Salman Khan – The Khan Academy

The Khan Academy phenomenon lives on, with more than 9,000 videos on more than 65 languages.

This Ted Talk by Salman Khan way back in 2011 has some profound learnings:-

1. He found that kids prefer a video of him teaching them, rather than him teaching them in person, because…

– in video, he can be paused and repeated

– there is less pressure on the kids – there isn’t someone there to ask them “have you understood what i just tried to teach you?”

– they can watch him again at a later date, without the embarrassment of going to him to tell him that they have forgotten what he taught.

2. He talks about the Flip Classroom (which I have described in a recent blog posting).  His comment is that the teachers use technology to “humanize” the classroom. I think this is specifically profound as many people (including educators) say that eLearning is not effective as it lacks the human touch in a classroom. But in reality, a typical classroom is where the teacher gives a one-way delivery of knowledge. The students are mostly not allowed to speak during this, and probably are terrified that they will be picked upon to answer questions.  In a Flip Classroom, the students can interact with each other, as well as with the teacher, whilst doing their homework.

3.  In a traditional classroom, the teacher moves on to another, probably harder topic, irrespective of whether all the students have mastered the current topic. Talk about lining them up for failure! Using technology and the Flip Classroom concept, the students get personalized learning, rather than a “one size fits all”. The slower students can watch the videos over and over again to catch up. And the better students can move on to other topics. In the class, the teacher is helping the students, irrespective of which topic the student is at. The teacher can spend more time in class to help the students who need to catch up.

4. With Khan Academy, the teachers can keep track of which student is up to which video. They can even have questions to test the students before they move to the next video. So at one glance, the teacher can see which of the students are falling behind, and need some extra attention. And for the students who are doing exceptionally well, the teacher can assign them to help those who are falling behind. Now, how cool is that! There is also a lot of other data which the teacher can have access to, as explained by Salman Khan.

5. The teacher can then spend 95% of his/her time interacting with (rather than talking at) the students. Traditionally, the teacher spends only 5% of his/her time in real interaction with the students. This can make the teachers’ job more interesting and satisfying.


7 thoughts on “Salman Khan – The Khan Academy

  1. I’m very impressed with The Khan Academy. It is an interesting and excellent way of teaching. It helps kids to be independent, confident learners. I also like the fact that they don’t have to be shy to ask questions, cause they can now pause and replay the video as many times as possible until they understand or found the answers they’re looking for.

  2. I have used the Khan Academy website before and it was very informative. I could learn at my own pace. I was preparing for the Graduate Records Examinations by reading books and some of the concepts were not clear. My cousin recommended the Khan Academy website. I visited the website and the mathematical concepts that I had challenges with became clearer as I watched videos. I stopped reading and relied solely on the Khan Academy website. I was able to go into the examination with confidence. The Khan Academy is helping students to achieve academic excellence. They ensure that the information is explicit so that even a slow learner in the audience can understand. The information is also free so I believe everyone should take advantage of this opportunity. E-learning is more flexible than traditional teaching. It gives students the opportunity to digest information and learn at their own pace. The problem with traditional classroom setting is that students don’t get enough time to digest information. Teachers tend to focus on completing their lesson and so they move on even when their students are not grasping relevant information. E-learning removes barriers and helps shy students like me. Some students are afraid to ask questions and even ask teachers to repeat. In an E-learning environment, you can go over materials and concepts that you don’t understand. Both teachers and students should consider incorporating the Khan Academy platform. Today’s generation is born in the technological era so the traditional teaching may not be effective for everyone. Incorporating audio visual equipment in the learning environment can make learning fun and motivate students.

    1. Thank you Felecia. You have really hit the nail on the head. It would really be a great benefit to students if all schools can incorporate this. Teachers do not need to spend time to keep repeating their lessons. The time can be spent interacting with the students – mentoring and inspiring them. Another added benefit is that the learning delivery is then very consistent.

  3. Imagine someone tells you this: “I prefer hearing and watching the Youtube version of you rather than learning from you face-to-face”. How would you feel? That was heard by a financial analyst turned educator and CEO, Salman Khan many years ago when he was asked to tutor his relatives in mathematics. Instead of sulking and taking the statement negatively, he saw it as opportunity. Therefore, he took it as a challenge to embark on a new project which he felt beneficial to many others across the globe. Born and raised in Metairie, Louisiana, Khan quit his job as a financial analyst in 2009 to pursue his passion. He is already very successful in his mission to accelerate learning for students of all ages. His videos have been viewed by millions of keen learners in many countries.

