Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy.

Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy.

Salman Khan is the founder of Khan Academy – a nonprofit that offers free online educational videos. In 2004, Khan was working at a hedge fund in Boston when he began tutoring his cousin Nadia in math. When other relatives and friends sought his help, he started recording videos and putting them on YouTube. Soon his growing popularity prompted him to quit his job and dedicate his time to the Academy. Today, the website offers more than 3,000 videos and practice exercises on everything from algebra to physics. Khan believes this technology can help empower teachers and allow students to learn at their own pace. Diane talks with Salman Khan on the current state of education and the power of online learning.


  • Salman Khan Founder of The Khan Academy.

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Read An Excerpt

From the book “The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined.” Copyright (c) 2012 by Salman Khan. Reprinted by permission of Twelve/Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved.


  • 11:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Harvard MBA and former hedge fund manager, Salman Khan has become an Internet sensation. He's the founder of Khan Academy, a non-profit organization that provides free online tutorials on subjects including math, science, and history. Today his videos attract more than five million users a month, and they're used in classrooms around the world. In a new book, Khan encourages us to rethink our current education system and offers ways to improve it.

  • 11:07:36

    MS. DIANE REHMIt's titled "The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined." Salman Khan joins me in the studio. I invite you be part of the program. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you. It's good to have you here.

  • 11:08:05

    MR. SALMAN KHANHonor to be here.

  • 11:08:07

    REHMYou know, I saw a piece you did with "60 Minutes." I was so impressed. Tell us how all this began.

  • 11:08:21

    KHANIt was as was introduced, you know, in 2004 I was an analyst at a hedge fund, not a manager, otherwise I'd be dressed a little bit better.

  • 11:08:29

    REHMI think you look just fine.

  • 11:08:30

    KHANOh, thank you. (laugh) And I had just gotten married, and I was in Boston, and some family was visiting me from New Orleans after the wedding, and in particular, my cousin Nadia who was 12 years old. And, uh, very bright young girl, and I was showing her the universities and saying hey, I think you should go to MIT and major in computer science and then eventually turn that into a career at maybe a hedge fund. And I -- and her mom actually told me that, you know, it's nice that you were mentoring Nadia and you're trying to make her go in your footsteps and all of these great things, but she's actually having trouble with mathematics.

  • 11:09:10

    KHANAnd I had trouble believing that. I talked to Nadia about it. I said, you know, what -- what's going on.

  • 11:09:15

    REHMWhat's going on?

  • 11:09:16

    KHANAnd she said I took a placement exam, and I just don't get unit conversation, ounces to gallons, meters, kilometers, that type of thing. And so I told her, you know, I can see how that can be confusing, but we've have conversations in the last two days that are deeper than that, and I think you can overcome that. And I think she thought that this was just a pep talk and, you know, that her cousin didn't really understand that she really didn't get math.

  • 11:09:42

    KHANAnd so I said, well, how about when you go back to New Orleans, every day after work for me, school for you, we get on the phone. It's extra work for you, but if you're up for it, I'm up for it, and I'm convinced you can do this, and she agreed, and so we started working together, and, you know, long story short, the first month was hard, but once she got into it, she got up to speed, started getting ahead of the curve. Same girl who in sixth grade thought she couldn't get units, ended up taking calculus her sophomore year in high school.

  • 11:10:15

    KHANAnd so then I started teaching -- working with her younger brothers, and you fast forward about two years, word got round in the family that free tutoring was happening, and I had this cohort of students. And I started writing software for them. That was my background, you know, giving them problems and see what they knew and what they didn't know, and so that I could make more tutorials more productive. And I was showing this to a friend, and I was kind of saying, this is great, and by this point I had moved out to Silicon Valley in Northern California, and I said it was difficult now, not that I have 10 or 15 of these kids around the country, and I'm trying to coordinate with.

  • 11:10:48

    KHANAnd it was my friend who said, well, you know, why don't you make some of your tutorials on YouTube, and I thought it was a horrible idea. You know, I said, you know, YouTube's for cats playing piano, not serious mathematics. But I gave it a shot, and, you know, my cousins famously told me they liked me better on YouTube than in person, and I -- so I kept going. And, you know, before -- it didn't take too long to realize that people who are not my cousins were watching.

  • 11:11:15

    REHMBut at what point did you decide you could actually quit you work, quit your job and devote yourself to this kind of creation of tutorials?

  • 11:11:30

    KHANYeah. So the first video was in 2006.

  • 11:11:32


  • 11:11:33

    KHANIt wasn't until 2009 that the traffic was getting so large, and I was getting so many letters, and I was having trouble frankly keeping up with all of this as a hobby, and I was having -- I was even sneaking a few moments in in my day job to tackle some of this, that, you know, I sat down with my wife and I set it up as a not-for-profit, you know, saying hey the mission should be to reach as many people, empower as many people here, and I had never started a not-for-profit before. But I said someone should realize there's a high social return on investment here, an almost infinite social return on investment here.

  • 11:12:05

    KHANAnd so I quit my job, you know, and my wife and I, we kind of agreed, okay, we have about a year's of saving, you know, and that'll be what -- I'll give it a shot. And, you know, nine months into it, it started to get a little bit taxing. I started thinking about updating my resume a bit, and -- but luckily we were able to get funding.

