Well, now the secret – if something millions of people already know could be called a secret – is out. And many in the education community are getting nervous, very nervous. Yes, Virginia, the Khan Academy really does exist. Yes, forget about pencils, forget about books, and certainly forget about teachers’ dirty looks. Sol Khan will teach you all you need to know.
This past Sunday evening 60 Minutes, the popular news show, gave the American people a good look at what many, including Bill Gates, see as the future of education. And America, if not the entire world, took notice. Yahoo news reports that:
Ever since CBS aired its profile, Yahoo! searches on “khan academy” have roared to life. Online lookups for “khan academy” are up 3,382% in 24 hours. Related searches for “khan academy tutorials” jumped 9,575%, and “khan academy math” spiked 8,100%.
I’m not really sure what all those statistics mean (I’m just getting started on the Khan Academy statistics videos) but they seem pretty impressive. Add to those numbers the fact that millions across the globe watch and learn from his roughly 3,000 tutorial videos daily, and impressive begins to sound downright silly; staggering seems more appropriate. The educational community would be foolish not to stand up and take notice. Change, real change, is not only in the air, it’s on the ground.
Many, including myself, are hesitant to embrace video-based learning, and for good reasons . (See my blog post Virtual Learning). Yes, the conventional classroom has its flaws, serious flaws. I will be the first to admit that as soon as the second student walked into the classroom, learning suffered. But, it was always not only learning about math, or about science, or even about people; it was also about learning with people. And, about learning how to learn with people. Yes, it was terribly boring for the advanced student to wait for the teacher to explain the concept yet one more time to the slower learner, but maybe that taught patience. Perhaps traits such as empathy, cooperation, consideration and sensitivity are best learned when working with groups very different from ourselves.
That said, the millions who have turned to Sol Kahn have spoken. Khan Academy, and other on-line learning opportunities, are simply too effective to be ignored. Parents and students alike want to learn and Sol seems to be doing a better job that we. Those are the facts. This is an idea whose time has come. And it will not go away.
Nor should it. I am very fond of telling teachers who are struggling with a particularly lively and rambunctious class: “Don’t use the brakes use the steering wheel.” If you attempt to stand in the way of all that student energy it will simply flatten you. Rather, hop on, grab the steering wheel and steer their enthusiasm towards greater achievement. The message here is the same. Educators would be best served investing their efforts not by trying to stop the current trend but by learning from it and helping to shape its future course. Instead of wondering how the hell a hedge fund analyst, with no teacher training, has become the most popular teacher in the world (maybe unbridled passion and subject mastery do make a difference), we should embrace this new educational tool and find ways to use it to enhance that which we do best, care deeply about our students and shape them into educated and caring adults.