Two powerful learning platforms in a K-12 head to head comparison
Among the variety of supplementary K-12 learning platforms out there, two very popular options are IXL and Khan Academy.
Although neither of these platforms are really perfect substitutes for structured learning models like a classroom or homeschool, their technology and design have made them effective learning supplements and helped millions of students improve their grades over the years.
While both IXL and Khan Academy offer complete coverage of the K-12 curriculum, they do have some differences in the way they teach and their feature sets.
We decided to take a look at the two programs and directly compare them so that parents can make a more informed decision as to which program might better suit their child’s needs.
What is IXL
Founded in 1998, IXL is a subscription-based, personalized educational learning platform designed for K-12.
IXL uses advanced adaptive learning technology in combination with deep-dive student analytics and diagnostic tests to improve skill and knowledge deficits and give parents a more complete picture of their student’s strengths and weaknesses across a variety of subjects and topics.
What is Khan Academy
Founded in 2006, Khan Academy is a US non-profit educational organization. It famously produces short video lessons on a variety of topics and subjects, including the breadth of the K-12 curriculum.
In recent years, Khan Academy has also introduced practice questions, quizzes and other supplementary learning tools for students, parents and teachers.
Method of Instruction and Review
Khan Academy and IXL take fairly different approaches to helping students review and get a better understanding of subject areas.
Khan Academy, uses recorded videos that review and demonstrate concepts on a virtual whiteboard with a voice over.
These videos are usually fairly short, ranging from a couple of minutes to 20 or more, depending on topic complexity and the instructor.
Videos are created by Khan Academy’s team of content specialists and most are teachers in schools and universities, although some are tutors or test prep specialists.
After each lesson there are some practice problems (usually a couple sets of 4) and periodic topic quizzes and unit tests as well, to reinforce learning.
IXL, on the other hand, has built in lessons and mini lessons for each skill that help students review material. These are step by step lessons that introduce concepts and are text-based for the most part, although students can turn on a read aloud function.
They also include interactive components that encourage kids to answer questions or fill in the blanks at times, giving IXL’s lessons a more active, learn by doing style rather than a video lecture.
After these lessons, kids can engage with a practically unlimited number of computer generated practice questions on each skill.
Given that there are thousands of skills to work on, that’s quite a lot.
These questions are also adaptive, meaning the program assesses in real time how the student is performing and changes in difficulty of presented questions depending on how many questions the student is answering correctly. They thereby provide increasing challenge to students, developing their skill more precisely and progressively
Both IXL and Khan Academy effectively cover the entire K-12 curriculum.
Khan Academy obviously extends to other subject levels as well, including college and professional skill development, whereas IXL is specifically designed for K-12 and focuses its effort on that.
Both Khan Academy and IXL are aligned (or aligning to) common core.
Khan academy is currently aligning its curriculum to common core standards in math, ELA and more. As of writing, many courses have already been aligned, although courses for some grades are still in beta.
IXL is already standards aligned. Its content aligns with common core standards, as well as state standards for education across all 50 states in all subjects (Math, Language Arts, Science, Social studies and Spanish) for K-12.
They have also aligned their curriculum to Next Generation Science Standards , as well as a variety of early childhood education standards (varies by state).
Interestingly, IXL has integrated its standards alignment with its analytics and progress tracking, so parents and teachers can track a student’s progress in relation to state standards across different subjects.
Subdivision of skills by subject
When dealing with complex material, especially in Math and Science, it often helps to break lessons down into smaller units. Studies suggest that this makes information easier to retain and recall, as well as reducing fear, apprehension and frustration in students.
Both IXL and Khan Academy “chunk” subjects, breaking them down into more numerous but shorter and more highly focused units, letting kids work on specific skills and fill in knowledge gaps more effectively.
Overall, however, IXL implements this concept a bit better, typically breaking each K-12 subject down into more units and into far more skillsets than Khan Academy does.
Taking 4th grade math as an example, Khan Academy “Division” is broken into 8 topics with around 1-3 lessons each, which is useful and helpful for students.
IXL, on the other hand, breaks 4th grade division into 31 individual skills that students can select depending on what specific skill they need help on. This gives students a far more refined and targeted method of honing in on specific skill gaps.
IXL will also conveniently recommend supporting skills that a student can review if they’re having a problem with a concept right at the bottom of a screen.
If, for example, a student is struggling with variable expressions, the program will suggest they review multiple operations with whole numbers and parentheses to build up their fundamental skills in a more targeted way.
This is useful as students (and parents) don’t always know precisely which certain skills are interlinked and build on each other.
Personalization of Learning
Both Khan Academy and IXL are designed around the goal of personalizing students’ learning journeys.
This means that parents (and teachers) can configure these programs around the specific subjects and needs of the student, rather than take a one-size-fits-all approach to learning.
How they tailor the learning experience differs between IXL and Khan Academy, however.
Personal Learning Pathways
Individualized learning pathways are an important part of personalized learning. Creating a unique roadmap that students can follow master specific learning objectives is critical.
This generally involves assessing the student’s current skill/knowledge level and needs, setting custom objectives and goals and tracking their progress.
Custom Learning, Assessment and Diagnostics
With Khan Academy, students have their own personalized dashboards for each student, where courses and subjects can be set up for each child.
