George Lucas Educational Foundation

Salman Khan on Liberating the Classroom for Creativity (Big Thinkers Series)

The founder of Khan Academy, a free educational video library that features over two thousand titles and an interactive dashboard for formative assessment, discusses how his videos can help create a "flipped classroom" that allows blended learning -- online lectures can happen at home and project-based learning can happen during school.
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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.

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Video Credits

Director and Editor

  • Zachary Fink

Associate Producer

  • Doug Keely


  • Zachary Fink
  • Doug Keely

Video Programming Producer

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Executive Producer

  • David Markus

Go to to see Salman Khan in action. And learn more about his work:


Read an blog about blended learning -- combining online learning with project-based learning. Or, see more Edutopia Big Thinkers.

More Edutopia Coverage on Khan Academy:

  • VIDEO: Salman Khan on Liberating the Classroom for Creativity

    The founder of Khan Academy discusses how his videos can help create a "flipped classroom" that allows blended learning, where online lectures can happen at home and project-based learning can happen during school.

  • VIDEO: Khan Academy Explores Hands-On Learning

    Khan Academy's video lectures have the potential to free up time for more hands-on learning in the classroom. In their Discovery Lab summer camp, Khan Academy staff experimented with project-based learning activities to build better student engagement.

  • BLOG: Khan Academy's Discovery Lab -- Summer Camp Where STEM Meets PBL

    Director Minli Virdone describes Khan Academy's Discovery Lab summer camp, where, among other hands-on projects, 5th, 6th, and 7th graders learn by reverse engineering common household objects.

  • VIDEO: Sal Khan Maps Out Blended Learning

    In his signature visual style, Khan sketches a plan for how digital learning tools can make room for teachers and students to embrace more real-life creative learning experiences, and how Khan Academy and the Discovery Lab summer camp fit into that big picture.

Find more information about Khan Academy's Discovery Lab.

Comments (9) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

hchriste's picture
Long-Term Substitute Teacher from Orange County, CA

Thank you! Is there any way (in the future) you can make videos in Spanish as well for the immersion crowd? Especially in lower grades (K-3) when the Spanish percentage is so high.

HiFIKIDS's picture
HiFiKIDS Corporation

Sal Khan is doing great work and innovating a whole new way of educational system. We are greatly complimented by Khan Academy's videos but what we are asking our HiFiKIDS to become Sal Khan in their own way and motivate their friends and family. is an another revolutionary way of motivating kids for studies or anything of their interests. We encourage kids to come up and present their topic of interests in front of the video camera by asking one single question at the end of their presentation with multiple choice answers (Remember "Who wants to be a millionaire" or "Who is smarter then 5th grader?" format but here kids act like an anchor of the's "WHo wants to be hifikids scholar?" program) and then upload the video presentation in our Virtual School. It comes for the approval to check if the contents are appropriate for that age and submitted parameters are appropriate. Once approved by the approver it then gets published for the similar age kids who are living around that place so that neighborhood kids can understand their language ascent very well. So the number of questions kids submit and the number of questions kids answer correctly which is submitted by another same age kids are totaled which generates passion graph. In this public level program, we encourage kids to come up with the topics they love or they know the most or they enjoy the most and can comfortably present in front of the camera. This is how our passion graph accurately shows their growing passion and by doing this over the period will help teachers /parents to know their real interests or genuine skills. We are doing some small pilot programs in some schools in India and results are astonishing. It is indeed motivating kids and they are coming up with new new topics on their own. Some kids are very interested in poems, or some in maths or some in science experiments or some in history or some in geography. Some also presents sport activities. When they watch other's videos they get motivated and compete with each other to present more and more videos. We believe that this system will generate self educational echo system across the globe and create a unique database of kid's educational videos. Instead of gauging or assessing kids only by exams, our system assesses them via their presentation about the certain topics they know and show others that they know something better.
We also have a plan to expand this concept to make a full virtual school for the kids across the globe. Please check this video: and also contact us at for more information to get started and use our system in your school.
HiFiKIDS Founder

free al's picture
free al
grade eight social studies

I have found that and have a lot more free resources and they are done by teachers. Kahn is doing a good job, no doubt, but it would be great if he could show the data that shows flipping improves student learning so that teachers could use that to convince administrators to allow it.

Jason's picture

This is extremely dangerous to make such blanketed recommendations on a great idea. The idea that we as educators could come to a class where all students were independent to the point that they could learn complex content on their outside of the classroom and come to school intrinsically motivated to utilize that knowledge to create "fun" and "engaging" projects borders on lunacy.

As a public school teacher and a student of cognition and learning this could hypothetically work in a vacuum. However, for the majority of students throughout the nation who have much varied levels of vocabulary knowledge, content knowledge, and levels of motivation, this would not be nearly as universal as a recommendation as this website has so openly embraced.

If you'd like to live in a bubble where you work in a charter school that only selects top cognitive students from highly motivated homes and be prescriptive for the rest of educational environments then we can assume it is okay to live in the ivory tower.

