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Sal Khan on revolutionary changes coming to education

3 min read


Sal Khan

For those who don’t know the story of Sal Khan and the Khan Academy, a look at the back story and growth rate of the online education portal can be startling. What began as a one-on-one tutoring sessions between Khan and his cousin in 2004 has grown into a platform that touches 200 countries, includes 150,000 educators and welcomes 10 million unique users every month.

Khan’s made a dynamic presentation at CME Group’s annual Global Financial Leadership Conference this week and shared his keen insights on the current and future landscape for education:

On the rising costs of higher education in the U.S.: Khan said an education system where costs grow 5% faster than inflation is not sustainable, adding that the return on investment current students are getting is not good. “The ecosystem is right for alternatives.” Khan says the de-coupling of knowledge and credentials might help solve structural unemployment. For example, Khan says there is talk about competency tests and assessments soon becoming the basis for getting a job at firms like Google, regardless of whether the candidates have a college degree.

On the process of learning: Khan says there are structural weaknesses surrounding how long students are given to learn something and how well they are expected to master it. All too often, students are given a set amount of time to learn something, then they are tested on the subject and move on — regardless of if they display mastery of the subject or just basic proficiency. Khan says knowledge should be the goal, time it takes should be the variable. Khan noted that  just 1 million of the Academy’s unique monthly users each month are students. The remaining 9 million are ordinary people simply looking to better themselves.

On the best use of classroom time: Khan says class time needs to shift away from teacher lectures, which can inhibit kids from mastering subjects at their own pace. Class time should still be for human interaction, Khan explains, but that interaction should feature students teaching students or games and other activities being introduced to reinforce learning.

On competition between different teaching methodologies: Khan says the Academy is agnostic on the different approaches to teaching. “If you see the same concept from multiple directions, then some combination of those directions will make it click in your head.”

Khan Academy in prison?: The Khan Academy’s motto is: “A free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” When most people read that, they think it refers to helping people with little to no resources, often times in third-world countries. But Khan says prison is one place where the Academy is starting to reach a new segment of the first-world. Khan said some prisons are trying the Academy offline due to connectivity issues or privileges, but he hopes it goes online in the next few years. “Instead of becoming more hardened and more cynical, this is one area where you can better yourself.”