ONE HUNDRED KIDS, TWENTY EDUCATORS, AND SILICON VALLEY—it’s a formula to change the world. Sal Khan, Founder and CEO of Khan Academy, launched Khan Lab School in 2014 to put the theories espoused in his bestseller—The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined—to the test. Khan and his team were stepping out on a limb, “building a school extremely fast, and courting disaster at every step.” It was not for the faint of heart.
The emphasis is on the word “Lab.” Everyone from the learners to the educators to the parents came into this “experiment” knowing that it would be messy. But, they had an ambitious goal in mind and were willing to put it all on the table to change the face of education. Khan Lab School is meant to be a testing ground for new learning designs and practices. This means that they are constantly gathering data, self-reflecting, and re-evaluating—willing to press the reset button, if necessary. They hope that their learnings, protocols, and practices can ultimately be shared with the world—providing an entry point for other pioneers who want to step up to the plate and try out something new. It is “an open source approach to educational innovation.”
So, what arethey experimenting with?
The foundation of the model is the KLS Learning Design. Instead of grouping learners by a fixed trait such as age, Khan Lab School groups learners by level of independence. Within these Independence Levels, learners are given the space to authentically “strive, fail, and flourish”—with educators, mentors, and coaches there to provide support and encouragement along the way. This grouping system gives learners agency by putting them in control of their progression from level to level, ensuring that goal-setting and self-regulation skills are prioritized from an early age.
A competency-based—or as they call it, mastery-based—approach makes this all possible. And, as you would suspect, tech is a key delivery mechanism in this Silicon Valley-based environment. Kids independently tap into blended learning platforms like Khan Academy, LightSail, and Google Drive—allowing them to move at their own pace and reach out for support when they need it.
But, it isn’t about an isolated, computer-driven track. Because KLS is based on a “one-room schoolhouse” model, learning from peers is embedded into the entire ethos of the KLS world. Older kids mentor younger ones, and community members such as entrepreneurs, artists, and Khan Academy employees visit the learning environment regularly to share their expertise. Kids consult each other before they turn to the adults for help. And, when they see something worth changing in the design of KLS, their thoughts, opinions, and ideas are embraced and encouraged by all. Community feedback and iteration is further encouraged by regular surveys sent out to families.
Another socially embedded practice that stands out in the KLS design is the system of Advisory. A time for one-on-one conversations between a child and their mentor, learners meet individually with their Advisors at least once per week for a half-hour. This is a time for them to check in—but not just about project progress. Advisories help learners begin to know themselves—they create the relational foundation for kids to take risks, understand their own learning, and build the habits of self-reflection.
When you see KLS in action, you see bright colors and walls filled with art. Laughter, warmth, and affection fill the space. And, if you go one layer deeper, you’ll see a rigorous, tech-informed, data-driven world that puts the learner at the center.