Videos like this is what perpetuates the myth that public schools are to blame for our academic deficits. As if I were to work in a charter school my innate personality and talents as an educator would somehow be much more transformative for my students than in a public setting. It is absurd. It is about funding and making money. Capitalist ventures in healthcare have been abysmal for millions (number 1 cause of bankruptcy) and now in education it is dirtying the waters.

Get off the idealized learning styles myth and others perpetuated like "Khan."

Identify what really serves as foundation to learning and then find ways to motivated and reinvent education.

If you'd like to continue to perpetuate our mediocre comparison on PISA tests to other industrialized nations then continue to buy into and drink the Kool-Aid of such anti-scientific and researched principles.

I applaud the creativity and desire to innovate but when it is as the expense of our public discourse and the welfare of our children, then i take it personally. You are hurting more than helping.

Please read more from:

1. Daniel T. Willingham
2. E.D. Hirsch Jr.
3. Tracy Packiam-Alloway
4. Annie Murphy-Paul

Rod Turner's picture
Rod Turner
Founder of The College Trail

The most powerful point in the video came about two-thirds of the way through, when Sal Khan clarified that his purpose is not for 100% of students to learn 100% of the videos 100% of the time. Rather, students with higher level mastery levels will assist those with lower levels during classroom time, as will teachers. Because students are individuals, the standard classroom lecture, by definition, cannot possibly teach every student. Learning requires classroom redirection, reinforcement, and application. Unfortunately, because teachers still utilize a high percentage of available class time for presentation to a group, these more important aspects of learning are alloted less time. Sal is onto something here, and as time progresses, modifications will fine tune the system. Not coincidentally, fine tuning is what students need in the classroom as well.

MSK's picture
I am a student, Grand Canyon University, Science K-8

I am a grandmother and a student. My grand child does not attend a private school or charter school. He goes to public school here in the neighborhood and he LOVES MATH! He is 7 just entering the second grade but he loves to be challenged like his mom and "Nanta".

This is the perfect time to expose him to math in a creative way. I think that lecturing can be so boring especially if the instruction is given in the same format all of the time. I have sat through instruction in my grand childs' classes some of the teachers are brilliant at getting the message across and some put the students to sleep they zone out and get distracted very easily. It would be a great addition to the classrooms to have something that brings in a new approach to learning. Everyone is screaming that our children are not learning and that they are not grasping concepts they need to help them move forward....So why not test the techniques he uses to see if they can be of benefit? I used them with a friend who is returning to college and was having a hard time with algebra. It worked! She was able to learn the concepts for working and setting up equations. Now she has a reference site she can use to help her if she gets in trouble. I always recommend his site to the students too because he gives great help and it does not cost a student one dime! On tutorial sites you pay to get help and in many cases you get nothing for your money. Ridiculous!
I have not been asked for a dime to participate or access any of the materials on his website. He said FREE and it was FREE.

On a personal note: If Sal he is making any money to help further education in a creative way then GREAT! I have been reading his articles and following his work for a while now and as an outsider looking in all, I see is a passion for sharing his knowledge and gift with others and a desire to leave something of worth for his own children. I can relate to this as many of you can too I am sure.

I also know how non-profits work, you do not get rich! If you get paid ANYTHING what you put in is not nearly as much as what you get out in monetary funds. Because this is a labor of love you put in way more time than you do on a 9-5 and you put in a great deal more leg work, research and paperwork to see your dream come to life. It is believed that students are taught a certain amount of basic math in Elementary thru High School but what if there is a gap and you did not get the things you needed?

I appreciate you Sal! Keep up the good work. I am going to use your videos with my grand child this year so that he is even more prepared for school. I also use them myself and I love them, I found them easy to understand and the practice exercises really helped with reinforcement of the concepts. It is so easy to criticize when you bring nothing to the table. I was told as a young child, If you are not a part of the solution then you are a part of the problem. So, I choose to be a part of the solution and for me that means using all of the resources at my disposal to help those I love and those I will be teaching.

We all must look at materials we select for classroom appropriateness and then make a decision to use them or figure out how it can be adapted. Some things we will be able to use others we will not. I want my students to be exposed and challenged not held to the "status quo". Our students can achieve if we believe in them so they believe in themselves.

This is not just a life, it is an ADVENTURE!

Sal, Thanks for all that you do to inspire excellence.

Kay's picture
Educational Technologist

Thank you Jason!

Your voice as professional member of the educational establishment is incredibly valuable in any discussion of education.

It is refreshing to hear from professional educators. Unfortunately the voice of experts are often lost in the cacophony politicians and business interests.

Nelly López's picture

It would be so helpful since my school is flipped class since this school year 2014-2015. I am a Spanish Teacher as well.
Thanks a lot, and if you see something related to Spanish, please email me:

Trish McCarty's picture
Trish McCarty
Better Way to Learn Educator, Charter School Founder, Speaker, Best Selling Author,

We have an entire K-12 inner-city Phoenix charter school that was set up to give all kids experiential learning with technology. I wish you would come to see it in action.

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