By Elaine Gast Fawcett, on behalf of ASF
Sal Khan is changing the way students learn.
Just four years ago, the hedge-fund manager quit his job to teach math—for free—over the Internet.
It all started when he taught his 12-year-old cousin how to change kilograms to grams. Working out of his closet with an electronic doodle pad and a headset, Khan uploaded short tutorials to YouTube that soon went viral.
Today, he runs the nonprofit Khan Academy with a mission to provide a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere. Each month, 7 million students view his more than 3,400 tutorials online.
Initially funded with a $100,000 donation from philanthropist Ann Doerr, the Khan Academy now has significant backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Google.
Khan’s model for learning is quite different from the grade school model we all grew up in. “You can get a C in a class and the school will still advance you on to the next topic,” he said at the ASF 2012 National Conference plenary lunch on Tuesday. “We say: Instead of learning something fixed, what’s fixed here is that you have a high level of understanding of a topic before you move on. What’s variable is how and when you learn it.”
According to Khan, students are used to learning in a passive way—waiting for teachers to tell them what to do next. He wants kids to take ownership of their learning. They have access to an extensive video library and interactive challenges, as well as a platform for designing their own creative projects. Students can move at their own pace and parents, teachers and coaches can track their progress.
He offers his tutorials in short 10-minute chunks. Initially the length was because of YouTube restrictions. But now, Khan believes shorter is better when it comes to learning.
“There’s no need for lecture in classroom. Students can now get lecture on their own time. Teachers are freed up to work with students in a more significant way, and students are freed up to work with and tutor each other,” he said.
Even more exciting, this kind of online teaching can reach kids all over the world, offering access to education in even the most remote areas. “We are reaching students all over the globe and rethinking what an education is really about,” said Khan. “We are supercharging the education experience.”
Elaine Gast Fawcett helps foundations tell their story, educate their stakeholders, and move their mission forward. For 12 years, she has worked nationally to strengthen the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors as a communications and grantmaking consultant. Originally from the Maryland/DC area, Elaine now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband Ted and brand new baby Scarlett. Reach Elaine at Elaine@fourwindswriting.com or on Twitter @4WindsWriting.