Khan Academy: Education Goes Viral

Salman Khan has an ambitious plan. He wants to create the “world’s first free, world-class virtual school where anyone can learn anything”. Believing strongly that everyone should have access to education he created Khan Academy, a non-profit, educational website. His website has become wildly successful; attracting users and fans from around the globe. Bill Gates called Khan his favorite teacher and uses Khan’s videos to help his own children with math.

Khan, a 33 year-old Bangladeshi-American with three degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard, began his academy after tutoring some of his relatives online.   He posted some of his tutorials on YouTube, and the videos became so popular that Khan quit his job as a hedge-fund manager and devoted himself full-time to Khan Academy.  Currently, he works out of his Silicon Valley home in a converted walk-in closet with only a couple hundred dollars worth of computer equipment.

The site features over 1,630 instructional videos covering science and math topics ranging from arithmetic to calculus; but the videos are not limited to the core subjects of math and science. The website now offers instructional videos on History and test preparation for California tests, the GMAT and the SAT. But Khan Academy covers less traditional subjects as well.  For example, there are even instructional videos on subjects like sub-prime mortgages and the Paulson bail out.  Such accessible content allows even non-specialists to tackle the details of issues that were previously far too technical and obtuse.

The brief, twenty minute videos are devoid of anecdotes and extraneous information, but produced in an approachable and welcoming manner.  And it is clear that Khan loves what he is talking about and enjoys explaining the inner workings of the subject, whether it be credit default swaps, chemistry or Roth IRAs. When explaining his teaching method he said:

“I teach the way that I wish I was taught. The lectures are coming from me, an actual human being who is fascinated by the world around him. The concepts are conveyed as they are understood by me, not as they are written in a textbook developed by an educational bureaucracy. Viewers know that it is the labor of love of one somewhat quirky and determined man who has a passion for learning and teaching.”

Khan has, thus far, refused to monetize his site.  There are no subscription charges or advertising. He says “I already have a beautiful wife, a hilarious son, two Hondas, and a decent house.”  With the sites recent success he has received large donations and support from many philanthropists and benefactors, from the publishing world, to venture capitalists. With this money he has given himself a salary and is working on translating the videos to more and more languages.

Learning from Khan is fun. There is a no-pressure ease about his teaching since it can be accessed on the student’s time table and is not constrained by the limits of teaching an actual number of students in a physical classroom. I have even used the site with adult students in the GED class I teach and have used the videos myself when brushing up on certain concepts for the GRE.

CNN describes the site as holding, “the promise of a virtual school: an educational transformation that de-emphasizes classrooms, campus and administrative infrastructure.” One of the great elements of Khan’s site is that it supports differentiated instruction and online learning. This attribute is similar to the differentiated instruction MetaMetrics offers with Lexile Find a Book and Engaging English.

Khan Academy demonstrates that effective education is not always about immense resources or staggering budgets. The success of Khan Academy is the result of a wonderful teacher, differentiated learning and self-spaced instruction.

Be sure to check it out.

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