Learning is All That Matters!

Everybody has a hero to emulate and get inspired by! I have several in my life. And one of them is Salman Khan.

Oh dear…now I can see you rolling your eyes. But I didn’t mean ‘that’ Salman Khan. I meant this one.


The founder extraordinaire of the world renowned Khan Academy. What a guy!! Salutes. He has taken it upon himself to revolutionize the way students learn by providing free interactive exercises, visually supported content and an in-depth look into what is needed to cement concepts – all from one dashboard at The Khan Academy.

Here’s a little more about this fascinating endeavour!


Most of you already know about The Khan Academy.  It is this rockstar website whose mission is to to provide “Free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere

Till date Salman Khan (or Sal as he prefers to be addressed as) has created 5,000 lectures and over 100,000 exercise problems on subjects ranging from mathematics, history, healthcare, medicine, finance, physics and general chemistry to biology, astronomy, economics, cosmology, organic chemistry, American civics, art history, macroeconomics, microeconomics, and computer science.

These tutorials are available in multiple languages to spread them far and wide.  And what’s more, translations are ongoing in thirty languages including Telugu, Tamil and Kannada.

Sal, puts it so beautifully in the introduction to his book…

Who knows where genius will crop up?  There may be a young girl in an African village with the potential to find a cancer cure.  A fisherman’s son in New Guinea might have incredible insight into the health of the oceans.  Why would we allow their talents to be wasted?  How can we justify not offering those children a world-class education, given that they technology and resources to do so are available…”

So where am I getting with this little piece?

Khan Academy and the Montessori Method have a lot more in common than what meets the eye.


Undoubtedly the success of Khan Academy is because of:

– The sheer volume of videos and instructive material on every possible subject.

– Salman Khan’s simple, warm and friendly style of explaining complex and sometimes boring concepts.

But one question begs to be asked. ‘Is all that phenomenal recognition solely due to the content and style?’

Salman Khan has admitted that he himself is stumped by the highs Khan Academy has scaled.  Realized after much reflection, he lists the reasons for the success of Khan Academy in his TED Talk and his lovely book. And after going through both I am over the moon about the fact that ILM shares so many of the defining tenets that have made The Khan Academy what it is today.


1. Principle of Self paced learning.  

Salman was tutoring his cousin sister long distance over Skype. This was when he was working as an investment banker and there were times when he couldn’t make it to their sessions on time.  He began recording the videos and uploading them to YouTube.  Over time, his student started preferring them to Salman’s personal tutoring.

Though Salman’s ego took a hit, he realised that the video provided his cousin sister (and her friends who had joined the tuition) time to pause, think, rewind and follow the class at their own individual paces rather than the pace of the Teacher. This ensured faster progress as the students ‘got’ the gist of what was being taught in class itself.

How the Montessori Way Resonates:

Self paced learning is an important guiding principle of the Montessori method.  Unlike conventional schooling where the students have to struggle to keep up with the pace of the teacher, in Montessori the teacher identifies the pace of the child and provides just the right level of intellectual challenge to stimulate independent thinking and eliminate complacence without causing overwhelm. Tall order but the Montessori training cultivates this skill and balance in instructors.

2. Principle of Mastery

When one registers at Khan Academy, one is not encouraged to move to the next level of difficulty till the present challenge is MASTERED.  This is done by allowing students to move on to more complicated concepts only when five questions have been correctly solved in a row.

Sal observed something strange. He found that when students were given ample time to fully grasp concepts and constructs before introducing the next layer of complexity, the ones who were generally labelled ‘underperforming’ actually outshone the rest.

This just shows that people learn differently. And those who like to delve deep and think things through thoroughly may acquire the tag of ‘spaced out or mediocre’ if pushed to compete in a superficial learning environment. Hint: Einstein people!

How the Montessori Way Resonates:

Montessori thrives on the principle of mastery.  A Montessori adult loves it when she sees a child intensely repeating an activity over and over again.  Watch the conclusion of this animated viral Montessori video where an adult observes a kid doing long division and adds page after page for the child till she finally feels she is done. In the end the girl has completed a long division problem that stretches from the ceiling of the environment to the floor.

The Montessori method has the freedom to repeat.  It understands that children thrive on challenges and have an intense desire to conquer them definitively.  As long as a challenge is not tamed, there is interest and deep focus and concentration in completing the task. And this focus is excellent for retention. However as soon as mastery is attained, the compulsion to repeat dwindles and the merry child flits away to the next challenge. If only we let children be and step away from their manipulating their natural instincts….conventional schooling might be much better.

3. Principle of Freedom

Salman also observes that another reasons behind the popularity of YouTube videos with his cousin is the feeling of freedom. When live coaching is replaced with recorded content, students are relaxed. They know that they don’t need to ‘perform’ to ‘impress’ the teacher. Their sole focus is on bettering their learning. They pause, they re-wind or they skip a whole lesson if they don’t feel up to it.

How the Montessori Way Resonates:

In a Montessori environment the teacher follows the choice the child makes, unlike traditional education in which the child is forced to consume what the teacher offers!  Students are presented with a world of meaningful possibilities to engage with.  And everything is open to selection – be it Exercise of Practical Life, Sensorial activities, Arithmetic, Language or Culture.  Whatever he picks, the child is guided by the desire to learn. There is no cramming involved. It’s all beautiful natural assimilation.

Look back at your life.  When did you learn the most?  When you chose to engage with something of your own accord? Or when it was foisted on you?

4. Principle of Mixed Age Group Classes

The Khan Academy evangelises learners of different ages within the same classroom.  And if a  student is stuck in understanding or learning a difficult concept, older peers have the opportunity to coach them through that principles.  Watch Sal explain that in his TED Talk here.

How the Montessori Way Resonates:

A mixed age classroom is the hallmark of the Montessori method.  Children do learn from their teachers. But they learn even more spontaneously from their peers. Sometimes by being taught and mostly by just observing others.

For the one who’s teaching, nothing consolidates learning more than trying to convey the essence of the topic to someone else.  There is the need to walk in the shoes of the learner, probe one’s own knowledge of the fundamentals and disseminate the ‘core principles’ in a way that can be easily understood. This process is the only reliable way to embrace subject matter mastery.


Do watch this TED Talk by Salman Khan.  Also read his book, The One World Schoolhouse.  He shares his struggles and sacrifices on his journey to set up Khan Academy.  The book is filled with  beautiful epiphanies and analogies.  My copy of the book is scored and underlined all over.

Also do catch Salman Khan’s latest interview here.  It’s just 10 minutes long and he shares that he’s starting a Brick and Mortar school, which is “a bit of Montessori 2.0”.

You may also download our free ebook, “How to select a preschool and why Montessories make the best preschoolshere. It is a huge hit with our parents.