Thursday, October 4, 2012

Lessons from the Khan Academy

This morning, I listened to Salman Khan on yesterday's The Diane Rehm Show on NPR.  He had fascinating insights, both into his own experiences with online learning and with creative projects more generally.

In fact, when they interview new teachers for the Khan Academy they don't focus as much on credentials and test scores.  They ask what the candidate has created.   

Khan says, "To a large degree when we hire people at Khan Academy, yeah, test scores are nice and grades are nice and degrees are nice, but we say, what have you created? Show us your creations. Tell us how you thought about those creations. That is at least or far more important than tests. And the other dimension that I think is completely lost right now is how much do you contribute and how capable are you contributing to the improving the learning of those around you."

I was also struck by the accidental nature of the whole enterprise.  Khan began his foray into online learning not because of a love of education but because he had a cousin who needed some help. 

And from there, his online presence blossomed:  "And so then I started teaching -- working with her younger brothers, and you fast forward about two years, word got round in the family that free tutoring was happening, and I had this cohort of students. And I started writing software for them. That was my background, you know, giving them problems and see what they knew and what they didn't know, and so that I could make more tutorials more productive. And I was showing this to a friend, and I was kind of saying, this is great, and by this point I had moved out to Silicon Valley in Northern California, and I said it was difficult now, not that I have 10 or 15 of these kids around the country, and I'm trying to coordinate with."

That friend suggested that he upload videos to YouTube.  The limitations of YouTube shaped the future of the company:

". . . YouTube at the time, for a regular account, would only give you ten minutes for each video. So well, I guess I have to redo this thing. And so I redid it, you know, and I think it was like nine-and-a-half minutes and I uploaded it. And I did all the videos in that. And you could cover a lot 'cause you could do as many videos as you like. And one, I got feedback from a lot of people that, yeah, this is working for them. They're allowed -- it allows them to pay attention."

The shortcoming of the project leads to the success of the project in ways that couldn't have been anticipated in the beginning:  I love these kind of stories!

Even though he could upload longer videos now, he's realized (and research backs him up) that the shorter format has strengths that a longer format wouldn't give him.  And so, he's continued to make short videos.  And he's making history.

You can get to links to listen or read the transcript here here.

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