    The path to success for Khan was not a smooth one. Many have openly criticized the effectiveness of his videos since Khan does not have a background in pedagogy, he was criticised due to the fact that he does not have a degree in any field related to education. He did not let any of those criticisms bring his spirit down. Instead, he managed to get errors in his videos fixed. He also managed to build a strong network of content specialists. During one of the interviews, he acknowledged that although there are limitations, his online lectures are of high value. He stated that he did not mean his online videos to be a substitute for a complete education, but rather to assist students with their learning.

    Khan Academy’s success was proven by recognitions nationally and internationally. Bill Gates enthusiastically spoke about Khan Academy’s in his speech at the Aspen Ideas Festival. To support the creation of more valuable content, allow translations for the academy’s content and also enable the academy to hire more staff, Google’ Project donated 2 million dollars in year 2010. Recognitions received are not limited to those aforementioned, the founder himself was listed among The Times 100 most influencial people for 2012 and in 2014, Khan was honored to be one of five recipients of the Heinz Award.

    In short, it is evident that Salman Khan has the clout and confidence to succeed. Hopefully, all available content in the academy’s website will continue to be of great benefit to many of us.

    Each year thousands of fresh graduates left universities with a high hope and a great vision – to be able to obtain a secured job with a lucrative income either with the public sectors or the private sectors. However very few are able to secure jobs in the private sectors. One of the factors is that fresh graduates are unable to communicate in English even those with distinctions in English. Therefore it is a fact that job seekers with A in SPM English but can’t speak a word of it. This is not something new. In fact it has been a stale and stereotype phenomenon that is unique in Malaysia.
    Our Ministry of Education is very much aware of such phenomenon. However I feel that our education system is always changing and sometimes implementation of certain system have not been aggressive enough. ( I do not want to further elaborate on this) . Credits should be given to our former Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir (TDM). During his reign it was his master mind to introduce the Teaching of Science & Mathematics in English. ((PPSMI). I would say he has made a drastic change in the education system simply because he knew that without the mastery of the English Language, Malaysians cannot stand on par with the other neighbouring countries (especially Singapore) and in the era of globalization. Thus PPDMI was implemented and I could see the new batch of students under this system were very good in English as they are forced to study Science and Mathematics in English. Unfortunately it died a natural death and did not last long enough for us to see the fruitful effort. There are many reasons why job seekers with ‘A’ in SPM English but can’t speak a word of it.
    Firstly, English language is not a compulsory subject for students to pass in the SPM exam. There is no need and relevance for students to be serious in English at all. Even if they failed English in the SPM exam and as long as they fulfill the requirement, students are able to continue their studies in Form 6. Similarly, Form 6 students only need to sit for the MUET (Malaysian University English Test) exam and even if with a Band 1( Band 1 – the lowest, Band 6- the highest ) students are able to enter university provided their CGPA is good. That is the scenario of the fate of the English Language in Malaysia. Consequently, the Form 6 students feel that it really does not matter if they obtain a Band 1 in MUET. Moreover most of the students feel that there is no relevance for them to learn English at all so this makes them set their mind not to pay much attention to the English subject in class. So once the mindset is wrong, their attitude is also wrong. Their attitude towards the English subject – they have never been serious in class when it comes to learning English because it’s not compulsory to pass English in the SPM exams. Besides without English, they can still survive in Malaysia.
    Secondly, there is a big gap between the SPM syllabus and the MUET syllabus. SPM does not test students on the 4 skills – Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. While MUET is more holistic and has equal weightage of the assessment. And it tests students on all the 4 skills, so when students continue their studies in Form 6 they find it hard to adapt to the new format.- the worst being the Speaking and Listening component. Therefore it is not surprising at all that after 11 years of studying English, school leavers are not able to speak a word of it.
    As a teacher teaching English for 36 years it is indeed a very frustrating task to see students struggling to speak in English. They can’t listen, speak, read and write well, How on earth are they qualified for the job markets? Many SPM students resort to rote learning, memorizing the sample or model essays without having to analyse and think critically for the answers. That’s how they end up getting ‘A’ for English in the SPM exams.
    Thirdly, grammar items are not emphasized in the English curriculum as the main concern is communicative English and to make students able to communicate in the language minus the proper grammar. Grammar is taught as integrated skill in Communicative English. It is incorporated in all the topics but not as an isolated lesson in class. When I learnt English back in the 1960’s, grammar was taught in class as an isolated lesson . Teachers came into the class drilled and drummed grammar into the students’ mind. Therefore senior teachers in school under the old system were able to speak better in English than the Y generations. Undoubtedly, students nowadays lack of grammar and end up mastering broken English instead.
    In addition there are only 6 periods per week of English in class for the SPM students and 8 periods per week of MUET for the STPM students. Thus the main problem is students only speak and listen to English during the English period in class. Many students choose to speak Bahasa Malaysia or Chinese during the English/MUET period. There is no sense of urgency to speak English. It is difficult to create an English speaking environment for them.. they choose not to communicate in English even if they are force to speak in that language. Speaking English is not restricted in class or school but they choose not to speak in English. Recently our Education Ministry has implemented another new programme – Highly Immersive Programme (HIP) under the MBMMBI policy. The main objective is to improve English proficiency of students through increased exposure in school. It is hoped that with this programme, it can inculcate positive behavior towards learning and usage of English. Thus all schools in Malaysia are empowered to run this programme effectively. It sounds very promising and we hope that students will improve in the English Language tremendously.
    In conclusion, there is only one solution to make students, fresh graduates and job seekers to be proficient in English – our Education Ministry should be bold enough to make English as a mandatory subject to pass in the SPM exam and a minimum Band 3 in MUET for Form 6 students to enter university.

