Process & Service Innovation

Salman Khan, Free, online world-class education

In 2004, Salman Khan’s young cousin Nadia was having trouble in math class in New Orleans. Working in Boston at a hedge fund, Khan offered to tutor her. Khan began tutoring her by phone and using an interactive notepad. By 2006, word got around and Khan was tutoring 15 family friends and cousins as a hobby. To better scale, he began writing software to give his cousins practice and feedback in mathematics. To complement this software, he also began posting videos of his hand- scribbled tutorials on YouTube.

Demand took off, and in 2008, when the practice problems and instructional videos were reaching tens of thousands of students per month, he quit his day job to commit himself fully to the not-for-profit Khan Academy.

Initially, Khan himself conducted all the lessons. Each tutorial was under 10 minutes long and featured Khan talking while writing on an electronic blackboard. Khan is never seen, only his equations, drawings and doodles along with his narration.

Khan started with topics he knew well. He then threw himself into new topics, often cramming for days and diving into five or more college textbooks to prepare one of his short tutorials.

Today, the non-profit Khan Academy provides a self-pacing guided learning experience with over 100,000 practice exercises and 5,000 instructional videos (with translations in over 28 languages) covering everything from basic arithmetic to college level science and economics. It’s the most-used library of educational lessons on the web, with over ten million unique students per month, over 300 million lessons delivered and over a billion exercises completed. Over 100,000 teachers around the world are also using Khan Academy to help build student mastery of topics and to free up class time for dynamic project based learning.

Khan earned a BS in mathematics, a BS in electrical engineering/computer science and an MS in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology plus an MBA from Harvard Business School. A small group of educators question his methods and worry that he perhaps gets some complex concepts wrong. Yet most teachers rave about his work and the lessons have been used by over 100,000 teachers.

Bill Gates, the founder and chairman of Microsoft, was so enamored of the videos that he and his-then 11-year-old son started using them together. That led to a donation from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plus many other grants.

The money enabled Khan to start paying himself a salary plus hire people to help him run and expand the effort. On the Khan Academy’s website, parents, teachers and tutors can access data-rich dashboards that provide real time data on student performance to help them identify where students might be struggling and need help. Students can also see how they are progressing and whether they are meeting their goals. The Khan Academy software offers personalized recommendations for each student based on his or her previous experience on the site.

Winner 2013

Salman Khan, Khan Academy

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