Student Thoughts about the Khan Academy

I went to a “Technology Meets the Brain” conference on Wednesday.  It was a full house of energized teachers who love technology and are striving to make their teaching better through research by attending a conference.  Two teachers next to me started grumbling when the Khan Academy was mentioned.  Upon saying, “Not a big fan of the Khan Academy?”, the teacher next to me opened up.  Their two middle school aged children were required to do Khan Academy at their school.  When I asked them if their children liked it, “NO!” was their emphatic answer.  They told me that their children were not only required to become proficient in EVERY topic, but they also had to watch all the videos.  The Khan Academy software can track if the students watch the videos, so their children now hit the play button and then go and do other homework, then come back to work on the problem sets.  But the worst part, they told me, were the problem sets.  Some problem sets take a very long time to become proficient in.  And, if you accidentally type in something wrong you have to do many more problems.  Their children have been doing this since August, and they are sick of it.  They said that they and their children hated the Khan Academy.  Both of these friendly, engaging women are teachers.  And both of them are working to change things for their children.  They want their children to love math, especially in middle school where they know many students are lose interest in math forever.

They were looking for research to enlighten their children’s teachers.  When I started telling them about some of the criticism I had heard, they asked for links and sent me their email.  I emailed them links to some of these criticisms, which included:

I rarely use the Khan Academy, and only as a tool.  I do not use it to “flip” my class and I never assign the videos.  There are much better videos out there if you are willing to spend the time looking for them.  Like any other homework I assign, I only to ask them work for a maximum of 20 minutes.  Mostly, I have students use it for remediation and extra help or extra practice if they want it.

I should love the Khan Academy problem sets because kids get immediate feedback and I get tons of data.  But I don’t love it, so I don’t use it very often.  And after one really bad Khan experience, I do not require my students to become proficient in any topic.  Just like Fawn, my students really hate the fraction sets (and a few others), but they seem to like the new “Intuition Sets” (thanks to all the MTT2K’s for bringing this about).  I also dislike that I don’t have a place on their site where I keep the sets I want to use for easy assignment.

I was very surprised by my encounter with the two teachers and their strong reactions, especially since their children were such frequent users.  So, I decided to survey my students about their thoughts on Khan.  Since I am pretty ambivalent about it, I expect them to feel the same way.  I was surprised at the results.  Overall 6th graders ranged between liking and loving it, while 7th graders ranged from not liking it to hating it.  All of my students become frustrated when it takes “forever” to become proficient in a topic on Khan, especially if it is due to their frequent typing errors during solution entry.  “I had a negative on my paper but didn’t type it in!” or “I hit enter too soon!”  And even students that like the problems sets rarely watch the videos.  When asked how often they watched the videos, 75% of my students said rarely or never, 25% said occasionally and none of my students said often.

6th Grade Results

My 6th graders are first time computer owners, so they love anything technology.  As I very infrequently assign Khan sets, and never require proficiency, they have not really had a bad experience with it (where they were required to become proficient for class and it took them hours).  When I surveyed them about Khan I was surprised to see that several of them actually love it.  They said that it was fun and love earning points, even doing simple addition and multiplication sets just to earn extra points.

7th Grade Results

On the other hand, with the exception of only one student, most of my 7th graders HATE it.  I was actually quite surprised at this result as well.  I had never asked them if they liked it or not, and was not aware they felt so strongly against it.  I’m not sure what the big difference is between 6th and 7th grade.  ONCE I required that the 7th graders become proficient in one fraction topic.  They had a terrible time with it.  As soon as some of them told me how much they had been working on one set I told them that they did not have to become proficient.  Maybe this experience is what did them in.  I plan to look into this further with them.

What my students said they like about the Khan Academy:

  • “It’s a fun, new way of learning.”
  • “I like that it helps you through the steps”
  • “its fun and you do it for points too, not just work”
  • “Good practice”
  • “i like it because you can practice without worksheets.”
  • “I like how it helps with math.”
  • “It inspires me!”
  • “I like that it gives you points that you have to work up to”
  • “we can earn badges and unlock new characters”

What my students said they do not like about the Khan Academy

  • “It’s boring.” (70% of 7th graders said this).
  • “I don’t like how you have to do several more sets if you miss one problem by a careless mistake.”
  • “I do not like how if you get one problem wrong to are not in the blue section.”
  • “Because if i do not understand something I need 1 on 1 help not a computer.”
  • “It is hard to figure out equation bars, like the fraction, and if you do not do the right bar you get it wrong when the answer is right.”
  • “They do work a little different than we do in class.”
  • “They are worded weirdly.”
  • “More work less game.”
  • “I don’t like how it will just give you the answers.”
  • “the *help me* button is usually a different method than what we learn”
  • “When you mess up barely on one problem you have to do a whole other set”
  • “If you don’t have a link, it can sometimes be hard to find the problem sets and then you are looking at videos instead of problem sets.”
  • “It is confusing”
  • “Hard to use”

I recently stumbled upon the Khan sets for graphing systems of equations with slider bars that I would like to try out with my 7th grade.  It seems to be a fast, neat way to check your graphs of linear equations and see if you are getting the correct answer.  But only time will tell if it is a success, as my 7th grade students are Khan’s toughest critics.

