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At a glance: United States of America

Podcast #72: Khan Academy brings education to the wired masses

‘Beyond School Books’ – a podcast series on education in emergencies

By Rudina Vojvoda

The hallowed virtual halls of Khan Academy bring lessons to students and allow them to learn at their own pace.

NEW YORK, 4 March 2013 – In 2004, hedge fund analyst Sal Khan started to make YouTube videos to help his younger cousin learn. Soon enough, Mr. Khan had developed a following, and, in 2009, he quit his job to start Khan Academy, a nonprofit organization that produces free educational videos.

© Sal Khan Academy
Sal Khan, right, and teacher Courtney Cadwell with students at Egan Junior High School, California, United States of America. Khan developed Khan Academy, a nonprofit organization that produces free educational videos.

UNICEF podcast moderator Femi Oke spoke with Mr. Khan about what has made Khan Academy such a success and about plans for the future.

AUDIO:Listen now

Learning at their own pace

At Khan Academy, millions of students from all around the world learn at their own pace every day. The videos are typically 10 minutes long, and the teacher is never seen. Instead, a blank digital blackboard gradually fills up with colorful scrawls explaining key concepts. Khan, himself, is usually the narrator behind the videos.

“I think what people like is the tone of the videos, exactly the same tone that I am using now, the tone of someone that is talking to a friend, someone they respect and is clearly coming from a human being,” said Mr. Khan. He added, “Hopefully, it’s a human being who understands the material well.”

Connecting students, parents and teachers on one platform

The Khan Academy is visited by about six million students per month, learning a variety of subjects such as math, science, biology, chemistry, physics, history – and even finance, from some 4,000 videos.

© Seidenglanz
Mr. Khan, a former hedge fund analyst, created the virtual 'school', which reaches millions of students from all around the world with videos that allow them to learn at their own pace.

Mr. Khan’s goal is to create a platform on which students, parents and teachers can connect with each other and contribute resources to help everyone else. “Our goal is not just videos,” he says, “it’s a full platform that can help…everyone on everything.”

But this integrated platform is just one of Khan’s goals for the future. He pointed out three main areas in which his team is currently most invested: strong assessments that can really measure students’ ‘knowledge take’ on the site, increasing the content coverage and ‘internationalizing’ the site.

According to Mr. Khan, better assessment will lead to better teaching experiences. “So many teachers are writing and grading assessments with time that they can be using to teach these students. That is the really valuable part of being a teacher…to actually help students learn,” he said.

Thinking about optimization

Despite the remarkable success of the academy he founded five years ago, Mr. Khan recognizes that there is a lot of work to be done to optimize learning and engagement. “We are looking at correlations between users of Khan Academy and performance on third-party examinations, and there is some evidence there – but it’s very preliminary. I would be the last person to say, yeah, conclusively we have proven everything,” he said.

Asked about his favourite video from the thousands he has created, Mr. Khan was hesitant to pick out just one. But he did say that he had had a lot of fun making a video together with Lebron James. “What’s exciting about that, other than me trying to connect with Lebron James, is that they connect very real-world problems with the real celebrity with real-world problem solving,” he said.




Sal Khan talks about the success of Khan Academy and about his plans for the future.
 AUDIO listen

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