The Khan Academy

I first heard about the Khan Academy in early 2011 when MIT-educated Salman Khan told his story at the annual TED conference. I immediately forwarded the “Ted Talk” video of Khan’s innovative approach of free online tutorials to several students, parents, teachers and learning specialists whom I thought might find this resource particularly useful. Now with this blog, I’m able to share Khan’s vision with a much wider audience.

We all need inspiration to continue on our chosen paths. Hearing Salman Khan’s story, reading about how so many others became involved with his Khan Academy, and watching this non-profit enterprise evolve in so organic a fashion has kept me hopeful for a future of unknown possibilities. I trust that others of you will be equally inspired.

 We’re a small team trying our best to improve the way the world learns. Too many people around the globe don’t have access to good education materials, or they are forced to learn through a system that doesn’t properly cater to their individual needs. We think the technology exists today to fundamentally change this, and we’re trying to build the tools and resources every student deserves.

We believe a few great people can make a big difference. We strive to hire the very best — people who are passionate, thoughtful and creative. We believe it is our obligation to relentlessly focus on what the student values, and we make every decision with the student in mind.

The Khan Academy story begins in 2004 when Khan offered to tutor his young cousins in mathematics using Yahoo’s Doodle notepad and the telephone.  Soon Khan decided it would be more practical to record his help sessions and post them to YouTube, where his cousins could watch them at their own pace. Before long other YouTube viewers were watching the videos, too, praising the material for finally helping them understand a concept they had been struggling to learn.

The tutorials’ popularity on YouTube and the testimonials of appreciative students prompted Khan to quit his job in finance as a hedge fund analyst at Connective Capital Management in 2009 and focus full-time on the tutorials, then released under the moniker “Khan Academy.” After Khan’s appearance at the TED conference in 2011, the Khan Academy became an internet sensation.

In May 2011 Khan appeared on the Charlie Rose show, and I highly recommend viewing this program. Here we see Khan in a more relaxed mode while describing how he himself grew to see the potential of what he had created.  His infectious sense of humor and the breadth of his vision captivate, to say the least.

The Khan Academy, now with around 28 employees, is an organization on a mission.

 We’re a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.

All of the site’s resources are available to anyone. 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. The Khan Academy’s materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge.

Today the Khan Academy has an online library with over 3200 videos covering K – 12 math (basic arithmetic and pre-algebra through differential equations and linear algebra); science topics such as biology, chemistry, and physics; and now reaches into the humanities with videos on finance and history. Each video is a digestible chunk, approximately ten minutes long, and especially purposed for viewing on the computer.

PC Magazine reviewed the Khan Academy in December 2011—an article worth reading for an overview of the Academy’s history, a mention of the pros and cons of the site, and an explanation of why the Khan Academy provides effective online learning.

What makes video-based learning unique is that the learner can go at his or her own pace, re-watch videos or pause them to think through an idea, and fit it when it’s most convenient. Khan Academy just gets it, keeping the actual videos frills-free and the material approachable.

If you are a student, parent, or just a life-long learner, Khan Academy will become a household name. The site has been expanding rapidly, so a few growing pains are evident, particularly in terms of organizing the content to be searchable in different ways (i.e., drill-down method). The Goals feature could stand some improvement, too. But Khan’s content is phenomenal, and that is what ultimately matters.

The Khan Academy’s decision to expand into freely available content in the arts and humanities means I will be referring more students to their tutorials.  I’m interested in my students learning how great swaths of history can be broken up into digestible parts. Watching a Khan Academy historian skip over small details of a period to create the larger frame of reference supports my own approach to helping students understand the larger context of a historical era. The graphics are similar to those I use to show students how to visualize history.

In late 2011 Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, founders of, joined forces with the Khan Academy to help create the humanities-based content and learning strategies. Over time, expect to see tighter integration of Smarthistory’s content with Khan Academy programs. Already online are over 300 art history videos, and you can see them all at  As well, there exist 26 history videos covering US history and French history. The goal is to eventually offer a history of the entire world.

Visit the Khan Academy website and experience for yourself the adventure of these remarkable tutorials. They will wake you up, and perhaps you will revisit subjects you once thought beyond your talent or grasp. Good luck!


By Posted in Working Smart on Jul 9, 2012

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