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Page last updated at 07:45 GMT, Tuesday, 26 June 2012 08:45 UK

Salman Khan: From closet to classroom

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The Khan Academy has reinvented distance learning

One Silicon Valley entrepreneur is trailblazing a revolution in education that could transform the way we learn forever.

Salman Khan, who founded the Khan academy, is harnessing the power of the internet to teach 100,000 pupils a month from the comfort of their own home.

Pupils watch the lessons on their computers and then get together in the classroom to work through exercises and receive tutoring from their teacher.

This is reaching 100,000 students a month right now but it could reach 100 million students a month
Salman Khan, Khan Academy

"Our mission is literally a free world class education for anyone, anywhere," says Mr Khan.

Its rise has been quick, already trialled officially in 25 Californian high schools and big names in the technology industry have already put their names and their finances behind it.

The biggest ones are Google and the Gates Foundation.

"Sal Khan is a true education pioneer," Gates wrote in Time, following Khan's inclusion in the magazine's top 100 most influential people in the world.

"He started by posting a math lesson but his impact on education might truly be incalculable."

Out of the closet

Salman Khan
Khan started the business in a converted closet in his own home

MIT and Harvard educated Khan began producing videos in 2004 to help his cousins with maths problems.

But the word got around. "I ended up tutoring 15 to 20 family members," he says.

"It was actually a buddy who said: 'Why don't you YouTube so you can scale yourself up some more?'

"I said: 'No, no, YouTube is for cats playing piano, it's not for serious math' but I gave it a shot,"

The videos took on a life of their own so he began spending his spare time uploading them to YouTube from his office - a converted closet - but it wasn't until 2009 that he quit his day job as a hedge fund analyst.

"Whatever Khan Academy was, at the time, it was one guy in a closet, so I took a leap of faith," he says.

"I cut a deal with my wife. Let's try this out for a year, we have a little bit of savings."

Turning upside down

Just over two years on, with over 600 videos watched a minute, over 160 million lessons delivered and over 3,200 videos online, the site is still growing.

I'm more of a support person for the students, guiding them, helping them figure out what direction they should be going in
Halle Berg, maths teacher

The plan is to create a "blended classroom". What this means is that videos are watched at home and exercises are done in the class with the help of the teacher.

If widely adopted this would turn the traditional system of education which centres on the classroom on its head.

A number of people have questioned how far internet learning can replace a traditional education.

"No one medium can do everything," wrote psychologist Prof Patricia Greenfield, director of the Children's Digital Media Center, Los Angeles.

"Every medium has its strengths and weaknesses; every medium develops some cognitive skills at the expense of others."

Prof Greenfield's argument is that, while the internet allows learning, it can harm critical thinking and imagination.

But teachers using it seem to be happy with how it is going.

Salman Khan
Salman Khan says his cousins like him better on YouTube than in real life

At Oakland Unity High School, one of the schools trialling the technology, it has already seen a 42% boost in maths test scores.

"It's very different from a traditional classroom," says Kallie Berg, maths teacher at Unity High School.

"It's not me driving the class, telling everybody where to go next. I'm more of a support person for the students, guiding them, helping them figure out what direction they should be going in."

With it already reaching more students a week than the Open University has had in its entire history, the idea has caught on worldwide.

One third of the site's traffic comes from outside North America, mainly from the developing world.

But who knows what the classroom of our children's grandchildren looks like?

Salman Khan hopes he does.

"This is reaching 100,000 students a month right now but it could reach 100 million students a month," says Khan.

"It could do that forever because this stuff doesn't grow old."



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