Salman Khan is a hit on YouTube. But it’s not because he’s a movie star shimmying across the screen sans shirt to the sound of music–that’s another Salman Khan. This Salman Khan doesn’t even walk on screen in the videos he makes, which are filmed in his bedroom closet. He prefers to be the voice in the background teaching people about calculus, chemistry, finance and a range of other subjects.
His Khan Academy channel on YouTube has received over 48 million views so far. But when he first started making video tutorials, he had just one viewer in mind. Back then Khan, who doesn’t have a degree in education but does have an MBA and degrees in math and science, was working as a hedge fund analyst in Boston. He made YouTube videos to remotely tutor his cousin in New Orleans in math.Lots of other people started watching the original videos and leaving the kind of positive comments you just don’t really expect on YouTube, such as “first time I smiled doing a derivative.” Khan started making more tutorials and left his job to pursue the work full time. Here are a couple of samples from the growing library of tutorials:
The videos seem to be popular because they are short, people can pause, rewind and repeat at their convenience, and learn in the privacy of their own rooms. Khan’s relaxed, straightforward style of delivery doesn’t hurt. The Academy uses game mechanics elements, like points and badges, similar to the kind that may be ensnaring you in a web of social media services like Foursquare, to help people get addicted to learning.
Bill Gates has used the videos to tutor his own kids and calls Khan’s approach “a glimpse of the future of education.” Google gave the Khan Academy $2 million to create more courses and translate the core library of videos into the world’s most widely spoken languages. A pilot program using them in classrooms is underway in the Los Altos School District in California.
But what does this mean for people around the world who don’t go to school, kids who have to work to support themselves and their families? In his TED talk last month (embedded at the top of this post) and other appearances Khan mentions that kids in Kolkata, for example, who are too poor to attend school could use the tutorials for a couple of hours each day to narrow the gap between themselves and their peers attending school, even become part of a peer network of learners who help and tutor each other.
I think the video tutorial system looks like a great tool for motivated kids anywhere to supplement their schooling, but needs supporting programs offering very cheap laptops, tablets and/or public computer access for the neediest kids to benefit. Khan’s goal with his video tutorial approach is “changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.” Does this ambitious goal seem attainable? What do you think of his videos?