Conversations with Sal: Talks and presentations
Salman Khan on Charlie Rose 2013
Charlie: Salman Khan is here. He's the founder of Khan Academy, the online learning tube that has reached and taught millions. Forbes Magazine calls it the largest school in the world. Bill Gates calls him a true pioneer. Khan Academy's goal is to provide a free world class education for anyone anywhere. Salman Khan has written a book describing how such a vision might be achieved. It is called The One World School House, Education Reimagined. I am pleased to have him back on this program. Welcome. Sal: Great to be here. Charlie: When you were here, we talked about how this whole thing started for you and the development with your niece who was down in Louisiana and you were teaching her and you used YouTube and all of that. Where is it now? Sal: Yeah, I think when we last spoke, I think it was about 18 months ago, I think we were reaching on the order of about a million students every month. We're now at 6 million students every month. The team is growing ... I think when we last talked, it was a 5% team, we're now approaching 40 people and it's really about not just the videos, although the videos are still a big part of what we do, I'm not the only person making videos anymore, we're now translating the videos into every major language in the world, our software platform is being used in classrooms and outside of classrooms around the world. It's just where it was before, but maybe 10 times bigger. Charlie: You think you were born to teach? Sal: I enjoy it. (laughing) I wasn't born to play basketball. (laughing) Charlie: Me neither. (laughing) But fact that you did have a passion for it, you had a technique for it and you found more love for it than you did being, obviously because you left being in the hedge fund world. Sal: Most people don't realize the commonality between what I was doing before and what I hope I'm doing now. Even at the hedge fund world, it was actually an intellectually intriguing job. In some ways, it wasn't different from what you're doing now. You have to context switch from one space to another, you're constantly learning, you get to talk to a lot of people to learn from them, and so for me, a big fun part of that job was I always got to learn stuff. I couldn't communicate it as much as I might have wanted to. Now I get the chance to do both. Charlie: Where can you take this? Sal: A couple of things that we're working on, I mentioned we're translating the videos, but we're also internationalizing the entire site. We already have partners; the Carlos Slim Foundation in Latin America, The Lemon Foundation in Brazil, we recently took a trip down to Brazil and there's national interest, the president had asked, "What are we going to be able to do together?" Charlie: In Brazil? Sal: In Brazil. I think in the next year you're going to see Khan Academy going global in a much more significant way. I think you're going to see, it started with videos, we've had an online component exercises, we can give people feedback on where they are, but we're going to make that much, much more serious. The 48 states have adopted the common core standards. There aren't any assessments out. There are some groups out there that are going to be developing assessments. Through this whole transition, you're going to have teachers, parents and students wondering about how do they navigate the switch and what we hope to do is take our exercises and turn them into really rigorous assessments so that you can go to the site and get a really strong diagnostic of what you know and what you don't know so we can narrow you in, "Here's what you need to work on." We can kind of coach you through that process, the tools for the teachers will get better and we also want to figure out a way for you to get credit for what you know. Charlie: How far away are you from that? Sal: We've had a lot of interesting conversations. Charlie: What's the resistance? Sal: Maybe we're just not seeing the resistance because we're not that far along yet, but especially if you talk about some of the core college courses or the late high school courses, right now you have 70% of students who go to community college have to take remedial Math. They usually don't find that out until they show up and start paying tuition. This is something that no one wants to happen and it's the biggest predictor of whether they're going to be able to finish or not. If we can address that so ahead of time someone could show, "Look, I know my Algebra. I know my pre-Algebra, I know my Trigonometry. I'm ready to engage," if someone can prove that even at the professional level, "Hey, I can program a computer. I might not have the four year degree, but I'm employable." We think that could have huge implications for; one, someone who doesn't have a chance to a traditional university or even some of the structural unemployment issues. We think it's, structural unemployment, there's a skills gap, but we think it's even more a singling gap that ... Charlie: Signaling ... Sal: Singling gap ... That you do have people who actually do have skills and there's no way for them to prove it. Right now we have that problem where people are learning to do stuff on Khan Academy and they want to prove it to the world, but there's no way for them to prove that ... Charlie: That they know something. Sal: That they know something. We have accounting videos on Khan. You can actually learn on a pretty decent level. We have a lot more to do, but there's no way for them to validate that, so we imagine a world where a few years out someone will be able to. Charlie: Who would set the standard? Sal: I think for any type of credential the key is, who is going to be consumer of the credential? Who does it matter to? For