  • 11:12:24


  • 11:12:25

    KHANYou know, the first funding came from -- her name is Ann Door. We got -- I got a $10,000 donation, online. Actually, she emailed it -- she mailed that one. And before I was getting these five, ten dollar donations from people all over the world, which was tremendous, and it was helping, but I told Ann, you know, if we were a physical school, you would now have a building named after you, and then when she found out that I was living off of savings, she really stepped up and gave a larger donation so that I could support myself with a salary.

  • 11:12:54

    KHANAnd then a few months later, I actually got a text message from Ann. She was at a conference where Bill Gates was speaking, and she texted me saying, you know, Bill Gates is on stage right now telling everyone in the audience that he uses the Khan Academy for his kids, he uses it himself, and that was an exciting and surreal moment.

  • 11:13:12

    REHMA breakthrough moment, I must say. And then Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation came through with a large contribution, and then others followed.

  • 11:13:25

    KHANYeah. They've been our largest funder. Google also at that time kind of stepped out of the woodwork and gave a significant donation, and there have been several other folks, a lot of them, in kind of the tech world who have come out to support this.

  • 11:13:38

    REHMHow has the whole vision changed since you first began?

  • 11:13:47

    KHANYou know, it's been a very organic process, you know, literally just starting with tutorials for cousins. But as we've grown, and even when we got that first funding, it was -- I always imagined Khan Academy being the supplementary thing. Like most people, you know, you read news stories and you become cynical about the system so to speak, and I never thought that we would be part of it. But right from the get go, a public school district reached out to us in California and said, you know, we're fascinated by some of the work y'all are doing, how would you see this being used in a fifth grade math classroom?

  • 11:14:18

    KHANAnd we said, well, this would -- these tools, the software, the videos allow every student to work at their own pace. It allows the information delivery component of learning to happen whenever a student wants it, and in our mind, it frees up the classroom to do more interactive things. So in the ideal world, kids would work at their own pace, teachers would get real time information about where they all are, and then they could use that information to do focus interventions, to lead projects, to have the students tutor each other.

  • 11:14:46

    KHANAnd within two weeks they were -- they said this is a good idea, let's try it with four classrooms, and since then they've extended it to every classroom in the district, fifth through eighth grade, and beyond that it's been 20,000 classrooms around the country.

  • 11:15:00

    REHMAnd is that in any and all subjects, or just in math?

  • 11:15:07

    KHANThe site we have, especially the videos, are fairly broad. They -- especially in math and science, they go all the way to college-level biology and chemistry. This pilot that we started with Los Altos, and this is where a lot of our interactivity is right now, was in mathematics.

  • 11:15:23

    REHMBut now?

  • 11:15:25

    KHANNow we're starting to look beyond that. You know, we've recently launched computer science on the site, which is -- shows kind of the creative side of computer science. Kids create portfolios of their work, and Los Altos is interested now in using that as part of computer science. And this is for elementary school kids to start to learn to program, and our long-term goal is, as we had more content on the site, both videos and interactive content, we think that elements of this could be introduced into almost any subject.

  • 11:15:52

    REHMNow, do you have family in addition to your wife? Do you have small children?

  • 11:15:59

    KHANYes. I have a one-year-old and three-year-old.

  • 11:16:00

    KHANOh, my. So is your wife staying at home with these children, or is she out of the house and working there as well?

  • 11:16:11

    KHANMy wife's a physician, and she's working three days a week, and then we also have our -- my mother-in-law who lives with us. So yeah, we have kind of hybrid solution going on.

  • 11:16:21

    REHMAnd how do you make your income?

  • 11:16:24

    KHANI now get a salary from the Khan Academy.

  • 11:16:27

    REHMThat's really fantastic. In terms of trying to help other people, you've done this clearly as a non-profit. Are you still offering these videos free of charge?

  • 11:16:44

    KHANYeah. You know, in 2007 when I was first filling out that paperwork for the IRS, they say a mission statement for your not-for-profit. And I said, well, let me think of something. And I thought about it for about four minutes, and I said well, a free world-class education for anyone anywhere. And so to a certain degree that -- the free part's part of our mission, and so yes. We intend to always have it be free, and, you know, which raises the question of well, how are you going to support yourself? How -- where's this -- and, you know, obviously right now we're a foundation and philanthropically supported, but hopefully we can figure out ways, you know, we look, you know, we've already started licensing out content to for-profit companies who want to use it for other purposes.

  • 11:17:24

    KHANAnd so we think there are way that we can keep the mission sacred, and keep it free so that learning really is, you know, it's an equal playing field.

  • 11:17:32

    REHMAnd really what you're talking about, the model you've mentioned is sort of flipping the classroom so that kids can study at home, do their homework in the classroom, I mean, how does that work?

  • 11:17:52

    KHANAnd to be clear, none of the ideas that I talk about at kind of the meta level, or even in the book are new ideas. And to a large degree, they came to us from teachers or from parents or from students, and in these early days, you know, 2007, 2008, I started getting letters from teachers and they started talking about this idea of flipping the classroom. They're like, you know, you've given a lecture on mycosis. You've given a lecture on photosynthesis or on factoring a polynomial.

