Salman Khan on Liberating the Classroom for Creativity (Big Thinkers Series) (Transcript)
Sal Khan: What Khan Academy is most known for is there's a library for about 2,500 videos. Right now they're all made by me in English, although we are translating them, and they're everything from basic addition all the way to vector calculus and the French Revolution. And there's a video on the debt ceiling, [ laughs ] so a very comprehensive set of videos, and we keep add -- I keep adding more right now. But we've augmented it now that we've gotten funding this past year with an exercise platform, and it's an exercise platform that -- I'd actually written a primitive version of it for my cousins many of years ago, actually before I'd even made the first video, but I didn't have the bandwidth nor the talent to properly do that justice. And so when we got funding, I said, "This is where I think a lot of the meat is is actually giving people exercises and feedback and letting the videos complement that".
Sal Khan: My name is Salman Khan, and I'm the founder of the Khan Academy, and I'm currently its only faculty member, but that might be changing soon.
Sal Khan: And we generally view ourselves in kind of the top of the first inning right now. We got our funding about nine months ago, and we were able to hire a real engineering team to work on this, so we still think it's in early days. Our goal is to have this exercise. The video libraries keep going, cover everything that we can cover, do justice to in this type of a form factor, have exercises where someone can start at one plus one equals two. It focuses on mastery-based learning, where you master a concept before you progress to the next. It focuses on self-paced differentiated learning. Any kid can learn at their own pace, and they can also provide that data to parents or teachers, so they can use them in maybe a more structured framework. So, if it's used in a classroom, a teacher can finally have every kid going at their own pace and have the teacher really focus on what we would consider kind of higher value-add activities, which is running simulations with students, doing actual interventions, getting the students to teach each other the concept.
Sal Khan: We don't want to force a role out to every school in the country. What we want to do -- and this is what we're trying to do in our pilot program this year is we want to show that this is a viable way to run a classroom that has positive outcomes, both subjective and objective outcomes in multiple different use cases, so it works in an affluent public school district like Los Altos, but, frankly, some of the most amazing numbers we saw in Los Altos were in the remedial classes, where the students were not affluent. But it works in charter schools. It works in private schools. It works in public schools. It works with different demographics, and we think if we can show that it works and that if we can give a toolkit so that we can document how it's worked in all of these classrooms and we can give it to any student -- any teacher or parent in the world, then, you know, let the world decide for themselves if it's something they want to do, and we'll hope to support them more and more in doing it and making it a richer and richer offering.
Sal Khan: I mean, I think everyone can testify that in college they learned most of what they're learning the night before the exam from their peers, and then all the way fast-forward to now, what we're seeing in Los Altos is what's happening is all the kids are working at their own pace. They are watching the videos on their own when they have a question. Some students might get 90 percent from a video. Some students might get 60 percent from a video, but when they start to connect with each other, they can start to point out other things, and then they can look for other resources on the Web and they get each other to 100 percent. And this is something I really want to stress is that we don't -- there's a mindset, and I think some of the press that's been written about this makes it sound like we think or someone thinks that Khan Academy is this tool that's going to get -- you just watch a video and, bam, 100 percent. And hopefully that happens. You know, we're going to try to make the videos as good as possible, but what we think it does is it takes lecture out of the room. We think we're really effective in getting the lecture out of the room and allowing these videos to be consumed in a way that different people can take what they can from them and from other things on the Internet, frankly, and then when they go into the classroom, since the lecture's off the table now, they are now liberated to actually communicate with each other and they're liberated to have a conversation about mathematics. They're liberated to, like, sit next to their teacher. So the power, the real beauty isn't actually like, you know, some magic that Khan Academy has a neural plug-in to your brain and can deliver -- the real magic, I think, is that class has so much potential that we're letting happen now, because we're taking all that other stuff that was kind of disrupting traditional class out of the way. And so the real magic is actually what happens when you let people talk to each other.
