. Hi Derrick,

    I totally agree with you. Khan academy is a great resource to learn from, but it is just one part of education. At the end of the day, the most important skills that students should be able to get from learning is to synthesize, evaluate, formulate and develop new information! New discoveries and practical applications are the final aims of learning. Khan academy lacks that mechanism. That is why I created I wanted a more hands-on approach. Students explore. Students discover. Students apply the knowledge. Finally, students transform old knowledge to new knowledge and applications!


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