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Heard: Salman Khan Wrote A Book & Speaks About Khan Academy Strategy

Sal Khan at Web 2.0 SummitKevin Krejci via Compfight

Antonio Regalado over at the MIT Technology Review published a nice interview with MIT alum Sal Khan, who founded Khan Academy. Khan, by the way, recently wrote a book: The One World School House: Education Reimagined. Regalado says the book is “partly a hymnal for future donors, in which Khan gamely plugs a riches-to-rags storyline.” We appreciate that honesty from Regalado, a former WSJ reporter. On the positive side, he writes the book “is an erudite and accessible call to reorganize education. In much of the developed world, Khan writes, schools use a top-down teaching model first developed in Prussia, a Germanic kingdom known for “stiff whiskers, stiff hats, and stiff way of marching in lockstep.” Students must march ahead even if they haven’t understood what came before. Eventually, some stumble and tune out.”

Regalado spoke with Khan by phone. Here are a couple choice paragraphs from a very interesting interview:

Can we dig into the slogan a little? Because nothing is really “free.” Someone has to pay for it.

For us, free really means free. So far it’s been donors who have paid for it. Over the longer term, we think there will be ways to get other revenue that doesn’t conflict with the “free” part. We’ve learned from what’s happened at the Children’s Television Workshop—the people who make Sesame Street. They offer their learning for free but have obviously done very well. I don’t know if Sal dolls will do as well as Elmo dolls, but the general notion is out there.

We were inadvertently—and now more explicitly—building a brand in a space where there are very few brands. As time goes on, if people say, “Hey, we trust the Khan Academy. That is where we go to make sure that we understand things,” I could see third-party toys or books. Something we’ve already started to do is license our content to for-profit companies. There’s one that plans to sell devices into the education market that will include the video part of what we do.

You’ve become the world’s most talked-about educator. But you’re not even trained as a teacher. That has upset some people, hasn’t it?

Look, pedagogy is a lot like economics. I can find two education PhDs who are in 180-degree opposition. It’s just like Keynesians versus the Chicago school of economics. You can see it in the debate over New Math versus the old math. The math wars have been raging for decades. They hate each other. They shout at each other. We try not to be dogmatic about it.

A lot of the criticism I have [gotten] is “There is no such thing as a silver bullet. The Khan Academy is not going to solve education’s problems.” And we agree with that 100 percent. At the same time, we think we’re at the very top of the first inning. Over the next five years we are going to be investing heavily, more than anyone, in analytics that give you a dynamic assessment. What does a student know? What does a student not know? How effective is the tutorial? That is what is exciting. That is the possibility of doing experimentation at Internet speed with Internet scales of data. So what you see today at Khan Academy is a very crude approximation of where we’ll be in five or 10 years. And even that won’t be the silver bullet. But we’ll be moving in the right direction.

What is the biggest pressure being placed on you that runs counter to your mission?

That goes back to question number one, the free part. I have to raise resources for this effort. And if I am doing that, then I am not directly making the videos, or helping the team with the product. A lot of nonprofit heads are money raisers. That’s not me, but I do it anyway. So that’s a tension. Our budget will be $10 million next year and we pay people well. But we’re also not giving stock options. People who work here need to feel that we are going to be sticking around. I am trying to get us that runway.

Via MIT Technology Review

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