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 did n'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 do n'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 could n't engage with it .
They thought they did n'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 was n'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 did n't know 25 percent of the material .
Even the A student , what was the five percent they did n'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 did n'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 is n't bright .
It 's because I 'm seeing an equation and they 're dealing with exponents and that 30 percent that I did n'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 do n'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 does n'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 are n'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 would n'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 is n'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 do n'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 )