Khan Academy

The Khan Academy is a non-profit educational organization, created in 2006 by American educator Salman Khan (who has three degrees from MIT (a BS in mathematics, a BS in electrical engineering and computer science, and an MS in electrical engineering and computer science), and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

With the stated mission of ‘providing a high quality education to anyone, anywhere,’ the website supplies a free online collection of more than 3,100 micro lectures via video tutorials stored on YouTube teaching mathematics, history, healthcare and medicine, finance, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, economics, cosmology, organic chemistry, American civics, art history, microeconomics, and computer science.

In late 2004, Khan began tutoring his cousin Nadia in mathematics using Yahoo!’s Doodle notepad. When other relatives and friends sought similar help, he decided it would be more practical to distribute the tutorials on YouTube. Their popularity there and the testimonials of appreciative students prompted Khan to quit his job in finance as a hedge fund analyst in 2009, and focus on the tutorials full-time. The project is funded by donations, with significant backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Google.

The web site contains other features such as progress tracking, practice exercises, and a variety of tools for teachers in public schools. The success of his low-tech, conversational tutorials—Khan’s face never appears, and viewers see only his unadorned step-by-step doodles and diagrams on an electronic blackboard—suggests an educational transformation that de-emphasizes classrooms, campus and administrative infrastructure, and even brand-name instructors.

Khan eschewed a format that would involve a person standing by a whiteboard, desiring instead to present the learning concepts as if ‘popping out of a darkened universe and into one’s mind with a voice out of nowhere’ in a way akin to sitting next to someone and working out a problem on a sheet of paper: ‘If you’re watching a guy do a problem [while] thinking out loud, I think people find that more valuable and not as daunting.’

Offline versions of the videos have been distributed by not-for-profit groups to rural areas in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. While the current content is mainly concerned with pre-college mathematics and physics, Khan’s long-term goal is to provide ‘tens of thousands of videos in pretty much every subject’ and to create ‘the world’s first free, world-class virtual school where anyone can learn anything.’

Khan Academy also provides a web-based exercise system that generates problems for students based on skill level and performance. This software is available as open source under the MIT license. Khan believes his academy points an opportunity to overhaul the traditional classroom by using software to create tests, grade assignments, highlight the challenges of certain students, and encourage those doing well to help struggling classmates. The tutorials are touted as helpful because, among other factors, they can be paused by students, while a classroom lecture cannot be.


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