Let’s teach for mastery — not test scores | Sal Khan

I’m here today to talk about
the two ideas that, at least based on
my observations at Khan Academy, are kind of the core,
or the key leverage points for learning. And it’s the idea of mastery and the idea of mindset. I saw this in the early days
working with my cousins. A lot of them were having trouble
with math at first, because they had all of these gaps
accumulated in their learning. And because of that, at some point
they got to an algebra class and they might have been a little bit
shaky on some of the pre-algebra, and because of that, they thought
they didn’t have the math gene. Or they’d get to a calculus class, and they’d be a little bit
shaky on the algebra. I saw it in the early days when I was uploading
some of those videos on YouTube, and I realized that people
who were not my cousins were watching. (Laughter) And at first, those comments
were just simple thank-yous. I thought that was a pretty big deal. I don’t know how much time
you all spend on YouTube. Most of the comments are not “Thank you.” (Laughter) They’re a little edgier than that. But then the comments
got a little more intense, student after student saying
that they had grown up not liking math. It was getting difficult as they got
into more advanced math topics. By the time they got to algebra, they had so many gaps in their knowledge
they couldn’t engage with it. They thought they didn’t
have the math gene. But when they were a bit older, they took a little agency
and decided to engage. They found resources like Khan Academy and they were able to fill in those gaps
and master those concepts, and that reinforced their mindset
that it wasn’t fixed; that they actually were capable
of learning mathematics. And in a lot of ways, this is how
you would master a lot of things in life. It’s the way you would
learn a martial art. In a martial art, you would
practice the white belt skills as long as necessary, and only when you’ve mastered it you would move on to become a yellow belt. It’s the way you learn
a musical instrument: you practice the basic piece
over and over again, and only when you’ve mastered it, you go on to the more advanced one. But what we point out — this is not the way a traditional
academic model is structured, the type of academic model
that most of us grew up in. In a traditional academic model, we group students together,
usually by age, and around middle school, by age and perceived ability, and we shepherd them all
together at the same pace. And what typically happens, let’s say we’re in a middle school
pre-algebra class, and the current unit is on exponents, the teacher will give
a lecture on exponents, then we’ll go home, do some homework. The next morning,
we’ll review the homework, then another lecture, homework,
lecture, homework. That will continue for about
two or three weeks, and then we get a test. On that test, maybe I get a 75 percent, maybe you get a 90 percent, maybe you get a 95 percent. And even though the test identified
gaps in our knowledge, I didn’t know 25 percent of the material. Even the A student, what was
the five percent they didn’t know? Even though we’ve identified the gaps, the whole class will then
move on to the next subject, probably a more advanced subject
that’s going to build on those gaps. It might be logarithms
or negative exponents. And that process continues,
and you immediately start to realize how strange this is. I didn’t know 25 percent
of the more foundational thing, and now I’m being pushed
to the more advanced thing. And this will continue for months, years,
all the way until at some point, I might be in an algebra class
or trigonometry class and I hit a wall. And it’s not because algebra
is fundamentally difficult or because the student isn’t bright. It’s because I’m seeing an equation
and they’re dealing with exponents and that 30 percent
that I didn’t know is showing up. And then I start to disengage. To appreciate how absurd that is, imagine if we did other things
in our life that way. Say, home-building. (Laughter) So we bring in the contractor and say, “We were told we have
two weeks to build a foundation. Do what you can.” (Laughter) So they do what they can. Maybe it rains. Maybe some of the supplies don’t show up. And two weeks later,
the inspector comes, looks around, says, “OK, the concrete
is still wet right over there, that part’s not quite up to code … I’ll give it an 80 percent.” (Laughter) You say, “Great! That’s a C.
Let’s build the first floor.” (Laughter) Same thing. We have two weeks, do what you can,
inspector shows up, it’s a 75 percent. Great, that’s a D-plus. Second floor, third floor, and all of a sudden,
while you’re building the third floor, the whole structure collapses. And if your reaction is the reaction
you typically have in education, or that a lot of folks have, you might say, maybe
we had a bad contractor, or maybe we needed better inspection
or more frequent inspection. But what was really broken
was the process. We were artificially constraining
how long we had to something, pretty much ensuring a variable outcome, and we took the trouble of inspecting
and identifying those gaps, but then we built right on top of it. So the idea of mastery learning
is to do the exact opposite. Instead of artificially
constraining, fixing when and how long you work on something, pretty much ensuring
that variable outcome, the A, B, C, D, F — do it the other way around. What’s variable is when and how long a student actually has
to work on something, and what’s fixed is that