  • 11:18:18

    KHANI don't have to use this valuable class time doing that anymore, and doing it at the set pace, some of the kids are lost, some of them are bored. Instead, they can watch your stuff at their own time at their own pace, and other resources that are out there, and then in the class time they can do true problem solving, true interactivity.

  • 11:18:35

    REHMSalman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy. His new book "The One World Schoolhouse." Short break, right back.

  • 11:20:04

    REHMAnd here's our first email for Salman Khan, author of the new book titled "The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined." Here's an email from Carol who says, "I'm working with a computer savvy inmate and open minded staff members in a Missouri maximum security prison. We put the Khan system on disk since the internet is not allowed. And it's now being used in GED classes and being shown throughout the prison on closed circuit TV. Is Mr. Khan aware of this happening in other prisons? Does he have any suggestions?"

  • 11:20:58

    KHANNo, that's incredible. It's...

  • 11:21:00

    REHMIsn't that fabulous?

  • 11:21:01's great to hear and, I mean, this is how we're discovering things. As soon as you allow other ways for the knowledge to kind of get out there and people interact with it, we discover things like this. We have other--we have heard of other people talk about this idea of being able to reach the prison population but this is great to hear that. You know, the unfortunate thing is is that there is limited or no access to the internet. I mean, my suggestion would be to figure out a way to give at least limited access to the internet so that they could benefit from the true interactivity of the sight and they could get kind of the updated information.

  • 11:21:34

    REHMAnd that restriction to the internet within prisons is for good reason. So what they’ve done here is to put it on disk and make it happen that way. I think that's incredible that you're reaching in that way.

  • 11:21:49

    KHANThat's great to hear.

  • 11:21:53

    REHMHere's an email from Justin who says, "I've come to rely heavily on Khan Academy for supplementing the public school education of my two young children. It's the best resource I have found for that purpose."

  • 11:22:12

    KHANNo. I mean, it's letters -- when we hear stuff like that that's what -- you know, in 2008 when there was some temptation to turn this into a for-profit company. It's letters like that that made us -- or made me realize at the time that, you know, we can't ever put any barrier to this information or to this knowledge and never be captive to some other motive. 'Cause, yeah, as many Justins and Carols out there the better.

  • 11:22:37

    REHMBut haven't some people come along to you and said, Sal Khan, you're nuts? Why don't you...

  • 11:22:43

    KHANAll the time.

  • 11:22:44

    REHMYeah, I'm sure they do.

  • 11:22:46

    KHANAnd before the Khan Academy, too.

  • 11:22:48

    REHMYeah but, I mean, that you haven't turned this into a for-profit education system and made billions.

  • 11:22:59

    KHANYeah, you know, I think there's a -- and sometimes it's well intentioned -- I think there's -- especially in Silicon Valley, people believe that true innovation happens in the for profit sector, that only for profits are lean and nimble and efficient and all of that. And I think there's a middle level narrative that we're hoping to prove with Khan Academy. You know, one, we're not for profit so that we can deliver this information to people. But there's also a part of me that wants to show people that a not for profit can scale and be lean and be nimble.

  • 11:23:29

    KHANYou know, one thing that we were worried about maybe a year -- you know, when we were starting off is, okay we're not for profit. We have a very great board. They say, yes, we should definitely pay people market salaries, etcetera but we're not going to be able to give stock options because there's no stock. No one owns Khan Academy. And we're like, will we be able to compete in Silicon Valley for the best talent, the best software engineering talent without options. And, you know, the answer's been a resounding yes. In fact, we've been able to get some of the very best talent.

  • 11:23:56

    KHANGoogle's first employee Craig Silverstein is on our team. We have some -- you know, one of Facebook's -- one of their great engineers. And she was also rated the best engineer at Yahoo at one time. She's on our team. We have folks who are really the leaders in their respective fields all wanting to join our team.

  • 11:24:14

    KHANAnd, you know, there's a research study that came out a couple years ago that said, people actually aren't driven by money. In fact, the way that they get the most productive is they should have enough that they're not worried about money. They can pay their mortgage and they can send their kids to college. But they need intellectually challenging work and they need a mission. And, you know, it's funny, when I first read that (unintelligible) when I was a hedge fund analyst, I was a little skeptical of that. Really? They don't want huge bonuses?

  • 11:24:41

    KHANBut, you know, now one, that's true for myself. I'm very happy doing what I'm doing but it seems like it's true also for some of the best talent out there.

  • 11:24:49

    REHMHow many employees do you now have?

  • 11:24:53

    KHANWe're not 36 and it's been a pretty rapid growth curve. This time last year we were at 13 and this time two years ago we were one.

  • 11:25:01

    REHMSo how do the employees work? How is the share of work divided? Are some pure technical -- on the technical side and some on the educational side? How do you do it?

  • 11:25:16

    KHANYeah so, you know, on one level we are running a large scale internet piece of software. And, you know, with 7 million users a month now and they're -- you know, they've done close to three-quarters of a billion problems on our site. And so we have a pretty deep engineering team. Actually two-thirds of our team are software engineers and designers. The other third of our team is some combination of content producers. There's myself and I still produce content. We brought some other people on. We have our history content that's made by some pretty incredible professors.

