July 16, 2011

Published Clips: Salman Khan’s online academy a hit

(Originally published at http://www.techgoss.com/Story/392S12-Salman-Khan-s-online-academy-a-hit.aspx on 28/7/2010) Available as reprint, contact for details. (Copyright @ Resmi Jaimon)

USA-based  Salman Khan graduated from Harvard Business School and has had successful stints as a Technical Architect at Scient and as a Senior Product Manager at software giant Oracle.  He has also held key roles in the VC sector. Salman is also an internet phenomenon having launched the online Khan Academy which is a not for profit online NGO that provides free education.

The Khan Academy describes its mission as ‘providing a high quality education to anyone, anywhere. Salman has personally created more than 1600 free educational videos which are sometimes seen on YouTube as many as 70,000 times a day. 

Salman Khan has walked away from a lucrative six figure income to spend his time helping to educate the world.

Techgoss (TG): Share with us your educational and professional background.
Salman Khan (SK):
I have done my B.S. Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT; B.S. Mathematics from MIT; M.Eng. Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT and I did my MBA from Harvard Business School.

I have worked in product management at Oracle Corporation and have been involved in venture capital and engineering at MVC Capital.  I was the senior analyst at Wohl Capital Management (hedge fund) for five years.

TG:  Tell us about your NGO - Khan Academy.

SK: The Khan Academy is a not-for-profit organization with the mission of providing a high quality education to anyone, anywhere. It is most known for a collection of 1600+ videos I created, which have been viewed over 17 million times (70,000 times a day). It is now the most used open education resource on the Internet.  The mission is nothing short of creating a free, world-class virtual school for anyone in the world, which is now being built as an open source project (videos, self-paced exercises/assessment, and peer-to-peer instruction). 

TG:  You are an MBA from Harvard. How did you get the idea to post such educational videos on YouTube?  Did you always have an inclination to do this kind of public service even when you were in college?
SK: My uncle's family visited me in Boston after my wedding in the summer of 2004. At some point during the trip, my Aunt told me that her daughter (my cousin) was having trouble with "unit conversion" which was not allowing her to be placed in the more advanced math track for seventh grade. Nadia was clearly a very bright girl, so I made a deal with her. I'd remotely tutor her for an hour after work as long as she was willing to do any extra work I gave her.

I began remotely tutoring Nadia in August of 2004. She was in New Orleans--where I also grew up-- so we used a telephone to talk and Yahoo Doodle as a shared notepad. Nadia ended up catching up and getting ahead of her class so I started tutoring her brothers, Arman and Ali, as well. Eventually, word got around and I was remotely tutoring and handful of cousins and family friends. Scheduling around my work, their soccer practice, and the different time zones became a little ridiculous, so I started to make YouTube videos for them to watch in their own time, at their own pace.

It didn't take long to see that other students (including adult learners) were hungry for videos like these so I kept going!

Even before I made the videos, I started writing simple Javascript problem generators so that my cousins would never run out of practice problems. I wanted to know when and how they were doing the problems, so I added a database to track usage. 70 modules and 10,000 lines of code later (much of which has made the software adaptive), it has morphed into the adaptive math program on our site.

I had always wanted to do something in education.  I had thought in college that in would involve software primarily (software does and will play a big role).  I didn't think back then that I could distribute my instruction so easily to so many people.

TG: By all accounts, you have a huge viewer ship.  How much is it exactly?

SK: Over 17 million views to-date.  70,000 views per day.  200,000 unique users per month (growing 10% per month)

TG: What are the challenges you faced in the initial days and those you face today?
  Some people thought I was a bit crazy to spend my entire free time making YouTube videos.  Now the main challenge is managing things so that I don’t get distracted away from making content.

TG: What do you think are the reasons that make your video lessons so popular?
There are some obvious distinctions. With over 1100 videos, it is easily the most exhaustive collection of instruction on the Internet allowing learners to know that they can fill in almost any of their "gaps" with the content on this site. The content is made in digestible 10-20 minute chunks especially purposed for viewing on the computer as opposed to being a longer video of a conventional "physical" lecture. The conversational style of the videos is the tonal antithesis of what people traditionally associate with math and science instruction. The less obvious distinctions are, however, what make the site hard to reproduce.

I teach the way that I wish I were taught. The lectures are coming from me, an actual human being who is fascinated by the world around him. The concepts are conveyed, as I understand them, not as they are written in a textbook developed by an educational bureaucracy. Viewers know that it is the labor of love of one somewhat quirky and determined man who has a passion for learning and teaching. I don't think any corporate or governmental effort--regardless of how much money is thrown at the problem--can reproduce this.

A lot of my own educational experience was spent frustrated with how information was conveyed in textbooks and lectures. There would be connections in the subject matter that standard curricula would ignore despite the fact that they make the content easier to understand, enjoy, and RETAIN. I felt like fascinating and INTUITIVE concepts were almost intentionally being butchered into pages and pages of sleep-inducing text and monotonic, scripted lectures. I saw otherwise intelligent peers memorizing steps and formulas for the next exam without any sense of the intuition or big picture, only to forget everything within a matter of weeks. These videos are my expression of how the concepts should have been expressed in the first place, all while not compromising rigor or comprehensiveness.

TG: We would like to hear the secret behind making the venture successful and how you managed single handedly.
I was happy with building something useful for friends and family.  It was pretty clear that other people derived a lot of benefit from them.  My joy came from as many people being empowered by the videos as possible so I didn't care about money.  All I cared about was making the best possible videos.

TG: In June, arguably the world's geekiest website Slashdot wrote about your education program drive. Before that you have been profiled by CNN, PBS and other American media. Has life changed much now that media has started recognizing the wonderful work done by your not for profit NGO? What is it like to be such a success on the Internet?
It is getting a little harder to have as much time as I would like to make videos or write software.  Trying my best!

TG: Do you ever see a day when you can pursue all your passions full time?
  I went full-time in September 2009

TG:  Tell us about the recognitions you have received so far (like 2009 Tech Award in Education) and how such recognition help you as a person and in going ahead with your project.
Things like that let people know that the resource exists and allow for more people to benefit.

TG:  Your mother is from India.  What are your Indian connections?  Do you get opportunities to visit the sub continent?
I have visited twice.  Once for work and once for a wedding.  I watch more Bollywood movies than most people would suspect.

TG: Based on your current success, what do you dream of doing in future?
Start physical Khan Academies that use the virtual content as its core.

1 comment:

Andreson said...

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Your post has the information that is helpful and very informative. I would like you to keep up the good work.
You know how to make your post understandable for most of the people.

Thumbs up and Thanks.

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