they actually master the material. And it’s important to realize that not only will this make the student
learn their exponents better, but it’ll reinforce
the right mindset muscles. It makes them realize that if you got
20 percent wrong on something, it doesn’t mean that you have
a C branded in your DNA somehow. It means that you should just
keep working on it. You should have grit;
you should have perseverance; you should take agency over your learning. Now, a lot of skeptics might say,
well, hey, this is all great, philosophically, this whole idea
of mastery-based learning and its connection to mindset, students taking agency
over their learning. It makes a lot of sense,
but it seems impractical. To actually do it, every student
would be on their own track. It would have to be personalized, you’d have to have private tutors
and worksheets for every student. And these aren’t new ideas — there were experiments
in Winnetka, Illinois, 100 years ago, where they did mastery-based learning
and saw great results, but they said it wouldn’t scale
because it was logistically difficult. The teacher had to give different
worksheets to every student, give on-demand assessments. But now today, it’s no longer impractical. We have the tools to do it. Students see an explanation
at their own time and pace? There’s on-demand video for that. They need practice? They need feedback? There’s adaptive exercises
readily available for students. And when that happens,
all sorts of neat things happen. One, the students can actually
master the concepts, but they’re also building
their growth mindset, they’re building grit, perseverance, they’re taking agency over their learning. And all sorts of beautiful things
can start to happen in the actual classroom. Instead of it being focused
on the lecture, students can interact with each other. They can get deeper mastery
over the material. They can go into simulations,
Socratic dialogue. To appreciate what we’re talking about and the tragedy of lost potential here, I’d like to give a little bit
of a thought experiment. If we were to go 400 years
into the past to Western Europe, which even then, was one of the more
literate parts of the planet, you would see that about 15 percent
of the population knew how to read. And I suspect that if you asked someone
who did know how to read, say a member of the clergy, “What percentage of the population
do you think is even capable of reading?” They might say, “Well,
with a great education system, maybe 20 or 30 percent.” But if you fast forward to today, we know that that prediction
would have been wildly pessimistic, that pretty close to 100 percent
of the population is capable of reading. But if I were to ask you
a similar question: “What percentage of the population
do you think is capable of truly mastering calculus, or understanding organic chemistry, or being able to contribute
to cancer research?” A lot of you might say, “Well,
with a great education system, maybe 20, 30 percent.” But what if that estimate is just based on your own experience
in a non-mastery framework, your own experience with yourself
or observing your peers, where you’re being pushed
at this set pace through classes, accumulating all these gaps? Even when you got that 95 percent, what was that five percent you missed? And it keeps accumulating —
you get to an advanced class, all of a sudden you hit a wall and say, “I’m not meant to be a cancer researcher; not meant to be a physicist;
not meant to be a mathematician.” I suspect that that actually is the case, but if you were allowed to be operating
in a mastery framework, if you were allowed to really
take agency over your learning, and when you get something wrong, embrace it — view that failure
as a moment of learning — that number, the percent
that could really master calculus or understand organic chemistry, is actually a lot closer to 100 percent. And this isn’t even just a “nice to have.” I think it’s a social imperative. We’re exiting what you could call
the industrial age and we’re going into
this information revolution. And it’s clear that some
things are happening. In the industrial age,
society was a pyramid. At the base of the pyramid,
you needed human labor. In the middle of the pyramid,
you had an information processing, a bureaucracy class, and at the top of the pyramid,
you had your owners of capital and your entrepreneurs and your creative class. But we know what’s happening already, as we go into this information revolution. The bottom of that pyramid,
automation, is going to take over. Even that middle tier,
information processing, that’s what computers are good at. So as a society, we have a question: All this new productivity is happening
because of this technology, but who participates in it? Is it just going to be that very top
of the pyramid, in which case, what does everyone else do? How do they operate? Or do we do something
that’s more aspirational? Do we actually attempt
to invert the pyramid, where you have a large creative class, where almost everyone
can participate as an entrepreneur, an artist, as a researcher? And I don’t think that this is utopian. I really think that this
is all based on the idea that if we let people
tap into their potential by mastering concepts, by being able to exercise agency
over their learning, that they can get there. And when you think of it
as just a citizen of the world, it’s pretty exciting. I mean, think about
the type of equity we can we have, and the rate at which civilization
could even progress. And so, I’m pretty optimistic about it. I think it’s going to be
a pretty exciting time to be alive. Thank you. (Applause)