  • 11:25:49

    KHANAnd we have a team that interfaces with schools, interfaces with teachers. We have some teachers on staff that are advising us, helping us curate content. We have kind of a research team that's looking at the data and figuring out how can we improve the content. And they're also looking at the literature out there and seeing what type of research can we leverage to make our offering better?

  • 11:26:10

    REHMBut each of your tutorials is just ten minutes long. Why is brevity such an issue?

  • 11:26:20

    KHANYeah, you know, it's one of these things designed by hindsight. It's a -- when I started doing this I think the first video I made for my cousins in 2006 might've been...

  • 11:26:29

    REHM...for Nadia.

  • 11:26:30

    KHAN...for Nadia and at this point there were several others. It was about 16 minutes. I tried to upload it to YouTube and I got rejected 'cause YouTube at the time, for a regular account, would only give you ten minutes for each video. So well, I guess I have to redo this thing. And so I redid it, you know, and I think it was like nine-and-a-half minutes and I uploaded it. And I did all the videos in that. And you could cover a lot 'cause you could do as many videos as you like. And one, I got feedback from a lot of people that, yeah, this is working for them. They're allowed -- it allows them to pay attention.

  • 11:26:59

    KHANBut then I got researchers coming out of the woodwork saying, hey, you know, you must've read -- studied X, Y and Z, and I cite a lot of them in the book, that actually showed that there's no reason to give a lecture more than ten, fifteen minutes because people can't pay attention, especially when it's deep content. They can do it for ten, fifteen minutes then they need to kind of step out, engage with the content to do a little practice or whatever else and then maybe step back in. And they have -- their attention is recharged. And so in hindsight it actually is backed up by how the brain works.

  • 11:27:32

    REHMYou know -- pardon me -- I've often said that when I go to church, 11-minute sermon in my head is elsewhere after that. So I think you've hit it exactly right. You know, I think our listeners should know that you come from very humble roots. You were raised by your mother who is from Bangladesh. You attended public schools growing up. How did your background shape you?

  • 11:28:10

    KHANYeah, you know, it's hard to say. I mean, I think definitely, you know, one thing I cite is my older sister was a very strong student. She was three years older and I think that -- you know, when you enter a class and they already thought highly of your sister three years ago, even if you're a little mediocre they kind of expect you to step up a little bit. And I was definitely a beneficiary of that.

  • 11:28:31

    KHANYou know, I went to public schools in Louisiana and, you know, I think the schools I went to, they were kind of the -- I would call them probably the 50th percentile American school, just kind of the traditional school. And I had, you know, teachers across the spectrum but I had some incredible teachers, you know, early on. And I think frankly because my sister kind of blazed this trail, I was able to get into these GT programs where -- and a lot of what I talk about in the book was motivated by -- you know, I remember Miss Rucell (sp?) , the first time I entered the -- I think it was fourth grade.

  • 11:29:04

    KHANAnd the rest of your curriculum is this Prussian model where all the students are being moved together and you're getting a lecture and you have these tests and these grades. And then all of a sudden once a day I'd be going to this GT class and Miss Rucell would say, well, what do you want to work on? And she's asking me. I'm nine years old. What do I want to work on? And I, well I like to draw. And she's like, okay. Well we're going to draw then. And she would -- but she would push me. She would say, well you know, here's pen and ink, here's pastels. See what you can do here.

  • 11:29:33

    KHANWhat else do you like to do? I said, well I like puzzles. She said, well here's some puzzles. And she would push me and allow me to go at my own pace and give room for my creativity. And I can't understate how important I think that was. And I think probably a lot of the ideas in the book and hindsight are, well, can we get that at scale? Can we get that type of interaction? Shouldn't all classroom activity be what I got to do with Miss Rucell. And actually Miss Crouse was the other GT teacher at that time.

  • 11:30:00

    KHANAnd I think now that there's other ways to deliver the lecture and hopefully better ways. There's other ways you can do a lot of the problem solving. Every student should have that experience, where they go to class and they get that personal attention. And they get personal attention not just with their teacher but also with their peers.

  • 11:30:16

    KHANYou know, right now you go into a classroom K thru 12, or in college -- and K thru 12 there might be 30 people in the room and college might be 300 -- you're in the room together, it's often for the whole year. You don't know anybody. You don't get to talk. Maybe you know the two people who you sit next to. And it's actually very dejuenizing to be in a room and not know the people in the room. And what we say is, no let's remove that lecture. There's no good reason to, especially a 300-person lecture, and use all of that for interactivity. Use all of that for peer-to-peer learning. Use all that for interacting with the professor.

  • 11:30:45

    REHMAre you as worried as some people are, educators in this country, about what has happened to our students?

  • 11:31:00

    KHANI've -- you know, I won't say that I've not worried. You know, you should -- one should never be complacent about something as important as education. With that said I think some of the concern is misguided. I mean, what people always cite is where we are on these test scores relative to other countries and Estonia's beating us there. Algebra students can factor polynomials better than ours. And that's worth looking at but I think -- and other people say, hey how can we be more like Singapore? How can we be more like Finland, be more like South Korea? And I take a completely different view on it.

