How many users does Khan Academy have

Salman Khan: From Punter to Teacher to Millions

Schoolchildren, students and other interested people from around the world have now accessed over 220 million free lessons on the Khan Academy website. It is seen by some as a harbinger of a fundamental upheaval in the educational landscape, in which digital and personal learning opportunities are ideally combined with one another. The fact that the Khan Academy even exists is thanks above all to YouTube - and the cousin of the founder Salman “Sal” Khan.

Passion for math

Salman Khan's passion for mathematics runs through his life, but he probably would not have believed himself that he would one day help people all over the world learn and understand.

He was born in 1976 in New Orleans, USA. His father comes from Bangladesh and was raised by his Indian mother, who kept her head above water with various jobs. Salman Khan went to a public school, where some of the classmates were fresh out of prison and for others the path to the elite university was already mapped out, as he remembers the New York Times. Not exactly ideal, but Salman Khan now has bachelor's degrees in mathematics and computer science, as well as a master's in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master's from Harvard Business School. In other words: he was able to turn his passion for mathematics into degrees despite a difficult starting position.

After all, he was working as an analyst for a hedge fund when he was given a seemingly harmless task in 2004: His cousin Nadia needed help with maths. Who would be better suited to this than her cousin Sal? He did it, and apparently so successfully, that other relatives and friends soon asked.

The birth of the Khan Academy on YouTube

On November 16, 2006, he made a decision that, in retrospect, can now be seen as the birth of the Khan Academy: Sal Khan set up a YouTube account. He recorded his math lessons with simple means and uploaded them there. Since he saw no reason to make them private, he released the videos publicly.

In the TED Talk, which is well worth seeing, he explains that he soon noticed two things: His explanations worked even better in video form, after all, you can pause them or listen to them several times. You can revisit a previous lesson - all without asking anyone. On the other hand, Salman Khan noticed that his videos were not only well received by his friends and relatives. The number of views rose and rose.

Three years later, Salman Khan quit his hedge fund job. “It was a completely new feeling for me to do something socially meaningful,” he jokes in the TED Talk.

Gates Foundation and Google are supporters

The Khan Academy is now a non-profit organization that is financially supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Google, among others. The number of videos has grown enormously and many other topics are now covered in addition to mathematics: biology, chemistry, physics, computer science and, more recently, art history. What all videos have in common is that they come in portions of around 10 minutes. So you can easily determine how much you want to see. In addition, the teacher, who is usually Salman Khan himself, can only be heard off-screen. Instead, it shows what it is about on its screen. This often works quite well, especially because Salman Khan has a relaxed and personable way of explaining his topic. He can be audibly enthusiastic about many things and it is difficult to evade it.

The videos are now supplemented by practical exercises that can be completed directly on the computer. They are currently mainly in the field of mathematics.

The Khan Academy is also a community in which users can ask questions or try to give others an answer. There is a corresponding discussion thread for each video.

A bit of “gamification” is also part of it: You collect various virtual rewards as you know them from computer games.

There is a dedicated area for teachers where they can see exactly how far each student is. What content was viewed? Which exercises were completed and how successfully? Thanks to the Khan Academy, the students can set their own learning pace. You don't have to be afraid of looking up something again or having to practice longer.

Salman Khan's vision goes much further

Salman Khan can probably best explain where the Khan Academy's journey could go. He recorded the following video about this:

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The idea behind the Khan Academy is to achieve “mastery” in every subject, explains Salman Khan. He sees this as an alternative to today's school. It works like giving a child a bike, explaining how to ride a bike and two weeks later grading how well it works. His ideal, however, is that the students master every topic, just as you only stop practicing cycling with a child when they can ride a bike.

The Khan Academy model has aroused the interest of schools in the USA, which are testing how such a portal can be integrated into the classroom. And it turns out that in some cases there is an interesting reversal of the previously common distribution of learning and practicing. Today it is the case that in school the material is taught in the lessons and at home the homework should then deepen and practice what has been learned. But why leave the students alone when they have the most questions and need the most help? With an offer like the Khan Academy, it is the other way around: The students are given the homework to look at the next lessons and then they practice together in the classroom.

The Khan Academy and similar projects are therefore no substitute for traditional teaching. But they can improve it in ways that benefit everyone. And last but not least, the free lessons of the Khan Academy generally reach all interested people all over the world, regardless of how well they are otherwise provided with educational content. There is an offline version of the content for regions without the necessary Internet access. Computers are still needed, but it is well known that there are more and more projects here to make them as affordable as possible.

An equation that works

What began as a math tutoring for Salman Khan's cousin and developed into a YouTube account has now become an educational project on a global scale that is also available to everyone free of charge. It is driven by the founder's passion and his decision to forego profit. Not bad for someone who just a few years ago was making money from speculating on the stock market.

But since Salman Khan is very knowledgeable about math, one can assume one thing: This equation obviously applies to him.

Jan "jati" Tißler has over 20 years of professional experience as an online journalist and digital publicist. In 2006 he launched the UPLOAD magazine. Since 2015 he has been helping companies to inspire the right customers with content. Together with Falk Hedemann, he offers UPLOAD Publishing services along the entire content marketing process chain. Born in Hamburg, he lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.