Flattening the Learning Curve

If your New Year’s resolution includes learning something new, Sal Khan has a lesson for you. And it’s free.

An indefatigable educator with three degrees from MIT and a Harvard MBA, Khan has built an online learning library of 3,600 videos on topics ranging from medieval history to hypertension to mortgage rates. He narrates and illustrates many of the 10-to-15-minute clips in an easy-going but passionate manner. The Khan Academy offers interactive knowledge maps and dynamic exercises as well.

Khan says the success of the program hinges on the way the lessons are taught. “The lectures are coming from me, an actual human being who is fascinated by the world around him.”

The world has noticed. More than 41 million people learned from Khan Academy video tutorials last year. One of them was Bill Gates, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with Google, has donated a combined $7.5 million to the nonprofit.

Khan’s resolution for the New Year? “We’re reaching over five million students now a month, and our big push is to find ways to make the video lessons more interactive,” Khan told The Rotarian magazine.” That includes having questions show up during the course of the video, like ‘How would you add fractions?’ to get the students really invested, or ‘What would you do as the next step?’ before showing them the right answer. Then there’s our community push – we’re developing software to get the students to help one another, quickly and effectively.”

Now there’s a resolution worth keeping.