  • 11:31:32

    KHANIf you look at the U.S. holistically, you know, 50 years ago -- and there still is innovation happening all over the world -- but the U.S. was a significant chunk of it but it was happening in Europe and Japan and everywhere. You look now, the innovation's gotten even more concentrated in the U.S. You know, we were worried about Sony -- and, I mean, Sony's still a great company but now Apple is owning consumer electronics. You have the Googles, the Facebooks, all of the innovative -- the Twitters, they're all getting created in this culture in America.

  • 11:32:02

    KHANAnd it's because we have a culture of entrepreneurship, we have a culture of innovation, we have a culture of not caring what family you're from, but really what you can do, a culture of taking risks and failure's acceptable and a culture of creativity. And so I actually think the task is not how do we get our school system to emulate the Pression model as implemented in Singapore or Finland. It's how do we break the Pression model and make it more American so that we can have creativity in the class time so that all of these things that make America a great engine of innovation are actually happening in the classroom as well.

  • 11:32:37

    REHMSalman Khan. His new book is titled "The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." But, Salman, look at the dropout rate, look at the number of young people who are so turned off by what's happening in the classroom that some have predicted that eventually the U.S. is going to have only a small portion of the population able to create these new systems to move the country forward. I mean, how do we close that education gap?

  • 11:33:27

    KHANI think you hit the nail on the head. That is the main issue. The U.S. won't lose its dominance or its innovation but who gets to participate in that question?

  • 11:33:34


  • 11:33:36

    KHANAnd that's why, you know -- and I keep hitting on it in the book -- you know, we have this model where we keep pushing -- we group students in this kind of factory. We group them in these age-based cohorts and we push them along and we have a set time and pace when they're supposed to learn certain things. So week three in algebra course we're covering quadratics. And, you know, the information is delivered, some homework happens and then there's a test. Some students get an A, some get a B, some get a C, some even fail the exam.

  • 11:34:06

    KHANAnd even though we've identified these gaps in the knowledge -- I mean, some students fail the exam -- because of the way the system is architected we push them all forward somehow expecting the student who got the C or the D or the F in the basic concept to now be able to comprehend the next one. And what you have -- what -- essentially when you ever -- whenever you have everyone -- the delivery happening at a set pace it's really just a filtering process.

  • 11:34:27

    KHANIt's like, you know, imagine a factory line, you're putting -- the factory line's moving at a set pace. It doesn't matter if there are defects emerging, and a good factory would go and fix the defects. In this factory you keep moving along and at different points you're like, hey that's getting a little defective. Let's put it on a different line. That's not going to be a high end product. That's going to be a low product. And then so it's a whole filtering process and at the end you'll end up with 5 percent of people who can really participate in this -- kind of the innovation economy.

  • 11:34:50

    KHANAnd what we're saying is, no that makes no sense, especially in a world where we need so many more people who are creative, who are active problem solvers. We need to do it the other way around. Instead of being variable what your grade is and being fixed when you learn it we need to make variable when and how you learn it, spend as much time as you need to. But what's fixed is that you master the concept.

  • 11:35:12

    KHANIt's much more important to have a mastery of algebra than to have a superficial understanding of algebra and then a superficial understanding of geometry and then a very superficial understanding of trigonometry and barely getting through calculus. Once you really understand algebra, the rest of it will start to seem intuitive.

  • 11:35:28

    REHMSo if you're at home looking at this tutorial, you -- say you've had to watch it two or three times and you still don't quite get it than what happens?

  • 11:35:46

    KHANAnd this is something that we're constantly trying to address. In fact, this is why we think there's always -- the human element will always be very important. So we're trying to address it virtually. Hopefully there's multiple tutorials on that same topic. We're exploring getting other people involved. My style might work for a lot of people but maybe it doesn't gel with other people. We get other people there. There's a community of learners on the site so actually people can ask questions. They say, I just don't get this. What else should I look at? And people will either answer it in text or they'll send a link to another maybe video on YouTube someplace or a Wikipedia article to help explain it.

  • 11:36:22

    KHANAnd then the real ideal -- and, you know, I have young children -- I want them to have access to a physical school. And what this would do is set up the question -- if the student can't get an answer to any of these initial lines of attack, then they could go to school. And that's what the classroom is about. It's not about lecture. It's about teacher, I have this question. Or friend, I have this question. And obviously then the friend can help them but also the process of explaining the answer allows that friend to get it much deeper.

  • 11:36:50

    REHMHave you yet had an opportunity to talk with the current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan?

  • 11:36:59

    KHANWe have. You know it's been surreal for me. A couple of months ago he Tweeted that he uses Khan -- or someone Tweeted that Arne Duncan used Khan Academy with his own children. And then more recently he visited the office with several other officials from the Department of Education. And, yeah, a great guy and I think he really understand things at a holistic level. And, yeah, I hope that we can kind of tackle things alongside them.

  • 11:37:23

    REHMSelman Khan. He is the founder of the Khan Academy. He's now written a book about his concept and the ways in which he's putting it into being. The book is titled "The One World Schoolhouse." Stay with us.

  • 11:40:04

    REHMAnd we're back with Salman Khan, founder of The Khan Academy. During the break I was asking just how far you think you can take this concept. You start perhaps in elementary school. Do you think you can take it to law school, to medical school, what?

