You may have heard bits and pieces of how the internet may change education. Wikipedia is an ever-changing encyclopedia, Web 2.0 allows a vibrant interactive community, Video can replace lectures, the Kindle can replace textbooks, and so on. But nothing very material was taking shape. You would hear about a professor who required their students to buy the course textbook as an eBook. Wonderful, it made for a nice CNN headline but that's about it. I never really thought that would be the "killer app" for education. Now, finally, I have seen something that is material and I believe it to be important. This is not the answer, it is merely the minuscule sparks of what education can become. And what better place to do it than in America, land of the internet, of innovation, and of dismal middle school and high school performance. It's perfect.
So, what is it? It's the Khan Academy
. Seems boring. A bunch of videos on algebra, pre-calculus, geometry. Big deal. It is a big deal and here's why. First off, they're complete. It's not just a 10-minute video on algebra. It's eighty 10-minute videos of algebra, it's all of algebra, from the beginning to the end. They're videos, so you can stop, rewind, re-review. If you're good, fast forward over the boring material. It gets even better. If you're stuck or are missing a concept, you can pause and search for the answer on the internet or review one of the videos from a previous series. You don't have to feel embarrassed or risk being laughed at by other students by asking a basic question, and then remain in silence confused for the rest of the lecture. You're a night owl and your brain is sharpest at night, do your studying at night. Morning person? Have at it bright and early. Also, no need to take notes. I could never read my own handwriting anyway.
Ever had a bad teacher? I have! We all have. These videos are good. Very good. Khan is a naturally gifted teacher. Here's why. He always start simple, with the basics. Little atoms of knowledge building up into bigger and more useful concepts. You finish the 10 minute video. Start the next one, again a quick review of the basics and then keep building. His tone is casual. The problems and examples are not formulaic. Here's the best part. If Khan is not for you, if his style doesn't meet your needs or match the way you think, someone else will make the same video on the same topic but with a slightly different teaching style. Find the one that you jive with and watch their videos. You get to pick your teacher!
It has all the benefits of the internet. It's mobile. It can reach any country in as remote of a location as possible as long as internet access is available. It doesn't have biases. No inferior teachers, schools, environment due to your class, sex, race, or religion. Many countries around the world are still segregated. Here's the other amazing part. It's free! To anyone in the world. It's such a beautiful thing! Anyone, anywhere can receive a first-class education.
Yeah, yeah, Khan is not the first person to produce education videos. As a matter of fact, institutions such as MIT produce videos as well. Why is this exciting? Because it is taking off. Not just a little. The Khan Academy is the most-watched online education library on the internet, surpassing MIT and all others. Almost 2000 videos have been created and 40,000 views per day. The website doesn't limit itself to mathematics but has videos on physics, biology, chemistry, history, finance, and test prep courses, with many more topics yet to be created. All this created by a single individual with a family and full-time job (until a year ago). He's starting to get a lot or press release and recently endorsed by Bill Gates. It doesn't hurt to be endorsed by the second wealthiest man in America.
As I said before, this is just the beginning. Five years from now Khan Academy may be dead and the concepts and videos deemed antiquated and primitive. But this is the beginning of something. A change. It may not happen for 20 years but education has to change. The idea of thousands of different teachers across the U.S. presenting essentially the exact same lesson to 25 kids in a classroom is absurd. In general, lectures are simple one-way forms of communication. The problems of interactivity, question answering, discipline and whatnot will need to be resolved. But I am overly excited to finally see something real and tangible that is changing the way we educate ourselves! Superb job Sal! I can't wait to see what happens next.