Posted by: crudbasher | March 14, 2012

The Learning Equation

It’s hard to take a system like public education and apply math to it. Oh sure, you can take test grades and costs per student but those are all just measuring inputs and outputs. You can make equations for the education system itself (see Frederick Taylor’s scientific management theory), but I haven’t seen too many for the actual learning process. Not only that but there are all sorts of bad equations.

For example here are some learning equations that aren’t actually true.

More money = more learning. – Not true.

Smaller class sizes = more learning. – Not true.

Laptops for all students = more learning. – Not true.

Now sometimes these appear true, but you can’t make the direct correlation. That’s why it’s hard to quantify education.

Salmon Khan of Khan Academy has created a neat video where he lays out some other equations. Here’s his first equation.

Fixed Time = variable achievement.

This is the foundation of the factory model of public education. If everyone spends a certain amount of time on a subject, they will learn a certain amount but it varies from person to person. It makes sense that since the information is presented in the same way, some students will learn better. You would think this would be accepted by the leaders of the system but they are always complaining about an “achievement gap”. They look at various demographics and talk about how kids from poor neighborhoods are doing worse than kids from more wealthy areas. What would they say if everyone was uniformly doing badly? Would that be ok? Everyone would be equal right?

I don’t agree with this. I think the goal of education should be to develop every child’s gifts and aptitudes to their furthest potential. As all children have different gifts they will all turn out differently.

So can we change the equation? Here’s what Mr. Khan (among many others) is proposing.

Fixed Achievement = Variable Seat Time

If fixed achievement is defined as each student is developed to their own full potential then you have to have a variable time frame. If you have a variable time frame, then the whole factory model breaks down. You can’t batch kids anymore. It also becomes impossible to plan a system from the top. One size doesn’t fit all anymore.

This student centric system becomes one of mass customization. The technology to do this is now becoming practical. (Facebook does it every day.) Not only that but the same technology has been transforming other industries that were based on one size fits all.

None of this is new thinking. I think these changes are inevitable. It’s interesting to me that somebody like Salman Khan, who has no formal education training, is saying these things. He has no vested interest in the status quo.

I wrote a lengthy pair of posts about this concept of variable time if you would like to read some more. See Education Reform Is About Time.

Anyway, check out the video, it’s quite good!





  1. […] just read @CrudBasher’s post: The Learning Equation and began to think about a particular statement he […]

  2. […] I love this! I really didn’t expect to see a school like this, especially one run by the teacher’s union. This school will create a program based on skill competency rather than just seat time. It’s something I have been advocating for a few years so I really hope this works well. (see The Learning Equation) […]

  3. […] alternate methods of learning like apprenticeships simply because people will have more free time. Time will become a variable in learning rather than a […]

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