The software I am dying to try out with my students is Ten Marks.  I just haven’t had the time to get organized.

Do you use Khan Academy with your students?  If so, how do you use it and do they like it?


21 thoughts on “Student Thoughts about the Khan Academy

  1. is much more ‘user friendly,’ I think, especially if you are assigning the clips to students. It’s a good site, is CCSS aligned, and offers support materials, too..

    • sincerely, Khan academy is the worst thing involving computers that i have ever seen. Here is my letter to khan academy- Dear Unloved, Stupid Khan academy, I wish you would kindly go die. I wish you would put yourself into a peice of paper and be shredded, stomped on, and thrown in the trash. Then set the trash on fire. After you are a pile of ashes, i want to lock you in a lead box with some dog dung and a poisonous scorpion and jump of a plane into the mariana trench. Extremely Sincerely, Khanhater

  2. I have used Khan in summer school.. The students enjoyed it at first and the became frustrated when missing one would set them back so much. I didn’t feel missing one was a reflection of their knowledge. I have forwarded this to a teacher in our high school who uses Khan every day with a special education Algebra 1 class and look forward to her response. I teach the gen Ed Algebra 1 And 2 and have been using a site this site you can set up free trials with. However, you do have to buy a subscription so not as convenient as Khan (which is free). But with IXL it allowed me to test in a specific standard. The points work similar to Khan however when a student misses a question they can see their answer and the correct one. It also gives them step by step explanations as how to derive the solution, the students seem interested in figuring where they went wrong. I feel both sites however should not set the students back in points so far when they miss one. Students tend to get frustrated quickly then. The other nice aspect of IXL is that it is easy to flip from one standard to another if they get tired of one particular concept then they can go back later. I used it this week with substitution with systems. When the students worked and got tired of substitution method they could flip over and practice with graphing method (we have not covered elimination yet).


  3. I use Khan Academy for two things: First, to let kids explore the topics in a new unit before we really get into it, and second, as remediation.

    While I have encouraged kids to watch the videos to get a different person showing them how to work the problems, I know that most of them don’t bother. Instead, they try to “cheat” by having their nearest friend explain how to do the problems. They think I don’t know and they don’t think they’re learning at all. So, it adds an extra layer of fun because they think they’re getting away with something.

    My students are 7th graders, and about a third of them have no internet access at home. So anything on the computers is fun to them. I wouldn’t use KA as my primary lesson delivery for a variety of reasons, but I like having it available.

  4. Pingback: Favorite Math Class Website – MS Sunday Funday | I Speak Math

  5. I am creating my own support videos as I go along and posting them to our LMS (Haiku). I also found that Khan Academy is often put differently or is pitched to advanced or too simple for where my students are at. I am finding that kids really appreciate the videos that help them specifically.

  6. I have used Ten Marks. If you are honestly looking for multiple choice practice, it is sufficient. However, it is very generic, and the formatting of the problems (powers, square roots, number lines, etc.) is sometimes confusing. Although it does give immediate feedback, my students were not engaged even with a little friendly competition on the line. I love Manga High!

  7. I use khan academy to review topics ahead of time in chemistry and linear algebra. I am a freshman in college, and I find it extremely useful as a supplement. It isn’t supposed to replace anything.

  8. I disagree with the 7th graders. It is clear they have only used Khan Academy for a short time because some of their complaints are incorrect. They have not tried to explore further into Khan Academy or tried to find the solutions to their problems; they have only seen the “wrong” of it.

    One seventh grader said, “I do not like how it will just give you the answers.” This is highly misleading. If you press on the hints again and again until there are no more hints, it will give you the answer, but if you type in the answer in, you won’t get any credit for it. At the top, there will be a little light bulb, not a check mark. So therefore, if you keep using the hints, you will never complete the task.

    Another seventh grade said, “More work, less game.” This is not true about Khan Academy. On the site, if you earn enough energy points, you can earn yourself avatars and backgrounds to customize your profiles. You know what else there is? A whole list of games user-created games made with code! What more can you ask for? There is computer coding using Javascript, which can be accessed by any Khan users. They learn to code their own games and pictures. These 7th grade students have probably not even spent more than 1 hour on Khan Academy and already they assume these untrue statements of Khan Academy.