Different subjects for different grade levels, so each student can focus on the particular skills they need and take the courses that can benefit them the most, and recently, Khan Academy has also introduced Mastery Challenges, which creates personalized opportunities for focused practice in skills the student has already worked on.
However, Khan Academy does not currently have a diagnostic or placement test to help determine where a student’s knowledge and skill gaps are. There are unit tests and course challenges that can be used as an ad-hoc assessment, but overall Khan Academy will require parents to use their best judgement of where kids need help the most and then adjust as they go.
If parents are uncertain, they suggest consulting with the student’s teacher, which isn’t always an option for all learners or parents.
Similar to Khan Academy, IXL also has a personalized dashboard where parents can pick and choose which courses, subjects and even individual skills their student needs help in, as well as the student’s relevant grade level.
Unlike Khan Academy, however, IXL does have an in-built diagnostic test.
This diagnostic pinpoints a student’s strengths and weaknesses, breaks them down into different skills and comes up with a recommended, personalized learning plan based on these results.
This inclusion of a diagnostic test helps parents create a far more personalized learning environment – it can help parents more clearly identify skill and knowledge gaps and helps them create a learning plan that will let kids spend more time improving in the areas they’re weaker in.
Of course key to any personalized learning system is measuring how an individual student is progressing and meeting goals, so that the learning can be adjusted based on their needs.
Both Khan Academy and IXL offer progress tracking for students.
Kahn Academy tracks students’ learning progress through its Mastery System, which collects points based on the completion of learning content, such as learning units, quizzes, tests and more.
This system tracks skill development, how long they’ve been working on material, their relative mastery levels, and how they’re doing in answering questions and more, and is available to parents and students from their dashboards.
Teachers using Khan Academy for classes have additional features, such as goal setting, custom assignments and offers mastery level information on a more detailed level.
With IXL, parents (and teachers) also have progress tracking capabilities, although it does dive into far more detail and analytics about the student.
In addition to giving a birds eye view of what kids are working on at the moment, IXL dives into the students strengths and weaknesses down to the individual skill level.
Based on IXL’s adaptive questions, the progress tracking takes into consideration question difficulty, answer accuracy and consistency and gives parents an easy to understand score (called a SmartScore) for each particular subject skill.
This ultimately gives parents a much finer understanding of a child’s mastery of a subject than most other platforms out there.
This tracking also works alongside IXLs diagnostic capability so that parents and teachers can track how a student is progressing in terms of grade level proficiency and, because it has built in state standards alignment, parents and teachers can track how students are performing relative to what will be on state assessments
Finally, going one step further with its progress tracking, IXL also has a built in function that will recommend related skills the student should work on and generate an updated learning plan to help improve student scores and learning.
Both Khan Academy and IXL do make an effort to engage students and take some of the pressure off by including elements from video games in a more or less similar manner.
In both programs, students can accumulate points and earn rewards, such as virtual medals and prizes, for completing learning material.
They also include animations and cartoon graphics to try and make the programs more appealing.
That said, these are personalized educational platforms with a specific focus on improving outcomes rather than providing kids with a good time.
Ultimately, however, some users may still see Khan Academy videos as lecturing and kind of boring (leading to them tuning out), and some kids may still become frustrated by IXL’s adaptive questions, as correct answers lead to more challenging questions.
It is therefore important to keep in mind that, while they may never compete with the latest video games in terms of engaging content, both programs really do help improve learning outcomes for students.
And that’s really what counts here.
Finally, when it comes to price the difference between IXL and Khan Academy is pretty straightforward and obvious.
Yes, IXL has deeper analytics, more adaptive questions and can create a more personalized learning path for kids, but it is a paid solution.
Ultimately, though, Khan Academy is accessible for free, while IXL is a subscription service.
|Complete K-12 Curriculum||✔||✔|
|Common Core Aligned||✔||✔|
|All 50 State Standards Aligned||✔||❌|
|Method of instruction||Written text (with audio), Adaptive questions||VideoQuizzes, tests|
|Student Progress Tracking||✔||✔|
Which Do We Recommend
If you’re looking for free supplementary help for a K-12 student, Khan Academy is certainly one of the best choices out there and you certainly won’t go wrong.
Khan Academy has helpful videos for practically all subjects in the K-12 curriculum and offers questions, quizzes and student progress tracking to help create a personalized learning experience.
However, on the whole, IXL offers more features that can help parents (as you might expect from a paid service).
It offers real time diagnostic assessments, which it uses to help parents and teachers create specific and up to date learning paths for their students.
Its questions adapt to the student’s responses, giving more targeted practice than traditional question banks, and it offers real time suggestions of related skills that the student should work on.
Finally, IXL’s analytics offer far deeper insights into a student’s strengths and weaknesses, including how their current skill and knowledge compares to grade-level and state standards.
Therefore, if you’re willing to pay for a supplemental educational platform for K-12, its our opinion that IXL is probably the better pick, especially for homeschoolers and parents who are interested in creating a custom learning experience for their child.
And in the end, if a child prefers video learning to interactive text/audio, nobody says you can’t use and integrate both services into their learning.
About the Author
Anne Miller is the editor of The Smarter Learning Guide and is a passionate advocate for education and educational technology. A mom of two, she majored in English Language and Literature and worked as a substitute teacher and tutor for several years. When not writing she continues to root for the Yankees and the Giants.