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.

For polio the end is near

Rotary is this close to helping world health organizations eradicate polio.

In 1985 there were 350,000 cases of the crippling disease in 125 countries. Today, thanks to the efforts of Rotarians, the World Health Organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others, the number of endemic countries has been reduced to four: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. Still, if people don’t act, more than 10 million children will be paralyzed in the next 40 years.

After 20 years of work, Rotary International is making a final push to eradicate the disease. It is asking the world community to help raise $555 million to directly support immunization campaigns in developing countries. “As long as polio threatens even one child anywhere in the world, children everywhere remain at risk,” Rotary states on its website. “The stakes are that high.”