October 11 – Happy Birthday, Salman Khan

Posted on October 11, 2013

(And happy birthday to me, too!)

Several people have made
"Star Trek" references,
talking about "The Math of Khan."
It is interesting to me that, nowadays, some of the most important and influential educators in the world are men who did not study education in college, who did not start their careers as teachers, who kind of backed into education through a side door.

I am talking about physicist and computer network specialist Sugata Mitra, who is more widely known for his work in education and cognitive science, and former hedge fund analyst Salman Khan, who studied math, electrical engineering, and computer science, but who is famous for his work in creating education videos. Today's birthday boy is also the founder of Khan Academy.

Khan is a nice guy who was willing to help his younger cousins with their math homework. He was doing his tutoring long-distance, using Yahoo's Doodle notepad. But then other relatives and friends asked for tutoring, too—and Khan realized that it would be better for him to upload YouTube videos so that multiple people could see his presentations, but he only had to do each explanation one time!


This time-saving idea ended up creating a whole other career for Khan. His short videos on topics such as exponents and linear equations ended up getting so many hits, Khan became the Number 1 provider of free course material on YouTube! Khan quit his job in finance and concentrated on making videos, and for a while he accepted advertising on his website so that he could keep all the learning videos free. His “academy” got so popular, some wealthy people heard about Khan and decided to make some hefty donations. Khan was able to remove the ads, hire helpers, and make his free online tutoring service into a kind of free, online school that offers thousands of micro-lectures on a wide range of topics. The lessons are even available in at least 28 different languages!

Cosmology? Got it!
Micro-economics? Got it?
Math in Urdu? Got it! In Turkish or Xhosa? 
Got 'em both!
Art history in Norwegian? Got that, too!

Badges? We can earn badges?

One of my daughters dearly loved earning Girl Scout badges (and she earned every single badge and sign it was possible to earn as a Junior Scout!). My guess is that a lot of other kids love earning badges, too, because the Khan Academy decided to create a system of badges that can be earned.

Check out the Khan Academy. I have to tell you, I personally prefer learning in other ways—from reading books, for example, or from watching fascinating and beautiful videos (rather than these plain, practical videos)—and I know that many other people also wonder what all the fuss is about, once they see their first Khan video. However, a great many people, including many kids, love Khan's stripped-down, relaxed teaching style, and they love being able to learn what they want to learn, when they want to learn it, using the Khan Academy. I would think it would be more important to be able to ask questions during an explanation, but many people hate asking questions and love being able to control the speed and repetition of the explanation.


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