  • 11:40:29

    KHANYeah, we already have -- especially on the video side, and we hope to on the interactive side soon, we already have content I would say at the university level and the sciences and mathematics and art history. And we already are starting to work at some graduate level topics. We have a gentleman, Rishi Desai, who is a medical doctor starting to cover the first two years of medical school.

  • 11:40:49


  • 11:40:50

    KHANOn Khan Academy we've been working with Stanford Medical School thinking about they can release more content in this way. And our general sense is we think almost anything can be covered like this. And not just graduate level, we can even go to lifelong learning topics.

  • 11:41:06

    REHMOkay. Now, let me understand something. So Stanford University gets involved and they have students paying tuition to go to medical school. If they then use Khan Academy, how do they make up for the loss of tuition? Or do they become the for-profit part of your non-profit institution?

  • 11:41:34

    KHANWell, you know, Stanford's also a not for profit. You know, not for profit -- they charge a lot of tuition, but no one owns...

  • 11:41:40

    REHMYeah, you bet.

  • 11:41:41 one owns Stanford University. It's not a company. You know, I think they understand what this is about. This isn't about virtual replacing physical. This is about virtual being used as a tool to make physical more powerful. So they've already recognized -- you know, they've actually been videotaping a lot of their lectures for several years now. And a lot of the students prefer to watch that at their own time and pace.

  • 11:42:03

    KHANAnd so they're like, well, why are we even going through this exercise? Let's make really good lectures, make them interactive, put them in these nuggets so that they're easier to digest, embed interactive exercises with them, and that when the students get together in the class with the professors, with the TAs, they can do something higher order. They can look at a case study. They can have a conversation about cases. They can do a lab. They can do a project. So in their mind, it allows the physical experience to become more valuable, and in my mind as well. They leverage the technology. They're not getting replaced by it.

  • 11:42:34

    REHMYou mention continuing education. Here's an email from Dan, who says, "Thank you, Salman, for helping me with statistics. Your method of teaching a complicated subject is greatly appreciated to a returning student. I love your drawings with many colors. Love your voice, it's sincere. And I love your motivating style." Then identifies himself as a returning student at 60.

  • 11:43:11

    KHANOh, that's great to hear.

  • 11:43:13

    REHMIsn't that wonderful. All right. Let's open the phones. First to Wichita, Kan. and to Cynthia. Good morning to you.

  • 11:43:24

    CYNTHIAGood morning, Diane, and you sound wonderful.

  • 11:43:26

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:43:28

    CYNTHIAMy question is I'm 54 and I'm unemployed, but I still like to mess with my brain and keep it ticking. I'm just one of those persons that was lucky she got passed through high school. And so I was wondering if Mr. Khan is thinking about helping people like us that don't go to school or can't go to college 'cause we can't afford it and we're in our late 50s. Is there a program that we can get on and kind of relearn?

  • 11:43:56

    KHANYeah, absolutely. You know, everything that we're talking about, and even in our organization, we never talk about -- you know, we're careful about students. We say students of all ages. And a lot of people are surprised. Obviously there's a lot of high school and college students using us, but there's a lot of people well into adulthood who are using us to understand academic topics or understand things, you know, what is the financial crisis or how does a bank work or what's a credit default swap and things like that.

  • 11:44:23

    KHANAnd so the simple answer, Cynthia, is, yeah, absolutely, I mean, I think the site, you would enjoy it as it is. And one thing that we are exploring is how -- you know, if there are sites like Khan Academy that can do the learning part for free, how do people prove that they've learned and then they can take into the marketplace and show an employer, look, I'm just as sharp as the little -- you know, the 22-year-old who just graduated from a good university. And we are exploring that, some ways to give what I would call micro...

  • 11:44:51

    REHMSome kind of certificate.

  • 11:44:53

    KHANYeah, and making it valuable.

  • 11:44:54


  • 11:44:55

    KHANYou know, there are some programs. There are, you know, some of these. MIT and Harvard have launched this edX initiative where they are giving certificates. And actually, Cynthia, I would encourage you to look at them as well. And we want to look at that as well because learning -- education is several things. It's definitely learning. That's the biggest part. There's a community aspect to it. But then there's a credentialing aspect to it. And we definitely we want to enable you to learn, but also prove to the marketplace that you can contribute.

  • 11:45:20

    REHMHow does she get to The Khan Academy?

  • 11:45:24

    KHANIt's just

  • 11:45:26

    REHMDot org. And then you move around?

  • 11:45:30

    KHANYeah, people can search for the content. If they know what they're looking for, they can go by topic. They can start practicing the interactive exercises and that'll work them through. Start at one plus one and they'll just keep going as they progress to trigonometry or calculus.

  • 11:45:44


  • 11:45:45

    KHANThere's computer science that students can work on.

  • 11:45:47

    REHMAll right. To Rochester, N.Y. Good morning, Wilma.

  • 11:45:51

    WILMAGood morning. You've covered a lot of what I was going to talk about, but I find this so exciting. You know, some parents when they look at their newborn, they ask that question, are you the one? And I think your parents must be saying, absolutely, yes, you are the one.

  • 11:46:12

    KHANWell, you're making a brown man blush, so...

  • 11:46:15

    REHMThat's wonderful. Thanks for you call, Wilma. Let's go to Louisville, Texas. Good morning, Brett.