someone wanting to prove that they know Algebra, we have to go to universities and make sure that you feel this is a credible standard that someone has attained. If you're talking about does someone know how to program or does someone have good critical thinking skills or does someone write well, I think you go straight to the employers and say, "Would you respect this type of a credential?" The thing we point out is even today, a very expensive credentials have limited information in them. You could go to a fancy university and when a company like Google or Microsoft interviews you, they still assume very little. They make you go through a very ... The first interview is, "Go write Bubble Sword on the whiteboard," which is what you typically learn the first three weeks of Computer Science class and this someone who's gone through four years. To some degree, if you could take that process and turn it into a credential, and tell the rest of the world, "You don't have to go to a fancy university, but if you can get to this threshold, you get to round three of the interview process at Software Company X or Fortune 500 Company Y," it could be a powerful thing. Charlie: This is not a silver bullet, but there is some magic here. What is it that you understood about learning when you taught your niece way back when? Sal: Yeah, and I'll emphasize that it's not a silver bullet. (laughter) The biggest criticism we get is, "This is not a silver bullet." It's like, "I agree!" Charlie: What I mean by that is that there's no easy way here, you're just helping people learn better. Sal: Right. Charlie: Or helping them learn themselves, teach themselves to learn. Sal: That's the key and that's what we always want to point out is that for us, for me, to really educate someone doesn't mean to try to pour information into their brain and hope that they can regurgitate it out, it's to really allow them, give them the tools so that they can take agency over their own learning. We all say that's the real skill. If you can factor a polynomial, that's nice, but if you can go out into the workforce and some new technology emerges or some new issue comes and you can take ownership of it and learn it, that's what you want people to be at. I think what we tapped into, initially it was me making stuff for my cousins, is put stuff out there that respects the learner, that's approachable, that's conversational, that really gives people the thinking behind something, not just the formula and you let them access it on their own terms. There's huge need for that. Charlie: Can you monetize this? Sal: It's an interesting question. We're not-for-profit, so that means no one owns Khan Academy, but still we have to sustain ourselves in some way. Not-for-profit doesn't mean that you can't generate revenue, universities do that quite well. (laughter) On top of being not-for-profit, we have in our Mission Statement a "free world class education for anyone anywhere" so we've kind of limited ourselves in terms of we're not going to charge. We're committed to not charging for the learning part. So far, we're philanthropically supported and hopefully that can always make that case, it's hard to have a more scalable social ROI return on your investment, but we are discovering that we've inadvertently built a brand. With that brand, we are starting to license the content, we're starting to do some brand partnerships, people will start hearing more about that in the next couple of months, that are actually helping pay for a significant amount of our operating budget. Charlie: How about Corporate America or Corporate World? Sal: I think there's a few companies ... Charlie: The training of workforce is a crucial ingredient of what you do. Sal: Yes, so there's two elements of that. One is a lot of corporations feel that they're not able to find the talent that they need to fill certain slots. So we can either help the world ramp up with those skills and then help prove that they know those skills ... And then I think what you're eluding to is this idea of even in corporate training itself, this whole self-paced model makes a lot more sense. You're sitting at your desk, you want to improve your skills in one vertical or another, you do it at your own time and pace. It is something that we've talked to some people about, corporate training. A lot of corporations are starting to realize that the best thing they can do for the customer is educate the customers about the domain that they're in, so we're starting to do stuff there as well. Charlie: Why did you call this "The One World School House?" Sal: This was the working title at first and it was the working title because I always used to say the irony is a lot of what you're talking about is going back to the one-room schoolhouse where you have multi-age classrooms, much more interactive, kids taking agency, responsibility for each other, It was like, "Yeah, but there's some neat things here. Any kid in the world can access this. We can connect any student in the world." There's another element to it which I talk about. I want to take the lecture off the table in the classroom so that the classroom can engage with the world in a more relevant way. It just sounded kind of a fun, instead of one room schoolhouse, one world. Charlie: That goes to the core here and I really am interested in the experience from the learner's standpoint. Obviously the part of your notion is that what we understood, as the classroom method of teaching is not preordained, as the best way to teach. Sal: Absolutely. If you go back 400 years ago and you saw the few people who were getting an education 400 years ago, it pretty much private tutor. Private tutor was self-paced, you master a concept, now let me ... Charlie: And mastery's crucial. Sal: Mastery's crucial. If you don't master pre-Algebra, it's kind of nuts to expect you to understand Algebra or Trig-, but right now you can barely pass Algebra and they're going to stick you in Algebra II or they're going to stick you in ... What happened is about 200, and I go into the history a bit in the book about, a little over 200 years ago, the Prussians, now somewhat part of Germany, were the first to say, "We want a large labor force," and it's the beginning of the industrial revolution, "Let's have universal public education." It's actually a pretty profound thing that they did, but then say, "How do we do it in an economical way?" They said, "Well, maybe we batch students together, we see how some of these factories are starting to get built, how do they do things at scale?" We batch students together, moving them in a line as a set pace, we try to pour knowledge into their heads, some kids it'll stick, some it won't. At some point we start sorting the oranges; these kids are going to be juiced and these kids are going to go to whole food. (laughter) There's an element of even the old Prussian model of some degree of indoctrination. And then in the mid-1800s, the US famously said, "We want to have universal public education." It's no coincidence. Charlie: So we base it on the Prussian model? Sal: We base it on the Prussian model. The Japanese too, it's no coincidence. These are the industrial superpowers that emerged because they had a middle class that was educated. They fundamentally didn't rethink the model. I talk about it in the book, it was actually a discovery to me when I was doing some of the research ... Why do they always teach Physics in the 12th grade? Why do they teach Chemistry in the 11th grade? Where did this come from? It came from literally a group of 10 men about 120 years ago, before the internet or DNA or anything, that said people should learn Geometry in the 10th grade, people should have three years of English, and it hasn't changed. It's pretty much frozen there. What we're saying is a lot of the ideas aren't new. Let's master a concept, let's personalize the instruction to the student, this is what would have been the gold standard 300 years ago and even 50 years ago. If you said, "What's the best?" "Well, personalized instruction." Now could you do that for every student? No, it's very expensive. You'd have to hire a teacher for every student. What's interesting about technology is that now we can go through the same thought experiment and say maybe we can do personalized instruction for every student if we rethink the role of the teacher, if we move them up the value chain instead of them just being a lecturer, we let them see data where every student is, every student is going at their own pace mastering concepts. We leverage the fact that the students can teach each other, this is kind of where the one-room schoolhouse comes in. That's another mid-level skill that I think is lost today. It nice to be able to factor a polynomial, but the ability to take leadership and the ability to actually manage your peers, if you're a 16-year-old, you're now leading some 12-year-olds, you're teaching them things. Can we start to leverage in that way? Everything we're writing here is like, yeah, I think we can, and not only can we, we're doing it, we're seeing it. Khan Academy is a part of it, but we're able to work with schools today that are actually experimenting here. Charlie: You also say that face time should be separate, it's a separate thing from mastery of concepts. Sal: Right now face time and seat time, whatever you want to call it, it's there at the university level, so the point that your units are called, they're literally seat time units, three credit hours, six credit hours is how many hours you sat in a chair. What we're saying is, "Why don't you go to a competency model where it's not how long you sat in the chair, but did you learn the material at a level of mastery whether it took you five days to do it or five years to do it, that's irrelevant, you got to the level." The other is when you get human beings together in a room, a lot of people say, "This video lecture stuff, I enjoy it, but I love my college lectures where I could ask a question." I'm like, "Hey, that's exactly the point. Instead of questions being 5% of the time, it should be 100% of the time. There should be none of the students just sitting passive and whether you have 10 students in the room, 20 students in the room or 2,000 students in the room, if you're having a passive lecture, it doesn't matter. There's no interactivity. We've all sat in a college lecture, even in high school and we're all in the room together, but we're not able to talk to each other. It's actually incredibly dehumanizing that you're getting no interactivity. What we're saying is a lot of your exposure to the concepts, and once again, humanities have been doing this for a long time, "Go read the chapter and we're going to discuss it when we come to class. We're going to have an interactive thing." Charlie: What's the difference or why students feel more passionate about their sports coaches than they do about their Math teachers? Sal: Yes, this is something that I feel strong ... I saw it in high school. You're in 10th grade Algebra class, the teacher asks the students to do six problems, "Oh my God," they're groaning and they're like, "He's the meanest guy on the planet," and then three hours later, we're at wrestling practice and the teacher says, "I want you to do 50 pushups followed by running three miles, followed by another 50 pushups," and they're like, "Yes Sir! Yes Sir! Push me harder! I wanna collapse!" Literally, sometimes people would collapse they're willing to work so hard. Charlie: What's the difference? Sal: The difference