Giving: Khan Academy


One of the new features of the blog redesign is the addition of a new category called “Giving.”  Philanthropy is a high priority in our family and so I thought I’d include this aspect of our life in my writing. So, I will share interesting tidbits and inspiring stories about non-profits with which the HOTY, Finally Five and I learn about and/or engage with.

So, I thought my first post in this category would be about the international non-profit phenomenon, the Khan Academy. Have you heard of it? I hadn’t (but apparently I’m one of the few who hasn’t because it’s going gangbusters!). Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a lecture given by Sal Khan, the founder.


The Khan Academy really hit the big time when Bill Gates (yes, THE Bill Gates) became a fan (because his kids use the Khan Academy). Super cool.

After earning three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (a BS in mathematics, a BS in electrical engineering and computer science, and an MS in electrical engineering and computer science) Sal Khan pursued an MBA from Harvard Business School. In late 2004, he began tutoring his cousin Nadia in mathematics using Yahoo!’s Doodle notepad.

When other relatives and friends sought similar help, he decided it would be more practical to distribute the tutorials on YouTube.

It reminds me of the line from the Robots movie (one of the many Silver Lining movies that Finally Five and and I watched when I was sick):  “When you see a need, fill it.”

According to Sal, the goal of the Khan Academy is to “use technology to humanize the teaching experience and the classroom.” Clever, right?

According to its website: “The Khan Academy is an organization on a mission. They are a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.” Eduction to anyone anywhere. Think about that. I honestly cannot think of a more noble endeavor.

All of the site’s resources are available to anyone. As they will tell you:  “It doesn’t matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology.” (They are funny, too!)

In a very real way, the Academy is recognizing that one education size no longer fits all.  They are continually looking at ways to engage and connect kids.

One recommendation is by “flipping the classroom” whereby teachers and students learn together in a respectful way. Another recommendation is to shift motivation from grades to gaining knowledge. As a person who as a student was obsessed with grades, I appreciate this innovative concept so much!

Sal described how in a traditional classroom, classes move forward without mastery. In other words, a “C” is good enough to get from Algebra I to Algebra II.  The Khan Academy proposes learning math the way a person learns to ride a bicycle.  When kids learn to ride a bicycle, it is anticipated that there will first be training wheels and when those wheels come off, there may be a fall or two…until they can ride. And you know the old saying, once you’ve learned to ride a bike, you never forget” (or something like that).

So, the Khan Academy encourages failure, but expects mastery. It’s such a goosebump concept.

The teaching methodology of the Khan Academy allows students to work at their own pace. Sal said that when we let every kid work at her own pace, she has more time to absorb information.  As a consequence, they witness kids race ahead once conceptual knowledge is obtained. He emphasized the fact that “slower isn’t dumber.”  This philosophy allows traditionally slower kids to bone up on the information and then fly by pushing the frontiers of the field.

Currently the Khan Academy courses are primarily in math and science.  However, they are looking at extending into social science and the humanities.

The Khan Academy business model is raise money to fund operations by taking on donors.  Sal believes that there is a tremendous amount of money in the world (e.g., The Gates Foundation) to support this endeavor.  It is, as he says, a trillion dollar industry.

The Khan Academy is allowing us to witness the emergence of a global classroom.  I am so amazed and excited about this Silver Lining ….and even motivated to brush up on my Algebra!

What are your philanthropic interests?  I’d love to hear about them!

A human being is not attaining his full heights until he is educated.

– Horace Mann


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  1. Merryl says

    This really was a fantastic lecture! We have been big fans of the Khan Academy and we were happy to hear him speak in person.