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The Effect of Khan Academy on Education

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In 2004, Salman Khan was an MIT and Harvard educated hedge fund analyst who spent his free time remotely tutoring his cousin Nadia in math. When other family and friends asked for his help he started putting his tutorials on YouTube, and soon enough he became a YouTube sensation. In 2006 he launched Khan Academy and in 2009 he quit his finance job and turned all of his efforts to providing a “free world-class education for anyone anywhere”. Today Khan Academy has produced over 2,400 videos and delivered 63 million free lessons to learners around the globe.

His model started off relatively simple; it provided ten-minute videos covering various algebra concepts. Once he exhausted the general concepts of algebra, he expanded into more advanced mathematics, then science concepts, and then into areas such as cosmology, finance and SAT prep. As he expanded the library, and as more people came across them, he caught the eye of Ann Doerr, the wife of Venture Capitalist John Doerr who donated $10,000, and then $100,000, and then introduced Khan to other donors. Eventually, Bill Gates threw the support of the Gates Foundation behind Khan’s efforts allowing him to build an organization with ambitions much greater than just providing YouTube videos online.

What Khan has created thus far is nothing short of spectacular. He has been able to deliver instruction to students in a way which was previously unavailable to them, drastically expanding the potential for children who have been failed by the standard one-size-fits-all factory education model. Khan highlights several aspects of his approach to education which makes it a Godsend for many students. First, through Khan Academy teachers can “humanize the classroom”. Khan rightly sees the standard classroom experience as a dehumanizing one, where a bunch of children are forced into a room and told to shut up while the teacher lectures at them. Through Khan Academy, Salman speaks directly to the student in the secure environment of their home so that they can learn without being needlessly pressured by a teacher or forced to adhere to an arbitrary learning timeline. The students aren’t made to feel stupid or inferior; the focus is only on their learning.

Second, by allowing students to learn at their own pace in the security of their room, Khan Academy is able to “flip the classroom”.  They mundane and untailored lecture time is done at home, except the videos are less mundane, and though not yet tailored to the individual learning needs of the student, the student has the flexibility to endlessly review what they don’t understand. Back in class where students can get individualized tutoring from the teacher, the focus turns to actually working on problem sets (instead of working on them at home as homework).

And third, because a student can take the time necessary to master individual concepts before moving on to new ones, Khan Academy helps prevent “Swiss cheese learning” which pushes students on to higher level subjects despite having holes in their knowledge base. Those holes will not only inhibit the student’s ability to do certain calculations or grasp certain concepts, but they could likely compound on top of one another and for many students ultimately destroy their self-confidence and desire to learn.

For good reason, Khan is Bill Gates’ favorite teacher, and now the most famous teacher in the world. While Khan Academy is not a panacea, it is moving education in the right direction. Khan Academy is proving that education requires neither entrenched teachers unions that extort money from the taxpayers, nor monopoly school districts that are managed from afar by politicians, bureaucrats and special interests. Khan Academy tears down the façade that says effective teaching requires professional teachers with education degrees and various certifications. Khan Academy is a tool which enables parents to help their children develop without the burden of the state weighing them down. It is a tool which encourages autodidacticism which is essential to true life-long learning.

Khan Academy is not a government solution, nor should it ever be. Government cannot be expected to fix the corrupt system that they created.  While the government continues to fund the destruction of the lives of millions of children per year, homeschoolers, unschoolers, and educators who reject factory style education are working hard to save the lives of millions of children per year. Khan is not necessarily the best teacher in the world (the best teacher is the parent who can devote their full attention to a child, or a self-directed learner), but he is far more effective than most, and he can certainly help other teachers become more effective. More importantly, Khan is helping break the stereotype that government knows best, and in doing so his contribution to education will likely go far beyond the students who use Khan Academy.

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2 Responses to " The Effect of Khan Academy on Education "

  1. Just hope they don’t study his lesson defending fractional reserve banking – because he’s totally wrong there (in a 1923 Germany kind of way).

    • Antonio Buehler says:

      I never said he was perfect! One of the problems with Khan Academy, especially away from math, is that video lectures still only put out the viewpoint of the lecturer. Fortunately there are a lot of other great resources on monetary policy, banking, etc. Mises.org for example.

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