is that they feel that the coach is on their side, that the coach is preparing them for battle. Charlie: It's in their interest to do what he says. Sal: It's in their interest. They're training me. While the unfortunate thing is that even though the Math teacher cares just as much or more about the student, the Math teacher's viewed as an adversary, "This is the person who's going to keep me from passing. This is the person that's trying flunk ... ," even though that's not what the motivations of the teacher are. What we're advocating, what we're seeing is working well and the teachers we've worked with really love it is, become that coach and you don't have to become both the assessor and the lecturer and the coach, be that coach figure, be that mentor. You'll form a deeper connection with the students, and you're preparing them for an outside world. It's a very subtle but powerful mindset change. Charlie: You have pathway to excellence. Sal: Exactly. I had a dinner, I happened to be sitting next to Wendy Kopp, Teach for America, and we just randomly started talking about, "What do you notice amongst the Teach for America teachers that are really able to move the dial?" She says, "It's actually surprising, most people think it would be about content delivery; who can give the best lecture, who could ... " Charlie: Who has magic as a teacher? Sal: Yeah, because movies try to ... And they do have magic, but it's a different type of magic." It's the teachers who can change the students' mindsets, who can be that older brother or father or that mother figure and say, "Look, this is a do or die situation and if you want to be able to survive in this world, I'm here for you, but it's your decision to make." The same type of psychology that a coach does. Those are the ones, once you get the student, once it clicks in their brain, "Wait, I have to take ownership here." Charlie: On a football team you got to learn the plays. Sal: Exactly, and you have to take ownership for yourself. "It's not me, it's you. You're going to make it or you're not and I'm just here to help you." That changes the ... Charlie: "I can't play the game for you, you have to play it yourself." Sal: Exactly. Charlie: So when you look at the next five years, where might I see Khan Academy in five years? I mean, is it simply a multiplier effect of how many kids you can reach? Sal: It's definitely that, so in five years I hope we're reaching 50, who knows what might happen with internationalization. I hope that you see, especially even in places where they don't have access, although I think the access issue is going to get solved to a large degree in the next five years with cheaper tablets and more internet ... Charlie: Throughout education? Sal: Throughout education, but even outside of formal education systems, NGOs are going to be able to give tablets to kids. I think it'll be some of the ideas in the book that right now like, "No more lectures in the classrooms?" I think they're going to start being maintstream. I think you're going to start seeing top institutions realize that it's in their best interest to not define themselves by, "I gave a good lecture that's passive," but what's the formal experience that I do on my campus?" I think when you do that, when people realize that it's not an either or, that these are tools that will help students take ownership, then it frees up the physical environment to go deeper. I think that'll be a mainstream thing in five years. Charlie: Where are we in terms of online education in the evolution, because it didn't deliver what many people thought it would once they understood that it could be a tool? Sal: Yes, you had a first wave in the late '90s, early 2000s, it was kind of obvious. The internet's about disseminating information ...hey, education. Charlie: It came along when the development of the PC, I assume? Sal: Steve Jobs famously originally thought that the personal computer was going to be the treadmill for the brain. He thought that was the killer app for the computer; it ended up being for other things, and obviously it helped people learn as well, but it didn't really hit the nail on the head there. Then with the internet, even pre-computer, the radio people thought was going to be the killer app for education. They thought TV, VCR, these are all ... TV's here, it's On Demand now. (laughter) I think what happened in maybe about five, six years ago, you can't underestimate YouTube's power here where it really lowered the cost of streaming video, producing and streaming video close to zero to the point that a guy in his closet could start making it for his cousins and ... Charlie: That's you ... Sal: That was me, and start getting traction. I think that helped kind of show people that there's a demand here and not just for the videos, but for the whole interactive immersive experience, so this past year you've had these moocs emerge, these massively openly online courses, Harvard, MIT, edX, there's a group from Stanford, other folks who have been doing it, and what really seems ... Charlie: For credit? Sal: Right now, for the most part, they're issuing certificates, although they are starting to partner with a few institutions for credit as well. So it's really different this time. It looks like all of the players, including us, are looking at how do we systemically become important to the system? With a blank slate ... What is the whole point of education? What is the whole point of a credential? How do we do that in the best possible way? Either outside of the system or in partnership with it. Charlie: Thank you. Great to see you. Sal: It's great to be here. Charlie: The One World Schoolhouse Education Reimagined, Salman Khan, Khan Academy. Thank you again. Thank you for joining us. See you next time.