Online learning is a profitable market and growing daily, so why would anyone just give that information away for free? For Salman A. Kahn, founder of the Khan Academy, the answer is a no-brainer – to help people.
He explains to 60 Minutes that refusing to charge for services allows his non-profit to create a better tool for learning, “The for profits have to mold themselves much more to the education establishment than we do. As a not-for-profit, we're just like, 'What's our mission?' To educate children, as well as possible. I've said it enough times and it's in our mission statement: a free world-class education for anyone anywhere.”
Khan Academy was founded in September 2008 when Salman A. Khan, a Hedge fund Analyst, was enlisted to help his young cousin, who was struggling in 7th grade Algebra. Khan posted homemade tutorials for her online in 2004, but she wasn’t the only one who used the 10-15 minute lessons to get ahead in math.
The videos went viral and the feedback caused Khan to rethink his career path. People responded to Khan’s videos telling him "You know, my child has dyslexia, and this is the only thing that's getting into him" and "You know, we're praying for you and your family." It touched Khan, and in 2009, he quit his job to form a non-profit for online learning. Meager beginnings meant Khan’s first office was a converted closet, but things took off when Bill Gates announced that he was a big fan of the Khan Academy and that using it was very rewarding for his children.
Since then, the website has grown to contain over 3,300 videos. This means if you watched just one of his lectures a day, it would take over eight years to cover all the material. Statistics compiled by Khan’s alma mater, MIT, show that the information is grouped into 47 “courses” including physics, biology, astronomy, history, medicine which consists of 400 million interactive problems and engages 6 million unique users each month. Khan Academy boasts around 380,000 YouTube subscribers with more than 179 million video views.
With word spreading and results compiling, Khan Academy received more than $15 million in grants, much of it from the Gates Foundation and Google, to help educate the world. This funding allowed Khan to hire some of the most talented engineers and designers in the country at competitive salaries. Together they are trying to transform how math is taught in American classrooms and give educational access to students across the globe.
Currently, Khan Academy is being tested in 23 schools, mostly in California, with positive results and feedback from parents, teachers and students. Some say Khan Academy’s method as "flipping the classroom." Students view videos at home to learn a concept the night before instead of listening to a teacher lecture in a classroom. Then they come to class the next day and do problem sets called "modules" where the teacher can monitor progress and assist with problems on an individual level.
This allows struggling students a chance to receive one-on-one attention while others have the opportunity to move forward at their own pace. If a particular concept is challenging, the student can pause and review the video tutorials or ask for help from the instructor. Even children too shy to speak up when they don’t understand the module are on the teachers' radar. Kahn Academy has a teacher dashboard that tracks students work in real time. They can see who's rushing ahead, who's lagging behind and if anyone begins to stagnate.
Eric Schmidt, the pioneering chairman of Google, applauds Khan’s efforts. He says, “Innovation never comes from the established institutions. It's always a graduate student or a crazy person or somebody with a great vision. Sal is that person in education in my view. He built a platform. If that platform works, that platform could completely change education in America.”
Khan and his team feel the key to their success is consistently collecting and analyzing data then modifying the system for improvement. The plan seems to be working. The recent launch of the new Khan Academy Computer Science project is already amazing parents, educators and professionals as it turns middle school children from button pushers into programmers.
Like a modern-day Nikola Tesla, who gave all of his designs away hoping to provide the world with free electricity, Khan wants to spread the spark of education to the darkest corners of civilization. He vows never to charge for services, no matter how much Khan Academy grows. He hopes to see his strategy spread to cover more subjects and reach more students. Making the world a better place is payment enough.
Image of Sal Khan courtesy of Khan Academy