Khan Academy Learns From and Responds to Criticism

The Khan Academy, maker of increasingly popular educational videos—more than 3,200 since last count—is the subject of a light-hearted parody video performed by two math teachers in the style of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Teachers John Golden and Dave Coffey poke fun of a Khan video on multiplying and dividing positive and negative integers, pointing out what they perceived to be shortcomings in the teaching method.

You have to be slightly familiar with Khan as well as the the American cult television comedy series MST3K in order to truly appreciate Coffey’s and Golden’s humor here. The main idea is that Khan’s methodology is being criticized in a gentle yet targeted way. Within just a few days of the parody video’s posting, the tutorial being commented on was removed from YouTube by Khan Academy and replaced with two newer lectures that made sure to address the shortcomings Coffey and Golden pointed out.

What just happened here? Khan experienced a direct result of its own popularity and explosion on the educational technology scene, became the subject of criticism, and responded in kind by addressing the valid concerns of teachers who had dedicated their lives to mathematical pedagogy. Websites lit up at the arrival of the parody video with articles on Huffington Post, Slate, and many others, and Khan responded by responsibly amending the lecture. The organization learned from the experience and forged ahead. According to Slate’s article, Salman Khan sent a comment to Justin Reich—who linked to the parody video on EdWeek—saying he appreciated the feedback.

It is worth noting that Coffey and Golden’s video is not an outright attack on Khan Academy. In no way did the teachers issue any malicious commentary or deplore the existence of Khan at all. But the gentle and humorous parody could pave the way for more criticisms, perhaps harsher ones. In order to maintain its vision of “changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere,” the non-profit organization must continue to heed the feedback of educators, administrators and students and responding to valid criticism.

So what is next? You might have noticed that Coffey and Golden have declared this video as the first episode. Their blog Math Hombre will more than likely produce additional videos addressing critiques of Khan Academy. Will their criticisms continue to be valid, and will Khan continue to address the issues? Judging by the rapid response to the first video, it is reasonable to believe that Khan will continue to learn and respond to feedback. Is it a stretch to wonder if perhaps they’ll make fans out of Coffey and Golden at some point?