The Khan Academy: founder dedicated to keeping it simple, keeping it free

The Khan Academy: founder dedicated to keeping it simple, keeping it free

New York City : NY : USA | May 14, 2012 at 5:00 AM PDT
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Conversation with Salman Khan, Khan Academy Pt II #TIECon

Salman Khan didn’t start out to shake up the world of education. In fact, it all started quite by accident. At a family gathering, Khan’s discovered his 12 year old cousin was struggling with algebra and Khan offered to give her a hand. Khan himself is no academic slouch -- he holds three degrees from MIT and a Harvard MBA -- but teaching long distance proved to be a challenge, even for someone so accomplished. Separated by half a continent, Khan found that working with his young cousin over the phone just wasn’t clicking. So he decided to try delivering the lessons using the Yahoo! Doodle program. The ability to be able to visually ‘show and tell’ mathematical concepts proved to be the key, and in short order, both he and his little cousin started to see positive results.

Before long, over a dozen of Khan’s younger cousins were clamoring for tutorials in a variety of subjects. Listening to Khan’s stories, a friend recommended he switch to delivering the lessons via YouTube. At first Khan was resistant to the idea, thinking YouTube was strictly for dancing cats and talking dogs. But once he started posting his tutorials, the lessons went viral, and the Khan Academy was born.

Today the Khan Academy has gone global. It provides free instruction to over six million students a month and is translated into 16 languages. And it’s no longer just for pre-teens with an algebra glitch. The Khan Academy has been widely heralded by everyone from high school students to PhD candidates -- offering a range of valuable learning tools that are applicable to a broad spectrum of academic disciplines. There is no doubt that Khan, a former hedge fund manager, is making a huge impact on online education.

Khan is quick to emphasize that the Academy tutorials are not meant to replace actual coursework, and should be used as supplemental tools. But just why are these lessons so successful to such a broad range of students? What makes this methodology resonate equally with high-octane kids bound for the Ivy League, and their non-traditional counterparts who are returning to school seeking technical training after years in the workforce? The free tutorials are simply produced, without any video pyrotechnics, and the average session clocks out at about 10 minutes. Khan posits that the tutorials work because they liberate students from the competitive atmosphere of the classroom, giving them the freedom to learn at their own pace. The tutorials allow students to review and test themselves with concepts, isolating and highlighting problem areas, until they master the material and are ready to move on to the next level.

Clearly, Khan’s ideas are reverberating throughout the academic world, and his work has gained support from some high-profile techies. Microsoft founder and education advocate, Bill Gates, has acknowledged using the Khan Academy tutorials to help his own kids with their homework, and his foundation has funneled significant funds to the not-for-profit. Google has also claimed a stake in the future outreach of the Academy, investing a cool $2 million in the endeavor.

Right now the Khan Academy offers almost 3500 tutorials, with topics ranging from calculus to art history and there are plans to expand the curriculum. But that doesn’t mean Khan is planning to alter the Academy’s signature stripped-down production, which usually consists of a black background, colored inks and a voice track. This accidental innovator is committed to keeping it simple -- and keeping it free. And to date, with the Khan Academy clocking over 140 million views and counting, who can argue with him?

ksssann is based in New York, New York, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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