    On top of all that, Khan Academy is free. It’s fun, interactive, educational, and FREE. You are not required to pay for all of this, when on IXL (IXL is a website I do not favor much; it is very repetitive, it is frustrating, and I usually tend to quit when doing any lessons on it at all) you have to pay for education that is not even worth it. If you do not yet like Khan Academy, I am telling you now: give it a chance. Try it out for more than just 1 hour. You’ll find out what it really offers, all of its features, and how much fun it really is.

    P.S. I’m only 11. Do not take my word for it if you tend to not trust kids’ opinions. 🙂

    • im a kid. im 12. and i hate khan academy. ive been using it for almost 3 years now, and i am forced to do it everyday for 2-2.5 hours just because it is FREE. the videos itself do not make sense, the questions are misleading and make students get confused and java script?! it takes forever to code a game and much less do anything when you start coding. even if you have the wits and perseverance like me, you will eventually get sick of how horrible khan is. YOU YOURSELF have probably not done khan academy long enough, or else you would be ashamed that you even decided to oppose the people who had the same opinions as you

  9. I find it difficult to believe that the previous poster, with whom I agree on most points, is an 11 year old. Precocious, to put it mildly. Especially in this day and age.

    I am using Khan Academy as a remedial tool in preperation for the GED test. Khan has inspired and enabled me to relearn all the math I’d already forgotten by the time I dropped out of school. I started on 7th grade math in early December- now I’m well into Geometry and Algebra.

    This program should never be used as a sole teaching tool- the critique of Khan Academy’s failure to help students conceptualize/ deeply understand mathematical concepts seems spot on to me. I know I’d be struggling much more had I not already been exposed to the material in a high school classroom setting 15 years ago.

    Also, I don’t like Khan. His vocal inflections sound bizzare to me, and his typically monotone voice sends me into a trance rather than illiciting my attention, not an easy task, given that I suffer (and benefit) from Attention Surplus Syndrome (making this up on the spot 🙂 I try to aviod watching his videos, and yet I’ve had no trouble progressing through the program.

    While it can be frustrating to accidentally enter the wrong questions, especially when just one more correct answer is needed to move on to the next topic, students who have truly mastered a concept ought to be able to work back up to the 5 correct answers in a row (sometimes 3) needed to move on to the next section relatively quickly. There is a direct correlation between the intensity of the sinking feeling the student experiences when they’ve entered the wrong answer and the the student’s mastery/ non-mastery of the material. I know this from experience. Although it’s frustrating to spend an hour on more on the same problem set, I prefer to know exactly what I’m doing before I move on to the the next topic. I’ve earned many persistence badges (so pointless to someone who’s not motivated by point systems & nominal rewards).

    Overall, Khan Academy is a great resource that every maths student should have in their tool kit. It is really quite fun and simple to use, and my understanding is that they continue to improve the material and software/ user interface. I don’t know how relearning math would have been without this free program, but I’m guessing it would have involved long hours in basic remedial math at the local community college. As it is, I’m starting out in Algebra class on Wed. after getting a 94% on the GED placement test. So, I for one am most gratefull for KA.

  10. I am a 7th grader, and I agree that khan academy does kinda suck.
    I think that may be because I am being forced to do it which makes it a lot less enjoyable. ESPECIALLY because its summer break. Since being forced to do something makes people (usually) want to do the opposite. I think it applies to this as well.
    Or I may just be stupid and hate it because I can’t get the questions right.
    The videos are usually helpful. But I don’t like watching it cause it takes up more time then just reading instructions. But the hint button doesn’t explain it as well and is often confusing for me to understand.
    I think the 6th graders liked it more because the material for them is significantly easier to get the hang of. My motivation for school dropped a big amount when I got to 7th grade. Everything was fine up till 7th. Now I can barely get a good grade (aka a 3) So I’m kinda hanging on by 2.9s
    So the 7th graders probably don’t enjoy it because the material for them is harder to understand. Khan academy is probably not the major problem here.
    I will look at some of the negative opinions and review them based on my opinion and knowledge.
    Looking at a few comments above. Some people say that the monotone voice is well, depressing.
    I might just have a bias for monotone voiced people but I’d say its rather calming.
    The problem about how much it sets you back when you get it slightly wrong is quite annoying. The problems are usually from stupid mistakes, the question being weirdly worded, or the fact that the question wasn’t specified enough that it makes the person assume the answer to be in a format which would not count as the correct answer. (ex: Khan academy doesn’t specify to “Round up completely, or Round to the nearest tenth. And if someone is used to rounding to the tenths, then they would do the tenths just to be counted wrong by khan academy because they were supposed to round up completely.”
    I would not like to talk about this topic no longer as it is late and I have to go to sleep. (Haha sleeping for only 7 hours now. Man.)
    But this is my (unprofessional) opinion, essay(?)

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