Next to the more active learning that the constructivist approach encourages, another major difference between what you’re doing at Khan Academy and more traditional lines of education is that you’re free to learn what you want to learn and when you want to learn it. What do you think is the impact of this change?

Another child development researcher, Piaget, has a lot to say about this. He says that one of the very important things that must happen in our development of young minds is the training of autonomy. And autonomy is meant here in a broader sense than what we normally mean when we talk about autonomy. It’s not just autonomy in the sense of “I’m free to play on the playground,” but autonomy like, “I am making my own choices — broadly, in general — for all of the things that are going on in my life.” This is contravened by somebody telling you how to spend your day, or by an appeal to authority. For example, a heteronomous answer to “Bobby cheated when we played this game” would be “Oh, well let me go talk to Bobby.” The opposite of that, an autonomous answer, would be for the teacher to say “And what did you say to Bobby?” I think the training of autonomy is important for many reasons. There is some research that suggests that it provides greater outputs in the short term, but my belief is that it will lead to greater thinkers long term.

I’m skeptical of an entire day being scheduled by someone other than the student. I feel more positively about the idea, though, of an educator modifying the environment of the student, day to day, in a way that is sort of sculpted for the students’ progress. For instance, to be a little more specific, I think we can do better than giving the student the entire catalogue of human knowledge, with every element of that catalogue being sort of emphasized to the same degree. If we picture all of human knowledge as books on a bookshelf, we should place the books on the lowest shelf that we think would be best for the toddler coming up to it.

— Interview with Andy Matuschak,, January 2015.