The Revolutionary Khan Academy

My personal educational history is very different from most others: I had the chance to study in several countries, and got my degree from the oldest University in the world, the University of Bologna. For this reason I have always been an advocate of free education, especially in the developing countries. And this why Salman Khan founded the Khan Academy, in 2008.

What does it do?

The Academy is a non-profit organization that provides free online materials and personalized instruction to students of all ages. The Academy has a staff of 80 people providing online classes and lectures to students around the world, in class and out of class. The most interesting part is that all the lessons are easily adaptable to the needs of students and teachers. Each phase of each course encourages, motivates, and suggests which lesson is better to study next based on the performance of the student, as assessed by teachers, dashboards, and analytics.

How did he get started?

Sal was a hedge fund analyst who was living in California when he began remotely tutoring a cousin who lived in New Orleans.

What happened next?

Salman described the next step in an amusing talk with a group of Googlers: “At a certain point I found myself tutoring a cohort of cousins around the country and I was looking for a way to scale myself up. One of my buddies, Sulfaka Ramzana, while I was hanging out at his house and showing him how I was tutoring my cousins, suggested that I put some of my lectures on You Tube. I said it was silly because You Tube is for dogs on skateboards, it’s not for serious learning! But once I got over the idea that it was not my idea, I decided to give it a shot, and you can see the first video I uploaded was about fractions. And my cousins’ feedback was that they preferred me on You Tube rather than in person!”

Salman Khan has completely re-thought the way of seeing and doing education, he has given shape to his mission and has built up a world around it with only one conviction in his mind: “You can learn anything”.

Khan Academy offers a different approach to learning, and that is why most of its students keep on asking for more, and its students are inspired to keep on studying further. Sal Khan explained it in one of his interviews: “I think that the comfort level, the ability to learn without feeling judged, is a huge thing. We have all tried to learn while we were feeling judged, and it has always been the most difficult thing to do. We offer immediate access to learning, the possibility of doing it in your own time and at your own pace, and the ability to remediate gaps.”

I have tried to understand how a video could substitute for a teacher in a classroom, especially in non-technical subjects like history, which I have always been passionate about thanks to the influence of my teachers, among them Umberto Eco.

Well, I was enchanted. While the videos were rolling, I realized how this system works. I chose The French Revolution as a topic, and I was amazed by how passionate the lesson was, analyzing the meaning of the revolution in a broad historical context and explaining with simplicity why the revolution changed the world from then on. 

I believe that what Khan Academy is doing is a real revolution.

It started with a few lessons with a few folks working at it, and now it is a huge organization that has delivered more than 400 million lessons to students who have completed more than 2.5 billion exercise problems. More than 500.000 teachers are now registered all over the world, using the platform to inspire and give their students access to materials that otherwise they would have no access to.

The Academy is growing fast, thanks especially to net diffusion, and is now reaching two million individual students a month, covering subjects like basic Maths, Biology, Art History and Computer Science.

The Academy’s You Tube channel – which hosts all their videos – counts more than two million subscribers with free access to more than 6500 video lessons. The Khan platform offers free registration for students, teachers and parents.

In 2010, the Academy introduced badges as part of a program to promote gamification learning, which motivates students to learn by using a video game design.

Over the years, the Khan Academy has received multiple awards in the United States and internationally, among them the 10to100 Google’s Project award, which granted them two million dollars to hire extra staff and translate the platform and the lessons.

In 2014 Salman Khan was one of the winners of the Heinz Award in the area of “Human Condition”.

Today, the Khan Academy has lessons translated in 28 languages and has a complete version of the platform in Spanish, French and Brazilian Portuguese.

It is fair to say that the Khan Academy has started a revolution in education, empowering young people across the globe, driving through the highways of the net, with the trending hashtag #YouCanLearnAnything.


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