    Written by:
    Cheah Chai Kim


    In response to this article, I totally agree that for a student to improve his conversational skills in a classroom, he should be practicing speaking with different people either on a one-to-one basis or in a group. To improve in his speaking skills, he needs not just confine himself in the classroom to speaking or interacting with his teacher alone. Whenever a teacher steps into the classroom, teaching and learning is going to be very formal. At the same time, the teacher may have to rush through to complete the syllabus and exams formats. He may not have time to further interact with his students other than completing his task as according to the lesson planned for that day. Thus it is not possible for him to engage in a dialogue especially an informal one. The students in the class mostly take turns to speak or answer the questions. Even then, some students may not be called to answer any questions at all because teacher may not have the time to call all the students to respond.
    As for the teaching and learning environment in Malaysia, most of the rural schools students only get to hear and speak English during the English period in the class. Once outside the class, they choose to interact in their own mother tongue. There is no English speaking environment in such school. There is also very little initiative taken by students to create such environment- the fact is they are more comfortable speaking in their own mother tongue.
    In addition, students should learn to speak English with different people from different nationality or racial background. Different people speak differently especially when there is an influence in the different slang or accent used. I remember there was once when I was touring Australia. The driver of the coach tried his best to entertain us with some jokes. It was so hard for us Asians to understand what he was saying. He was talking about an “Irish man” but what I heard was an “Orange man”. When he said “later” I thought he meant “Lighter”. In another situation, a European man said “Start Smoking”, when in actual fact he meant “Stop Smoking”. It took me quite a while to figure out what he said. I realise that as Asians it is hard for us to understand what the Europeans are saying and as for them it seems we speak too fast and it is difficult for them to understand us instead. I may be proficient in English but I always feel intimidated when talking to any European because of their slangs. Therefore, I strongly believe that students should speak English with different people from different nationality.
    Furthermore, building confidence in the newly acquired language with people you have not met before is also another appropriate approach to speaking a new language. Students have been speaking with their teachers in class all this while. They are very familiar with their own English teachers. They don’t feel intimidated nor nervous when speaking with their own English teachers. In fact, they feel comfortable talking to them. Thus the real test is when students have to speak to newly acquainted friends, associates, or even to strangers and that is the time when they lack of confidence in speaking the language. The situation becomes worst when these students are assessed in their speaking exams where by students need to interact in English within stipulated time with total strangers or assessors from other schools.

    Written by:
    Cheah Chai Kim

  6. I agree with the use of technology and the Flip Classroom concept. At school I was slow. The teachers did not use videos or offer us the use of technology. As a result I fell behind and had to work extra hard to get good marks. Thankfully I managed to get good marks in matric and earned a university degree. Since university I have done courses on the Internet that use video as their main method/form of teaching. I find that so much easier because, like the post said, I can watch the video again if I don’t understand what was taught the first time I watched it. I was quite quick to finish my online courses. However, I do enjoy the opportunities for interaction given in the classroom as I am a very enthusiastic person, even when studying.

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