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Khan Academy Resources: A Postsecondary Mathematics Research Project

The Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics program at WestEd is conducting research on the effectiveness of Khan Academy’s resources for maximizing community college students’ mathematics achievement.

Khan Academy is a free, Internet-based learning environment that includes adaptive problem sets, instructional videos, and tools for instructors to use in providing individualized coaching and assignments to students. With more than 6 million users worldwide, Khan Academy is one of the most widely used online learning environments.

Until now, there has never been a rigorous, large-scale efficacy study of Khan Academy, in community colleges or in K–12 settings. WestEd is conducting research on the effectiveness of Khan Academy’s resources in community college algebra learning.

The U.S. Department of Education-funded study — a randomized controlled trial — takes place during the 2015/16 and 2016/17 academic years. For the study, algebra instructors who have never previously used Khan Academy in a blended learning environment are recruited from California community colleges and randomly assigned to use Khan Academy or to maintain their usual instructional practice.

The research team is:

  • Testing the effect of integrating Khan Academy on students’ course persistence and achievement; the comparison group are students in algebra courses in which the Khan Academy is not being used
  • Identifying the factors that contribute to higher quality and more effective implementation of Khan Academy, including instructor preparation, student characteristics, and course structure

A three-level, mixed-effects, hierarchical linear model is being used to analyze Khan Academy’s impact. Additional analyses focus on how different methods of using Khan Academy interact with teacher and student characteristics and behaviors to impact student outcomes. These analyses will help develop a more robust theory of change for Khan Academy and contribute to theory about blended learning environments in general, regardless of whether an overall beneficial effect of Khan Academy is found.