100 Replies to “Let’s teach for mastery — not test scores | Sal Khan”

  1. You want to hear blasian? I wonder if God actually does anything. Or maybe he just influences things subtly with such margin that he survives by the karmic consequences. Like, if I actually found God, maybe he's similar to a drone operator.

  2. From personal experience in a mastery learning system: the mastery learning system made me dissuaded, and think that “maybe it’s not my thing, this physics/chemistry/math.” I see what he’s trying to say, but I also see the fact that many students at my school are going to finish school late because they’re going to have to redo our 10 grade literature and writing class next year because they haven’t mastered enough units. Then, they’re also not allowed to attend stuff like MUN and World Scholars Cup, which could easily show that maybe the student isn’t good at stuff being taught at school, bit he could be a good diplomat. Anyways, I just wanted people to have both sides of the story with this comment, and I hope Sal could see this and possibly answer my questions, and possibly build off of that to inverse the social pyramid he’s talking about. Thank you.

  3. Wow. This is such a powerful idea. Maybe someday 100% of the population might be able to contribute to all our intellecutal fields. However we really do need personalised learning.

  4. I'm going to study for mastery, not test scores, I'm sure even if my test scores would suffer due to test anxiety, it would be worth it when I come out as a successful human being as I could react to problems with solutions.

  5. Sal Khan, you are a true leader in making the world advance in learning strategies and education. Thank God for people like you! The time for serious change in how learning is approached. I found in my own experience that this is exactly what happens to multitudes, they start to believe, as I did that being bad at math is a character defect or hereditary.

  6. am I the onlyone who thinks the voice doesnt match the person ? And also that he sounds like Barak Obama

  7. Genius man this man is a genius… I was just watching this thinking oh yeah great idea but never gonna happen… and by the end of the video my mouth is hanging open and I'm thinking wow this really can be our future- this is a solution because people are not meant to be at the bottom there is no need for people not to push themselves- everyone can be great can achieve something…

  8. They used to separate us in like 5th grade into "gifted math students" and "lower math classes". It really hurt my confidence when i was put into a lower math class. Really made me question my own abilities from such a young age. Fucked up system.

  9. Agree 100 percent with Sal's claims about mastery. If we don't master one concept, it'll become a gap when trying to grasp another more difficult topic. It's like trying to learn multiplication when you're struggling with addition.

  10. On the last full week of school, I had tests.
    Tuesday… (Art district final)
    Wednesday… (Music District final)
    Thrusday… (P.E district final)
    And I finally got a break on Friday!
    I think I have too many tests. 🙁 I not even sure if I listed them all.

  11. Very interesting. My school has actually tried implementing Personalized Learning and I must say it really only works on paper. When you implement Personalized Learning, you giving a lot of responsibility to students to learn. What I've learned from seeing this is that a lot of students end up being lazy and they don't do ANYTHING until days before the test.

  12. This man has probably taught more people math than anyone in history (outside of the ancient masters, of course). So weird I've learned so much from him, but this is literally the first time I've bothered looking up his face.

  13. He has a really good point. I have many gaps in my 'mathematical career,' I suppose you could call it that. Now due to the fact I am extremely shaky on the basics, it has led me to plunder and fall during seventh grade. This man is legendary and has changed education.

  14. Woah woah can we back up for a second. "75% well that's a D+". WHAT. HOW? that's a high mark. In Australia I need 40% to pass. I would literally fail absolutely rely everything if I needed in excess of 75% to pass how does that even work?

  15. Now after being introduced to Khan Academy ,I despise the school education I had been getting for 10 years.I mean ,Mr.Khan has really changed the whole education process.

