Khan Academy and Sal Khan: From a Grace King High School Student to International Educator


Screenshot of KA's list of course topics

By: Leonard “Lenny” Vasbinder

If you have ever had trouble learning something in one of your classes, you may have had the good fortune to hear about Khan Academy (KA).  You may have already seen one of the thousands of educational videos in one of your classes already — Or watched on your own time as part of studying for a course.

Salman “Sal” Khan, 40, born in Metairie, Louisiana in 1976 and graduated as valedictorian from Grace King High School in 1994.

Khan went on to graduate from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) with Bachelor of Science degrees in mathematics, electrical engineering, and computer science in 1998 and proceeded to get his Master of Science degree in electrical engineering and computer science, according to the heavily referenced Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sal_Khan.  He was the class president at MIT during his senior year.  Khan went on to get his MBA from Harvard Business School.

In 2003, Khan was helping to tutor one of his cousins online using the Yahoo Doodle service and that progressed from Khan helping more and more friends and family online to a friend’s idea of recording the sessions and putting the videos on YouTube for anyone to watch.

According to www.KhanAcademy.org, what started as a one-man operation has grown to an 80-person organization whose mission is to “provide a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere.”  That has also evolved to the Khan Academy’s YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/user/khanacademy, where over 6,000 videos are now available for free, teaching subjects spreading across the spectrum.

Some of the latest tutorials and teaching videos cover the SAT (and other college entrance exams) and soon, the LSAT (Law School Admission Test).  Some people have paid hundreds, even thousands of dollars for tutoring for these difficult tests and now, KA will help you learn and prepare for them — for free.  According to KA, in the short time that the SAT video tutorials have been online, over three million students have taken the SAT tutorial series.

According to the Khan Academy YouTube channel, more than 100,000 people take the LSAT each year.  Khan will be offering a series of videos that will help prepare students for the LSAT and KA partnered with the Law School Admission Council in preparing the KA video series.  According to the KA press release, “The free practice materials will launch on Khan Academy’s website in the second half of 2018.”

The November 19 2012 issue of Forbes featured an article by Michael Noer, with the headline that sums things up, “One Man, One Computer, 10 Million Students: How Khan Academy Is Reinventing Education.”  The article goes on to explain how America has some of the highest educated but also some of the lowest educated people in the world.  “About a fifth of American 15-year-olds do not have basic competence in science; 23 percent can’t use math in daily life.”

Those dismal statistics are one of the things that motivate Khan to produce the video tutorials.  The KA website and YouTube channel videos cover a broad array of topics.  Everything from basic math and algebra to computer science to the Electoral College to the French Revolution.  From science and engineering to arts and humanities to the history of Christianity and many other religions

The videos are designed to look like the student is being taught by their favorite relative — Or in the case of Khan, the world’s favorite relative.  Nearly 3,000 of the videos are actually personally created by Khan, using a digital blackboard and neon markers to illustrate the lesson while Khan narrates.  The videos look like your favorite relative is helping you work through your homework or lesson as if they are right at your desk or kitchen table.

According to the countless articles written and the heavily referenced Khan Academy Wikipedia page, “Khan Academy has delivered over one billion lessons worldwide.” Further, Khan Academy is used by 40 million students and 2 million teachers every month and the content is being translated into 36 languages by volunteers and international partners.

According to the statistics on the Khan Academy YouTube channel, Khan created the account on November 16 2006 and the channel currently has over three million subscribers and the videos have been watched over one billion times.

According to the Forbes article, “The numbers get really crazy when you look at the impact per dollar,” says Khan. “We have a $7 million operating budget, and we are reaching, over the course of a year, about 10 million students in a meaningful way. If you put any reasonable value on it, say $10 a year — and keep in mind we serve most students better than tutoring — and you are looking at, what, a 1,000 percent return?”

According to a 2013 article that appeared in The Guardian, a UK-based news service, and the www.KhanAcademy.org website, anyone can sign up for free and “start viewing tutorials and taking the interactive tests that are at the heart of the academy’s method.”

In over half of the videos, Khan personally narrates and explains the material and uses the digital blackboard to illustrate the lecture, as if you were sitting in a classroom or he was standing over your shoulder, personally helping you.  Then you take the online tests and the software tracks your answers and notes any mistakes. When you are satisfied that you have learned the subject matter, you can move on to another subject or the website will suggest related topics.

The mission and history of Sal Khan and the Khan Academy can be summed up by their website motto:

“You can learn anything.  For free. For everyone. Forever.”

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