Digital banking – Khan Academy: Educating the world online for free
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Digital banking – Khan Academy: Educating the world online for free

‘The biggest role technology has now is that it can allow us to break out of the factory model and take us back to the ideal of individualized instruction: meeting each student where they are and allowing them to master a subject completely before they move on.’

Salman Khan 2-envelope
Salman Khan, founder and executive director of Khan Academy

So says Salman Khan, founder and executive director of Khan Academy, the largest free online tutoring and education platform used by more than 10 million students every month.

Like other tech innovators, Khan had no idea he would end up running an organization that would change the world.

In 2004, he simply started doing maths tutorial videos for his relatives and friends. When they started gaining in popularity and going viral, Khan left the hedge fund where he worked as an analyst to focus on the tutorials full time.

It’s much more than a textbook: it has unlimited
exercises with unlimited feedback and a combination of text, thousands of interactive videos and exercises

Salman Khan

His website features thousands of educational resources, including a personalized learning dashboard, more than 100,000 practice problems, and more than 6,000 micro lectures via video tutorials stored on YouTube in a range of subjects. The non-profit is backed by the Gates Foundation, Carlos Slim Foundation and Google, among many other donators.

Khan Academy has been revolutionary and has coincided with other massive open online courses, such as Coursera, Udacity and edX, which provide online education.

It also gives a template for universities and schools on how to rethink teaching, and many universities around the world have looked to online tutorials as a tool. In July, the US Department of Education launched a research project to analyze the impact of Khan Academy.

Gold standard

It is redesigning the education system worldwide. Says Khan: “The gold standard for education has always been personalized, differentiated instruction: this is what master tutors did hundreds of years ago.

“Then 200 years ago, as broad public education was first introduced in Prussia and then elsewhere, it wasn’t economically viable to have a 1:1 model anymore. Instead, they invented a factory model based on batching students together and moving them at a set pace, regardless of how well they understand the material they’re learning.”

Online learning means students can move at their own pace and drill down into subjects they struggle with while teachers can be freed up to focus on hands-on teaching.

“For us, it’s much more about: how can we give a tool to help re-imagine or empower all of the stakeholders involved, from students to parents to teachers to administrators?” says Khan. “So far, we’ve helped change the conversation: it’s now typical to hear people question the value of a one-pace-fits-all lecture and non-competency based promotion.

“We are also seeing some really powerful innovation in classrooms. There’s a long way to go, but I am optimistic that in the next 10 years, principles such as personalized curricula, more time for inquiry and project-based learning, peer-to-peer instruction and mastery competency-based learning are going to become more mainstream.”

His belief is that textbooks can be replaced with online learning.

“It’s much more than a textbook: it has unlimited exercises with unlimited feedback and a combination of text, thousands of interactive videos and exercises to give students a deep understanding of different topics,” says Khan. “We also get real-time feedback from millions of learners on the quality of our experiences. This is impossible with a textbook.”

Something has to change in education, he says, adding: “The escalation of tuition costs is not sustainable: something has to give. In 10 to 15 years, there’s going to be more variety and paths that allow people to fully participate in society.” 


For those of you who haven't seen it – here's the Khan Academy presentation on Ted:


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