Disintermediation in Education: The Kahn Edition

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a great piece on a self-appointed teacher who runs a one-man "academy" on YouTube: "The most popular educator on YouTube does not have a Ph.D. He has never taught at a college or university. And he delivers all of his lectures from a bedroom closet."

Salman Kahn has recorded 1,400 10-minute lectures on a range of topics. Over 16 million people have watched his videos.

The Khan Academy explicitly challenges many of higher-education's most sacred assumptions: that professional academics make the best teachers; that hourlong lectures are the best way to relate material; and that in-person teaching is better than videos. Mr. Khan argues that his little lectures disprove all of that.

The Kahn Academy has become so popular that it has attracted the attention of folks like John Doer, who donated $100,000 to Kahn's venture to allow him work at it full-time.

What I love about the story is it shows the impending / in-progress revolution in education on both the production and consumption side. A smart, motivated man wants to use technology to present knowledge in a new way. Done. Millions of people around the world are hungry for knowledge and want it in a form and style that works for them. Done. No middlemen.

Now, how to credential those who have acquired such knowledge? This remains a huge barrier to new education efforts. (Speaking of credentials, how crazy is it that colleges do both the educating of students and the evaluating/credentialing?!)

Thanks to Hunter Walk for the pointer.

8 comments on “Disintermediation in Education: The Kahn Edition
  • How to credential the acquired knowledge? That is a very vital question. I see a lot of bright students getting frustrated with the amount of time and money they are wasting just to get a piece of paper from some “prestigious college”. If it was up to me, I would prefer every course, whether graduate or undergrad, to be CLEP Style. They can make the exams extra hard if they want, but it would give for self-educated person a chance to get certified with much less money and much less time. Of course, it is a pipe dream on my side. Education in this country is a business and they would fight tooth and nail to keep the status quo.

  • Love this. Skype video allows just about anyone to hold office hours, to teach on any topic they desire. I applied to be a prof 2 years running and was among the many rejects. Turns out to be a blessing. A few months ago I just set up my own shop. Every day I teach people from all over the world one on one. Most fun I’ve had in years.

  • Great article. I met Sal Khan last year and he is an outstanding guy – a real inspiration.

    I think the credential question is a good one but a very solvable problem. It can be approached the same way as online degrees/certifications – you just need to pass certain tests (written and perhaps some sort of essay/project evaluated by independent third parties).

  • I don’t care what credential you have. I want to know what you can do. A few years ago, I wanted to learn to program an iPod, so I looked for someone who had developed an app. The guy I found was 19 years old and charged $150/hour, but I couldn’t hire him because he was too busy with other clients. I was thrilled that he wasn’t squandering his time in college, but I wish there were more people like him, so that learning would not be so expensive.

  • Kahn is not the only one. There are lots of high school teachers posting mini and not so mini lectures on Algebra 1 and 2 math topics. Some of the videos posted by teachers are awful. Kahn covers this ground well but I have 3 or 4 sources on youtube that I personally prefer over the Kahn lectures.

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