A bright idea whose time has come – that’s what Mike Hoeflinger thought when he saw a TV news feature on the Khan Academy – an educational website that, as its tagline puts it, aims to let anyone “learn almost anything—for free.”
Hoeflinger, of Oregon, a strong proponent for education who once ran for Oregon School Board, was so intrigued and excited by what he heard about the Khan Academy that he called an Oregon school principal to discuss it.
“I asked him if he had heard anything about it, explained what I had seen and how it excited me, how I thought it might be useful in the schools,” Hoeflinger said. “He seemed interested, said he’d check it out and get back to me. That was three weeks ago.”
|An example of the step-by-step doodles
that Kahn Academy offers.
Undaunted, Hoeflinger was determined to get the word out about what he believed to be a valuable resource to students and parents, as well as formal educators.
So he put his money where his mouth is, so to speak, placing a series of ads in The Press encouraging students and parents to check out Khan Academy, and to tell their friends too.
“I just believe that education is the key to success,” he said.
Hoeflinger is not alone in his enthusiasm about the academy – more than 2 million users watch the online tutorials every month.
The academy is the brainchild of Salman Khan, who after earning three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pursued an MBA from Harvard Business School.
In 2004, Khan’s 13-year-old cousin Nadia, who lived across the country, asked for help in math. The tutoring sessions were conducted on the phone. To illustrate the concepts Khan was describing, the pair would log into Yahoo Messenger and Khan would use the program’s drawing window to write equations while Nadia watched.
When they couldn’t talk, Khan would record a lesson as a video, talking through the material while writing in Microsoft Paint.
Eventually, Nadia suggested Khan just record the lessons so she could review the videos as often as she wanted. When other relatives and friends sought similar help, Khan decided to post the lessons on YouTube.
The low-tech, conversational online lessons featuring step-by-step doodles and diagrams grew in popularity and in 2009, Khan quit his job in finance as a hedge fund analyst to focus on the tutorials, which were then released as “Khan Academy.”
The academy’s mission – to “provide a high quality education to anyone, anywhere” – a virtual classroom without walls.
Currently more than 3,000 micro lectures are available in mathematics, various sciences, economics, history, American civics and more. Those who just have a few minutes to kill may even log on to try the brainteasers and logic puzzles.
The videos are available on the academy’s YouTube channel, as well as at the Khan Academy website, where students can access such features as progress tracking and practice exercises.
The resources are available at no cost. A not-for-profit organization, Khan Academy is funded by donations, including significant backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Google.
In addition to online testimonials from students and users, in 2009, the Khan Academy received the Microsoft Tech Award for education, and in 2010 at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Bill Gates endorsed the learning resource, calling it “unbelievable” and saying “I've been using (Khan Academy) with my kids.”
“It doesn't matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology,” the site notes.
Hoeflinger hopes his ads will encourage more people to look into the virtual academy.
“I believe though it would be helpful to students, schools may be threatened by this,” Hoeflinger said. “Teachers,’ parents’ and school administrators’ responsibilities are the same as mine,” he said. “We should search for and examine opportunities for change to help us improve our attitudes and interactions with others.
“We can’t be threatened by fear of change but should welcome it to help us learn how to work for more significant outcomes,” he said. “We need to continue looking for better ways to perform our services regardless of our occupations or our positions on the ladder of success.
“It’s time to leave our comfort zones.”
For more information, visit KhanAcademy.org.