Khan’s Calculus: Education for Everyone

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:

Basic addition

Contango

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?

17 thoughts on “Khan’s Calculus: Education for Everyone

  1. Pavani: Thanks for posting this. I saw and read about him few weeks ago on one of the three National Channels. This Salman Khan can (in real practical terms) benefit students not only in India but in any other developing countries (or even so-called developed country such as our good old USA). Forget about that other Salman Khan who merely flexes his muscles – I am just saying ;-)

  2. he was in an NPR news segment sometime last year. His idea and format is really wonderful when you see how teachers in schools teach today.

  3. Pavani, this is a really old story. Salman Khan of Kahn academy (yes they have even Americanized his name) has a huge following. While SM bloggers were featuring the latest street bhangra week after week, these kinds of stories were playing out. There are many great desi stories that never get told on SM because these people were engineers, academics, great writers etc… In short they were uncool. I tend to think of SM as a music/pop culture blog and not a very good one at that.

    As for learning by video, that is my primary mode of learning and has been for a couple of years. I haven’t been able to find anyone to teach me the kinds of things I wanted to learn and I’ve made huge sacrifices to get this knowledge. So I have turned to the internet to take over where academia failed me. There are very many sources–even ego vanity stuff that people will put out. We don’t need brick and mortar schools/teachers anymore. It’s like depending on an undependable. The only issue is certification. I don’t know of a good answer to that. It certainly isn’t standardized tests.

    (Excuse the typos–can’t see what I am typing.)

  4. my_dog_jagat is exactly right, there were so many cool things going on in the desi world, but SM, my trusty source for all new desi wasn’t covering any of it. The same site that I used to check multiple times a day was relegated to my RSS feed and I rarely if ever read articles anymore. I don’t know whether its the new comment format, the articles or what, but it seems to me that commenting has gone down :( Please make more articles on this kind of stuff! We want to hear about it. This used to be my favorite website!

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone so far. Please consider registering to comment next time. I’ll try my best to cover stuff you want to hear about, and just for the record, engineers, academics and great writers are always cool.

  6. I haven’t watched any of the videos yet, but I probably will want to when my daughter comes of calculus age :) Sorry to go off topic, but lately I find myself reading Razib’s posts, and Phillygirl’s. But the music posts don’t speak to me in any way at all, sorry Taz.

    As an aside, when this new commenting system was put in place, I think the rationale was that hiding anonymous comments would make people want to register/login to comment. That is clearly not happening. Some of the most interesting commenters are anon, and I, probably like other readers, painstakingly open up each one to read them. From a user perspective, it’s definitely more tedious, and yet I’m not ready to penalize those who haven’t logged in by not reading them.

    (Also Pavani, I somehow assumed yours was the winning site design, but I see down below that it’s attributed to Avani P. If you’re the same person, maybe you can talk to the SM powers that be about user experience.)

  7. (Also Pavani, I somehow assumed yours was the winning site design, but I see down below that it’s attributed to Avani P. If you’re the same person, maybe you can talk to the SM powers that be about user experience.)

    Avani P. is a different person. There’s a brief bio and a link to her portfolio on the about page, under “Admin.” I am also pretty sure that if by user experience you basically mean the current commenting system, then that is separate from her design. In any case, I have shared some of the commentary here with the other bloggers. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  8. Hi spamnun, you wrote “I think the rationale was that hiding anonymous comments would make people want to register/login to comment. ” The rationale was to encourage a more fruitful debate. http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/006332.html To quote Navneeta from the comments on that post “I’ve been a lurker for several years. While I love this blog, I found the comments repellent; it seemed that writing a comment almost always invited some form of verbal jousting and/or intense debate. That’s cool every once in a while, but it’s exhausting if it happens all the time and so I never joined the conversation. I might just start now.”

    So if you’re a frequent commenter, we definitely encourage you to register. Personally, I tend to think that when a person is accountable for their comments, the debate just goes up to a whole new level. And also, I just like seeing everyone’s pretty, pretty avatars.

    Thanks for the SK post, Pavani. What an inspiring individual.

  9. So out of curiosity. Has anyone here used the Khan program to learn a new skill at a high level? I’d be curious to see how people think it holds up once you get past the basics.

    So if you’re a frequent commenter, we definitely encourage you to register

    Yes please. Not to pick on anyone. But when I see an (anonymous commenter) thing I’m always like

    :D ooh, I wonder if there is anything interesting here.

    click

    “This is great. Lol. Good post.”

    :-/

    • “So out of curiosity. Has anyone here used the Khan program to learn a new skill at a high level? I’d be curious to see how people think it holds up once you get past the basics.”

      I used Khan academy to brush up somewhat advanced calculus. This time I really “got it”. I also liked his set of videos on neurons.

      • Do you think you “got it” because he was refreshing your memory though, or do you think it was good to build up from scratch?