  • 11:46:25

    BRETTGood morning, Diane. This is a great show and I really appreciate you doing it.

  • 11:46:28

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:46:29

    BRETTAnd, Khan, I got to tell you, you've really helped my nephew tremendously. I recommended his site to you when he was trying to get -- he's still trying to get his GED, but he's actually getting a lot of help he couldn't get before, so that's a huge thing. But I was curious if you are putting forth any effort to educate people as to the education system that we have now that has this over-reliance on testing, if you've put any effort into that or if you're just focusing on The Khan Academy.

  • 11:46:59

    KHANYeah, that's a great question, Brett, and it's wonderful to hear about your nephew. You know, it's a -- there's a chapter in the book where I talk about testing. And I think testing will always exist to some degree, but I think over-reliance is the right word. Tests only measure what they test. And I think what's exciting about what we're doing or hopefully doing or at least bringing up in the conversation is, well, what are other ways of measuring or evaluating subjective and objective.

  • 11:47:26

    KHANAnd, you know, one thing that I talk a great deal about either, you know, just on -- when I talk to people is, okay, tests measure one thing. Can we measure perseverance? In a traditional test you can't. On something like Khan Academy you can. Because we can see how the student is engaging with the site. We can give that feedback to teachers. We can cater the content for different types of learners in different ways. Can we measure people, instead of these numeric tests, also with a portfolio of creative works?

  • 11:47:53

    KHANTo a large degree when we hire people at Khan Academy, yeah, test scores are nice and grades are nice and degrees are nice, but we say, what have you created? Show us your creations. Tell us how you thought about those creations. That is at least or far more important than tests. And the other dimension that I think is completely lost right now is how much do you contribute and how capable are you contributing to the improving the learning of those around you.

  • 11:48:18

    KHANAnd one thing I talk a lot about in the book and we try to foster on the site and we're seeing a lot in the classrooms that are using this, is students helping each other and evaluating each other, saying, yeah, that was really great, they really helped me. And I hope in the kind of college transcript of the future, yes, there will be a few test scores, maybe you'll take these micro credentials that we were talking about to show that you might -- you've mastered algebra and you've retained that knowledge, but it would also have an evaluation, wow, you've really contributed to other people's learning and you have this really great portfolio of creative works.

  • 11:48:47

    REHMHere's an email from R. John, who says, "How does The Khan Academy teach and grade good writing?"

  • 11:48:59

    KHANThat's a great question. And right now we don't tackle writing. On the video side we tackle a few of the humanities, especially on art history and we have a little bit on history. We hope to do a lot more. I'll tell you how we're envisioning tackling writing. And I'll start with how we're tackling computer science, which might seem strange. But our computer science, we're tackling it as a creative field, which it is. And students can go there. They can create their programs, interact with it. They have a little canvas where they can see what they created. And then they can share it. And that's an important point.

  • 11:49:30

    KHANSo when they share it on their portfolio, then other users can look at their work. They can comment on it. They can rate their work. They can take that and then make it their own. And we think the same analogy could apply with writing. You go, there's projects on Khan Academy, write your opinion about this, or write a novel, write a short story. You put it out there. It goes into your portfolio. Instead of getting graded, oh, you got a B plus and then that's kind of a value statement on your intelligence or something...

  • 11:49:55

    REHMOr somebody's...

  • 11:49:57


  • 11:49:57

    REHM...interpretation of your intelligence.

  • 11:49:58

    KHANExactly. Exactly. Other people will comment on it, give it feedback. And you can continuously improve it so that it becomes part of your -- part of your portfolio. And in order to get feedback from other people, you will also give feedback. And by just critically looking at other people's work, that will also hopefully make you a better writer. And I think we can tackle some of the building blocks of writing, whether it's vocabulary and grammar in a way that we're tackling some of the building blocks of mathematics.

  • 11:50:22

    REHMTo Easton, Md. Good morning, Rebecca.

  • 11:50:27

    REBECCAGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:50:29


  • 11:50:30

    REBECCAI just wanted to bring in the home schooling perspective 'cause I home school my two children who are in fifth and third grade, respectively. And we absolutely love The Khan Academy as a resource for those 10 to 12 minute snippets, especially for math and science. And they really kind of hit the lesson home and it's just a great resource for home schoolers. Because it's -- you know, when I don't have all of the same -- well, right now I'm fine with third and fifth grade, but it's nice to go to experts who know what they're talking about and can really help a lot. So I think it's just a great resource and I really appreciate it.

  • 11:51:11

    KHANNo. And that's incredible to hear, Rebecca. And I think our whole team gets motivated when we hears stories like this. And, you know, the home schooling is interesting 'cause when I started all this, I didn't even think about it, but it's completely obvious that this hopefully is a valuable tool for home schoolers. And I think what's really interesting about home schoolers is they've kind of brought back a lot of -- you know, the book's called "One World Schoolhouse." There's a play on one room schoolhouse.

  • 11:51:33

    KHANAnd there were some really strong advantages there, this idea of more personalized attention, a lot more interactivity, a lot more allowing the student to pick the direction and take ownership of their own learning. And so I think home schoolers are kind of the leading edge of this new way of thinking about learning.

