Education's future: a teacher, a vision, a Website

Does Sal Kahn represent the future of education? His online course site draws more students than Harvard and Stanford combined.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

Salman Khan, a former hedge-fund manager, is making a lot of waves across the education divide these days. Khan delivers, via his Khan Academy site, a bevy of online courses, ranging from mathematics to physics to finance, to anyone looking to expand their knowledge -- without mortgaging their homes to pay tuition costs.

Does Sal Kahn represent the future of education? Already, as we've explored here at this Website, institutions such as MIT and Carnegie-Mellon are offering limited online forms of their courses via online videos and presentations, free to anyone. There is a creative destruction disrupting the educational process in many ways, from online learning opportunities to new forms of education providers. For example, there are courses from online education provider StraighterLine which offers online courses in subjects such as accounting, statistics, and math -- for a flat rate of $99 a month, plus $39 for each course started.

The Web is opening up disruptive new possibilities for making education available at affordable rates to anyone that desires to pursue it. In a hyper-competitive global economy, we need all the educational innovation we can muster.

Khan just received, in one swoop, the blessings of two icons of the business world: Bill Gates and Fortune magazine. In a recent article by David A. Kaplan, Khan was cited by Gates as an inspiration, and Gates -- who can presumably afford the best schools in the world for his children -- has been tutoring his 11-year-old son with Khan's 10-15-minute course videos:

"This guy is amazing. It is awesome how much he has done with very little in the way of resources....  I've been using with my kids.... I'd say we've moved about 160 IQ points from the hedge fund category to the teaching-many-people-in-a-leveraged-way category. It was a good day his wife let him quit his job."

Kaplan puts Khan's online offerings at more than 1,600 tutorials, which are viewed an average of 70,000 times a day. "..nearly double the student body at Harvard and Stanford combined."

Some critics say Khan is chopping up subjects into "McNuggets," but Khan, a Harvard MBA graduate, says his online academy is a response to the "sleep-inducing text and monotonic, scripted lectures" that are part of higher education. In a statement on the site, Khan says he has always been frustrated by the way formal courses are delivered.

He explains his motivations for establishing the Khan Academy on his Website:

"I can't imagine a better use of my (or anyone's) time. With just a computer and a pen-tablet-mouse, one can educate the world...  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. I don't think any corporate or governmental effort--regardless of how much money is thrown at the problem--can reproduce this."

Khan says it all started a few years back when he was tutoring his 6th-grade cousin and posting videos on YouTube to help her retain the subject matter. Things caught on virally, and he started getting letters from people across the globe who were benefiting from his teaching.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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