Sal Khan: For me, like, the deepest learning happens with a project-based story, but the projects can only be useful if people go into the projects with the core toolkit that -- so they can understand what's actually going into -- going in an analytical way. So every student working at their own pace, it doesn't matter what grade they are, what age they are. In fact, we're starting a few pilots with multi-age groups in the same classroom, and some can work on things that are below grade level. Some can work on things that are above grade level, but what it does is at least on the core concepts it allows every student to make sure that they have at least the core basics done and gives data to the teacher on where there is need. And then what we're hoping is it informs the teacher enough, saying, "You know what? I think the students in my class are ready for this type of a project and that type of a project". And I think right now we are putting it on the teacher, like, "We've kind of liberated a lot of this core stuff off of you. You won't have to give the traditional lecture. You won't have to do the traditional homework, but you how have, I would say, maybe a larger responsibility to do more of this less-traditional stuff, which is invent an interesting project or find an interesting project". Two summers ago I was running a little summer camp myself and I wanted to experiment with this, just eat my own dog food, to some degree, on what's going on. So what I did is I had the students that used the videos and the primitive kind of the exercises back then to learn a little bit about probability and multiplying decimals and fractions and all that. And then what I wanted them to really internalize what probability is and what expected value is. I did a bunch of simulations. One of them had the -- I don't know if you've ever played "Settlers of Catan". It's like a trading game, right? So, like, we're all in one civilization and we can build roads, but we trade. Like, to build a road you need, like -- I don't know. I forgot -- like, two woods and three bricks, and you can build a road. And you might have four woods, and so we'll try to trade. We're competitive, but we're also trading with each other, but obviously if you see students who've already mastered the basics of probability, they've watched some of those videos on expected value, then this would be an ideal exercise for them, because they're really going to internalize what expected value is.
Sal Khan: A large degree of what we're doing is being inspected directly by teachers, so a lot of those dashboards, a lot of the new modules you see, a lot of the videos you see are direct feedback from teachers saying, "Hey, Sal, we need a video like this," or, "Hey, Sal, can you do another video"? or, "That's not the language we use. Can you change the language in a different one"? You know, the traditional reform mindset towards education is let's micromanage teachers more. Like, a good number of really great teachers are getting handicapped by this micromanaging, teaching to the test, whatever else, and forcing on Tuesday, September 27 you have to cover this, and you can't question that and you have to say these words and you have no time to run your own project and you have no time to think of your own curriculum or whatever you want to do. We genuinely feel like the teachers are getting liberated here. Do what you want on whatever day and the students are going to do what they want on this day, and we're freeing tons of class time for you to do what I think you went into teaching to begin with. Like, when I ran my little summer camp -- and I won't claim to have 30 years of experience and all the rest, but what was fun for me was not having to give a lecture on these common multiples, not having to give a lecture on probability, to know that that was out of the way and getting to do this super fun simulation where the kids are trading pieces and all this. And I felt like I was able to express my creativity. I was able to go home and say, "What would be a really cool way to understand this concept intuitively"? And when I went to classroom, that's what we did, and I felt like it was a much richer experience. And so we genuinely feel and we genuinely hope that it's doing that for teachers, and the teachers of Los Altos have expressed that, that they love -- that they feel liberated. They feel like they have data that they've never had before. The fifth-grade teachers, they teach all the classes, because they're in elementary school, and they feel handicapped in their other classes now, because they are doing that -- the lecture. They are doing the stuff that I would say is lower value than what they're doing in their math classes, which is the projects, which are the one-on-one interactions. And so they're actually asking us as quickly as possible, "When are the grammar videos coming? When are the grammar exercises coming so I can do more interesting things with that part of my day in class"?
Sal Khan: So, one of the neat things is when I make these videos I sometimes imagine that my kids, who are right now two and a half and one months old -- one month old will be the future viewers of this video 15 years, 20 years in the future. So, all the videos, to some degree, I view as for them and for other students. But the ones that I've kind of -- especially now having a daughter -- thought about making is actually kind of like life-advice stuff. And I don't know if I'll put this in a separate place someplace, or it might not make Khan Academy in the first couple -- like, even dating advice, because there's a reality that right now I can call on my cousins, who are about 15 years younger than me, and they take me kind of seriously. They're like, "You know, Sal isn't that far from the action. He kind of remembers what my life is like," but they completely zone out their 50-year-old parents. And I kind of feel like my daughter and son will be likely to listen to the 34-year-old Sal and not the 50-year-old Sal. So I can kind of do a time-shift now, just like, "Look, if you know you're not going to marry the guy, end it," you know? [ laughs ] Don't let this turn into one of those momentum relationships. You don't know what'll happen, you know? Or, like, these are what you should look for and this is what it means to be a good person, and this is what -- I think that that could be an interesting thing.