The Khan Academy: Changing the Face of Education?

The Khan Academy: Changing the Face of Education?

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Updated on Nov 22, 2011

Teaching and technology go hand in hand. Gone are the days when electronics and gadgets are seen as a threat to learning.

“The Steve Jobs Model for Education Reform” by Rupert Murdoch argues that educators must harness technology to spark students’ imaginations.

“The minute they step back into their classrooms, it's like going back in time. The top-down, one-size-fits-all approach frustrates the ones who could do more advanced work. And it leaves further and further behind those who need extra help to keep up,” writes Murdoch.

One organization that has found a way to improve education through technology is the Khan Academy. By providing an online library of math videos and assessments for students to use, they have created a self-driven, individualized curriculum that motivates students with immediate feedback and positive rewards. Reconstructing the classroom lets students drive the pace and content of their learning, having teachers stand by as coaches and experts.

Khan Academy’s vision began in 2004, when founder Salman Khan’s cousin called and asked him for math tutoring. He was eager to help, but needed a creative solution to bridge the 1000 miles that separated them. Khan, a former hedge fund analyst with degrees from MIT and Harvard, picked up the telephone and used Yahoo Doodle to work through the math problems with his niece. From then on, her math performance improved, and he began making videos of lessons to share with family members and friends. Within weeks, his YouTube videos became a sensation, attracting hits from all over the world.

In 2009, Khan quit his job and began working full-time on educational videos and accompanying materials with the mission of “…changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere.” Within a year, his efforts garnered attention and funding from prominent sources like Ann Doerr, Bill Gates, and Google. Today, over 2.5 million unique users have visited Khan Academy, which has expanded to include videos about Science, Economics, Finance, and History. Anyone with a computer and a Facebook or Google account can log onto the Khan website to take advantage of Khan’s vast library.

After that, it was a straight shot to success. In 2010, the Superintendent of California’s Los Altos School District heard about Khan Academy, and decided to pilot the program in five classrooms in the district. Students were given laptops and allowed to work at their own pace via personalized “Knowledge Maps” and videos. Khan Academy also built personalized “dashboards” for the teachers’ laptops to monitor each student’s progress.

Sundar Subbarayan, Khan Academy’s Implementation Lead, knows why this new teaching style is so successful. Having worked for Google, Microsoft, and McKinsey & Co, Subbarayan brings a broad perspective on the kind of education children need in the modern age.

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