  16. Amazing. This is something I started to discover in my sophomore year of high school. I never valued education growing up, I failed in most of my classes, only God knows how I passed my classes, until I decided to push myself to learn. I was always great with math, one of the top students, and I saw that the reason why my friends struggled was because of those gaps they didn’t understand. For example, multiplying/dividing an inequality will change the sign, they didn’t know these concepts.. which overwhelmed them and made them give up because they thought they were incapable of understanding the subject. When I come to a concept I don’t understand, I do EVERYTHING I can to understand it (especially the little topics because those make for the larger topics). This makes grit in me and makes me understand that nothing can hold me back from learning a new concept other than my choice to not put in work. I was terrible in the sciences, literature, English, history, almost everything, and now I score very high in all of these subjects because it all contributes to your grit and effort to understand the material. I know that I can be very successful now, unlike before, where these gaps destroyed any confidence I had towards success, but I know now that applying this work ethic will always be valued anywhere that I go and make anyone successful.
    Loved your video!

  17. As someone who has done both martial arts and music, damn. Those examples hit me hard. Maybe I can learn math

  18. So many other online courses that chard $500 or more. I love Khan academy because it high quality and free. I love living in this generation because the internet is such a great place to go to learn.

  19. Thanks so much Sal !!! I’m one of those people who got left behind by the fixed-schedule public school service delivery model. I’m working my way through Kahn Academy algebra. You’ve helped me and so many other people around the world so much! Keep up the great work.

  20. This video was shot on 9/26/16 (Or posted..whatever). It's now mid 2019. Need to get our world on track here! I just recently found Khan Academy and Sal is so right! I'm going back to learning principles that I learned just barely enough to data dump to the next year but I'm truly interested in learning them much better. Not for my job…but for ME! Thank you Sal for this video and for Khan Academy!

  21. This is Sal Khan, creator of the infamous 'Khan Academy' a program in which is used by teachers to determine how well a student is progressing through quiz scores..

  22. he kinda looks like ross from friends which makes me happy because ross is a reminder to me that im not the only one in the world who's sad and clumsy

  23. God bless you Sal. That gap you're talking about is like 75% to me and your videos have helped me TREMENDOUSLY. I seriously cannot thank you enough and best of luck to you and everyone following you

  24. I scored an 800 in my Quant GRE (back when the GRE score quant and qual sections used to be out of 800) but was always very weak in math in school. I am currently a quantitative researcher and professor. I am watching his linear algebra series and often get the same feeling I used to get in my math classes in high school. He seems to think that his videos are very clear but they are not to me. The problem is, every person has a different way of learning, and one video cannot cater to a hundred different styles. When I learn about a "dot product" I need to know its practical utility. Otherwise, I get confused. And that's just my quirk. I get dozens of questions after every video of his. But I just keep moving on as I did in high school.

  25. Lemme tell ya something. My highschool did not like I was homeschooled and was taught for mastery

  26. Im amused to see Khan after only listening and learning on youtube. If only he would talk slowly like in the lessons lol

  27. Lol I thought he had an Indian accent and used a voice modifier to sound like a middle aged white guy.

  28. I was always searching for a way to do maths on my own speed, in class I was always bored because I understood everything right away, my teachers didn't knew what to do with me. One year ago I started doing Algebra on Khan Academy, I'm at Integral Calculus now.
    Thanks to Khan academy I made huge progress and started finding the joy I had doing maths, I spend a lot of time studying maths during the holidays.I started joining math competitions and got some achievements in those lately and joined math clubs at the University. Thank you so much Salman Khan, I would never get to the point where I am now.

  29. Just superb. This man is one of my idols. This is the best approach towards learning and I wish each one of us strives to achieve this mindset. This video is a must watch for every teacher (and for every leaner as well).

  30. Current system = smart people get smarter, average gets left behind

    Khan's system = everyone gets smarter, win win

  31. If you can say 1% of what he said in a job interview, you walked out with the job offer – the great concept of seeing the pyramid in an inverted position

  32. This voice has helped me remember long-forgotten math concepts so I can help my kids with their math homework! (And it made much more sense!)
    This TED talk was so inspirational, I loved it!

  33. Einstein said something similar about education.
    He said:
    "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer."

  34. Sal is my hero. Because of him I just applied to University to study Computer Science. In high school I would have laughed and side eyed my math grades while laughing a bit more at this (then) ridiculous notion. Thank you.

  35. School knocked any interest in mathematics right out of me, just today I heard about the academy and I'm loving algebra.

  36. This video has truly inspired me. I’m studying for my MCAT right now and needed to hear these words of wisdom.

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