Is Khan Academy the Next Generation LMS?

Since 2011, the online resource of thousands of educational videos has been heralded as the “savior of education” and a model for flipped classrooms (I’m going to bite my tongue on this one), and now, the go-to place for “personalized learning.” There’s a whole lot of bad in here for a lot of different reasons. But, the newest piece, the idea of personalized learning delivered by Khan Academy, is dangerous.

How do you recognize an LMS? This is what I came up with:

  • An LMS reports data, people reflect.
  • An LMS flags poor performance, people grow through engaging members of the community
  • An LMS hosts and organizes learning content, people build their content as they learn
  • An LMS keeps track of grades, people couldn’t care less about grades when they’re engaged.

Remember, an LMS is a machine, nothing more, nothing less. It will only give what you put into it.

Now, back to my question. Khan Academy.

“Personalized learning” has popped up in KA promotional materials lately. (It is the phrase you use in a conference proposal to make sure it’s picked up.) The problem is that the personalized learning offered by most third party groups isn’t personalized at all. It’s actually randomized degree of difficulty. In other words, it’s a giant, adaptive test bank that feigns its way into schools under the guise of personalization. Students are still stuck in the system. They are still forced through the steps and procedures. They have no choice in how to demonstrate their learning other than the built in, old fashioned assessments. Personalization is being eroded because either companies are really good at sales and marketing, or we’re all looking for the wrong things.

And this is why Khan Academy is nothing more than a big, fancy LMS. While powerful and extremely helpful, every LMS out there locks you into their system. If you have students, assignments, announcements, documents, and assessments poured into one place, it becomes very difficult to see any reason to step away from that construct. Sure, they make the teachers life easier, but once you’re in, it’s hard to get out (mostly because of time constraints, not necessarily procedures to switch platforms).

The big difference between “traditional” systems is that the teacher was in control of the content. Not so with Khan Academy, and this is why it’s more dangerous than the others. Teachers and schools are diving into the system because of the helpful data and videos, but at the same time, they’re unwittingly sacrificing any option for a student to choose to do something different.

We’re asking the wrong questions when it comes to evaluating learning tools for our students.

While enticing, we should not be jumping toward anything that has content baked into the system. It becomes too easy to begin relying on that content as the backbone of your course, whether you “mean” to or not. Good intentions don’t count when students’ interests are sacrificed for the sake of simplicity.

What are you really using the LMS for? Too often, a LMS is a one-way communication tool with students simply uploading materials to turn in for grades. What limitations are place on them when it comes to choosing their learning opportunities? What options do students have to ask insightful questions and then find resources to report those out? What kind of content can be brought into the system to be used as a resource by anyone else in that system?

Ask yourself when you plan on allowing students to truly direct their own learning. If you can’t come up with a reasonable answer, ask yourself “why not?”

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