Salman Khan was born in October 1976 in Louisiana to Bengali parents. He studied at Harvard’s Business School, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Khan earned undergraduate degrees in mathematics, and in electrical engineering and computer science, then a Master’s in computer science and an MBA. Upon completing his last degree, he worked as a financial analyst.
From the Idea of an Educational Method to His Success
In 2004, while still working as a financial analyst, Khan started recording math tutorials for his cousins, which he eventually posted on YouTube. He quickly realized his videos attracted interest thanks to the number of daily views. This prompted him to abandon his profession and dedicate himself full time to Khan Academy, a non-profit organization that he created, dedicated to education. Several years later, Khan Academy, steadily growing and with a staff of about 100 employees, recorded 42 million users in 190 countries.
Since 2012, the success of the Academy paved the way for Salman Khan to win the Harold W. McGraw prize in Education. He was also named on Time magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2018, he won The Visionary of the Year Award.
A Free and Accessible Educational Resource
Khan Academy offers free and unlimited access to a quality educational platform that allows anyone to progress at their own pace.
Although in the beginning the subjects presented were mainly math and science, the content has greatly expanded today. Thanks to volunteer educators, other subjects include: grammar, economics, art history, computer science, health, medicine and more. In all, there are over 4500 videos, a number that is constantly increasing. There are also tens of thousands of interactive exercises available in a dozen languages from primary to university level. Salman Khan also works more and more frequently with schools.
Khan Academy functions based on a relatively simple concept. The student watches a video, in which a teacher explains the subject matter, and then does a test. The software, based on the data such as response time and errors, responds by encouraging perseverance or by congratulating the participant for correct answers. As soon as a level is successfully completed, the software invites the student to continue progressing.
In a school setting, each student progresses at their own pace while maintaining the option to view the tutorials as many times as necessary. The teacher receives an individualized follow-up of the progress so they can intervene individually with additional explanations according to each student’s needs. What’s more, the Academy is expanding its mission by offering customized preparations for certain tests.
Why Khan Academy?
When questioned about the success of Khan Academy, Salman Khan explains that changes are occurring in teaching and learning. The traditional teaching model that has virtually not evolved no longer fulfills the needs: passive methods have become obsolete in favour of active and personalized approaches. He believes we can no longer isolate in a class students of the same age who progress at a similar rate, and in this regard new technology can open new avenues.
He also thinks that the 50-minute course periods are no longer suitable and the 16-minute lessons of Khan Academy are better adapted because this corresponds to the optimal concentration time of a young student.
According to him, teaching is undergoing a crisis, in which we are losing sight of the foundation. The problem is not the failure rate in exams, but on the capacity of individuals to develop and reach their full potential.
This is why Salman Khan considers it important to keep formal teaching in class while combining it with software and online tools provided by his organization. In this way, it is possible to proceed with the “inverted class” method: the student listens to the course video at home, re-listens as he needs, and in class the teacher works on the exercises and evaluates learning. In this way, the teacher is liberated from formal lectures and can really interact in the classroom. According to Salman Khan, this system gives excellent results.
Khan Academy could further expand its selection. Salman Khan is even considering a form of certification for students who have completed a training. He is also considering pre-university programs.
This development is of particular interest for parents who home-educate their children.
KHAN, Salman. The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, 2013.