Khan Academy, the free, nonprofit online educational service, has been around for about five and a half years, but its brand is suddenly rising fast, thanks to a 60 Minutes segment Sunday night and the announcement Monday that the TED Conference is launching TED-Ed, “an online collection of free video lessons delivered by the best teachers on a range of subjects,” according to the Washington Post.
It also doesn’t hurt that investment dollars have come in from the Gates Foundation and Google, whose chairman, Eric Schmidt, is a big fan. The Post notes that Khan is “beginning to be used experimentally in a couple dozen schools” as well.
The Academy was started by former hedge-fund analyst Salman “Sal” Khan to help his cousin learn algebra, but then his videos started going viral on YouTube as parents and teachers stumbled across them. The idea is that “students watch videos to learn the lessons at home, and then work through problems in school with their teachers’ assistance,” the Post reports.
The Los Altos school district in California is experimenting with using Khan, Fast Company notes, and its teachers have discovered that some of the students were previously mislabeled as at-risk.
"Very often, students who thought they were horrible in math, who were labeled bad in math by schools ... in many cases, they were just struggling with a very specific topic," said Shantanu Sinha, President and COO of Khan Academy. "Without the ability to explore lectures at home, struggling students were left behind as teachers progressed through the lesson plan. But, when students could focus on problem areas at their own pace, they could overcome weaknesses and catch back up with the class.”
Google chairman Schmidt made the point on 60 Minutes that innovation rarely comes from an established institution: “It’s always a graduate student or a crazy person or somebody with a great vision,” he said.
Khan is expanding its market with an iPad app, which “includes time-syncing between devices — no Internet connection required — an interactive transcript of the lectures for easy searching, and a handy scrubber for moving between parts of the lectures.” It could also help to “replace or supplement” textbooks, the site reports.
"If you're going on a road trip or if you're taking mass transit and you don't have cell service, or whatever, you can get the content," said Khan Academy Lead Designer Jason Rosoff to Fast Company.
When such a thing rises, of course, other similar things try to do the same. TechCrunch reports that New York City-based ShowMe, which pulled in $800,000 last August from investors, “is taking a bottom-up approach to the Khan Academy model.” The idea is to get the platform to teachers out there who want to share info and record lessons.
The app that ShowMe debuted last summer has had more than 400,000 downloads and enabled teachers to create more than 1.5 million lessons.“We want to create thousands of Sal Khans,” ShowMe CEO San Kim tells TechCrunch. The slogan (we hope): "Yes we Khan!"