  • 11:51:51

    REHMGood luck to you, Rebecca. Thanks for calling. Here's an email going straight to the title of your book. It's from Peter, who says, "I'm curious if you have a strategy for expanding into emerging market countries which have limited internet penetration and access to computers."

  • 11:52:15

    KHANYeah, it's something that we have been thinking and we're starting to think a lot more about. So there's a couple things that we're doing. And then I'll talk about just the access issue. We have had a translation project. We've translated to varying degrees into 12 languages already. The ones that are furthest along are Spanish, Portuguese, Bengali, Arabic. If you go to the bottom of the page on Khan Academy, there's a little drop down. It says English. If you just pick another language, you'll see the videos translate into those languages. So there's 7,000 videos. And I shouldn't say translated. They've actually been redone...

  • 11:52:44

    REHMI see. I see.

  • 11:52:44 a large degree in a lot of these other languages. And so you can -- not the whole site, but just the video component is there. But that raises the issue of, okay, even if we're creating this content, in a lot of these places people don't have access to it. And there's -- one, there's a lot of separate groups, the NGOs who are taking our content, putting it on DVDs, putting it on thumb drives, creating offline versions of the website, and putting it out there. And, you know, we've heard stories, you know, there's an orphanage in Mongolia where some volunteers from Cisco went out there and set it up.

  • 11:53:11

    KHANAnd there's a 15-year-old girl, Zai, out there who started using the resource. And now she's become our main translator into Mongolian, 15-year-old -- I think she's 16 now orphan girl.

  • 11:53:19


  • 11:53:20

    KHANAnd so that's kind of the intermediate solution. But the good thing is now this kind of education tool can ride more as law that, you know, already in India they're talking about sub $100 tablet devices, internet's getting cheaper and cheaper. And so even in the book I articulate essentially how right now or in the next year we can, if we have a couple of students sharing a computer, 'cause we don't think kids should be on the computer all day, even in the developing world you could deliver this type of experience for a penny a day.

  • 11:53:50

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What happens to teachers in this process? Are you going to put them out of business?

  • 11:54:02

    KHANNo, not at all. You know, it's a really good point to bring up, 'cause whenever people talk about a virtual thing that's scaling, you know,, like, oh, that's going to replace the physical thing. They have to get buildings and hire people and all this kind of stuff. And that might be true for certain things like that, but absolutely not for education. I think what's happening, and we're seeing it with the teachers we're working with, and a lot of the adoption is happening through teachers. And they're seeing that it's not replacing them. It's empowering them. Instead of having to shepherd students at one pace and have these variable understanding, they're able to leverage class time for more interactivity.

  • 11:54:38

    KHANYou know, I always imagine education is a spectrum of things. At one end is, you know, very rote learning, you're multiplication tables and your vocabulary. And at the other spectrum is this kind of never ending, open ended, creative problem solving, whatever else it might be. And what Khan Academy we're going to try and tackle as much of the different points of the spectrum we can, but it's an infinite spectrum. And so it frees the humans to tackle the stuff that computers will never be able to do. The mentorship, the inspiration, the really understanding what's going on in that particular student's life, that particular student's brain. The kind of stuff that Mr. Sell (sp?) had done with me when I was in fourth grade.

  • 11:55:12

    REHMAnd lots of folks have asked how to spell Khan, and it is K-H-A-N, Khan Academy.

  • 11:55:25

    KHANJust like Genghis.

  • 11:55:27

    REHMLike Genghis Khan.

  • 11:55:29

    KHANMaybe I shouldn't have that association.

  • 11:55:30

    REHMDot org. All right. And then last question about evaluating teachers. How do you think that should be done?

  • 11:55:40

    KHANYeah, you know, this is probably -- you know, it's obviously kind of a heated topic and frankly where I have the least experience and, you know, I think it has to be a holistic thing. I think it has a combination. I think, you know, tests will always be there. Test scores will always be there. And they'll be part of a portfolio of evaluating something. But I think it goes well beyond that.

  • 11:56:04

    KHANYou know, you should -- people should be measuring how do other -- and, you know, I don't even want to -- I could think of a million different ways. I mean, one thing I point out in the book in some detail is be very skeptical of tests. They are sometimes necessary to give you a data point, but they only measure one dimension. So a test definitely by itself should not be the only predictor or only value statement on a student or a teacher.

  • 11:56:27

    REHMSo what's next on your agenda for The Khan Academy?

  • 11:56:34

    KHANWell, we're trying to make much richer content simulations. We're trying to broaden it. Start experimenting with things in the humanities, ways for students to answer more open ended questions, their opinions on stuff, how they feel about a piece of artwork, how they feel...

  • 11:56:46

    REHMThat's good.

  • 11:56:46

    KHAN...about a piece of history. And on top of that we're looking to open up the platform. We have in-house some people making hopefully great content, but there's so many people out there, teachers around the world, who could also contribute in different ways. So we hope to open that in six months. And hopefully we just grow to a few hundred million people over the next few years.

  • 11:57:05

    REHMSalman Khan, and his new book is titled "The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined." You can go to, learn all about the offerings. And it is spelled K-H-A-N. Congratulations.

  • 11:57:32

    KHANThanks for having me.

  • 11:57:33

    REHMAnd thanks for being here. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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