Can a free online library of video lessons revolutionize classroom instruction?
That’s the claim being made for the Khan Academy, a much-heralded new education nonprofit. Started as a simple inter-family tutoring operation, the service now includes nearly 2,300 short video lessons (most in math and science) that have been viewed some 45 million times and translated into more than 10 languages. Along the way, it has picked up funding from both the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Google. (Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit corporation that publishes the Teacher PD Sourcebook, is also a recipient of Gates Foundation funding.)
In an article published in the Wall Street Journal, Salman Khan, the company’s Harvard- and MIT-trained founder, argued that the strength of the platform is that it lets educators “change the basic rhythm of their classroom.” As opposed to giving one-size-fits-all lectures, the former hedge fund manager explained, teachers can have their students view the lessons on their own, at their own pace, and then use class time to work with them on areas where they need help.
“It is often said that technology makes modern life less personal,” Khan wrote, “but in this case, it has allowed teachers to take a big step toward humanizing their instruction.”
Others have gone further, arguing that the Khan Academy model has the potential to transform the way school systems select and deliver curricula. More than one business journalist has characterized it as the potential “Napster” of the education industry, referring to the revolutionary digital music-sharing software.
In addition to the video lessons, the Khan Academy now provides software that includes related exercises and assessments, as well as a “dashboard” that lets teachers monitor students’ progress.
The company has launched a number of formal partnerships with school districts to test the programs use in classrooms, including one in the Los Altos, Calif., district. A blog written by educators and students involved in that project is available here.
A version of this article appeared in the October 13, 2011 edition of Teacher PD Sourcebook