Khan Academy Refresh

A collection of 5-minute classroom activities that provide a break from standard academic curricula intended to provide virtual/physical classrooms with a breath of fresh air.


  • Teachers, parents and learners


  • Khan Academy


  • Design lead


  • 2 Designers
  • IDEO Design for Learning Team
  • 1 User Researcher
  • 1 Product Manager


  • Design including user research, interaction design, visual design, prototyping and implementation
  • Strategy & leadership

The problem

2020 brought forth an onslaught of challenges for teacher-learner and even parent-learner relationships. Once shleter-in-place orders were announced across the country, we knew there was work we could do as an organization to help bridge those personal gaps and facilitate stronger social-emotional bonds between teachers and learners in a virtual setting. Around the same time, IDEO reached out to us to partner together to see if our two organizations could start a collaboration to address some of these challenges.

Some of our initial explorations prior to landing on the final concept for Refresh.

Process & solution

We immediately started interviewing teachers across the country. These first-hand sessions not only validated our assumptions but also gave us specific insight into the challenges teachers were facing. After interviewing educators, we uncovered these key insights:

  • The joy and fun that’s essential for student engagement is fading. It’s easy for students to opt out of school, and they’re only showing up when they have a compelling reason to participate.
  • Teacher-student relationships are dramatically fractured. These relationships are often associated with practical things like homework assignments, and not anything fun.

These insights led us to two central questions:

  • How might we make it easier to have fun and be joyful in a blended learning environment?
  • How might we help teachers and students build strong relationships in a new context?

We focused on aspects of social-emotional learning in order to get learners engaged in the new online classroom environment.

Our research served as the catalyst for a 2-week design sprint, where we iterated on a number of concepts to help teachers engage their classrooms. We ideated on concepts that were not only relevant for digital learning, but also could be used in hybrid and in-person learning models.

The design process followed the IDEO Design Sprint methodology. During the first week, we ran interviews both externally with teachers, administrators, parents and students and internally with Khan Academy stakeholders from Learning Science, Product Management and Marketing. We also conducted design exercises, from storyboarding to creative mash-ups, that allowed us to diverge and then converge on ideas. Taking our artifacts as inputs, we collaboratively came up with the concept of Refresh. The experience was initially conceived of as a slide-deck prototype, which we then used to validate with teachers. Our qualitative feedback was positive; teachers felt that having an experience that allowed them to get their class warmed up, cooled down or just reset would have a positive impact on learning outcomes.

The slide view of a prompt for when teachers want a random prompt.

The list view for when teachers want to scan through and find the right prompt.

Outcome & next steps

Khan Academy Refresh was released right before the start of the school year in August. Its reception has been positive, and teachers all over the country have been eager to use it in their classrooms:

I LOVE THE REFRESH IDEAS!! Lovely backgrounds and fun ideas! My burnt out brain needs these as much as the kids do! Thanks!

A friend of mine, just called me frantically. She needed a unique prompt to use with a student. Without hesitation, I said check out Khan Academy Refresh. Within seconds she did, said thank you and bye.

The team and I hope to develop Refresh further and allow for teachers to submit their own contributions and share how their classrooms have interpreted the exercises included. Refresh can be experienced at