This is written by Charles Sipe. He is the executive editor at Criminal Justice Degree Schools.
The recent documentary Waiting for Superman paints a bleak picture of the US education system that is falling behind other developed countries and failing to provide the high skilled workers that are needed to drive innovation and compete with the rest of the world. According to the film, by 2020, 123 million US jobs will be high skill, high pay, but only 50 million Americans will be qualified to fill them.
Despite the many problems with US education, there are some bright spots such as the man Fortune magazine called Bill Gates’ favorite teacher.
Salman Khan quit his high paying finance job to start making YouTube videos from his closet that teach students everything from 1 + 1 to advanced calculus and college-level science.
What started out as a way to tutor his cousin, has grown into a collection of over 2,100 short videos at KhanAcademy.org that have been viewed over 40 million times. With a mission of providing “a free world-class education for anyone anywhere,” Khan has reminded us that we can solve seemingly impossible challenges.
What lessons can we learn from Khan’s remarkable story?
Flip the Status Quo Upside Down
Instead of the traditional teaching method of one teacher lecturing 20-30 students at a time, Khan promotes assigning his comprehensive video lectures as homework so that students can work on exercises in the classroom and get help from the teacher. This approach allows students to work at their own pace while allowing teachers to help students when they need clarification or assistance in understanding important concepts instead of struggling to figure it out on their own.
What areas of status quo in your work or life can be flipped upside down to reveal new and potentially better ways of doing things?
Use Games to Encourage Positive Action
Gaming, especially social gaming, is a rapidly growing media that engages a huge audience. You probably know a person who is so addicted to Farmville that they will go out of their way to make sure that they harvest their plants. While managing virtual farms may seem trivial, it is evident that game mechanics can be a tremendous motivator and can be highly effective in encouraging a specific desired behavior.
Salman Khan is currently using game mechanics to increase student engagement and motivation by awarding badges for specific accomplishments. The addictive nature of earning achievements or earning points to climb the ranks against your peers can be a powerful method for encouraging positive action such as studying math or getting customers to participate in an online community.
Substance Trumps Style in Online Video
The videos that Khan creates are by no means flashy or incredibly entertaining. They are as minimalist as can be with a simple blackboard application and Khan providing the voiceover (you never see his face in the lessons). However, the medium itself can be an extremely engaging way to communicate a message. When we watch the videos we almost feel like Khan is in our head, explaining how to solve complex equations or understand mitosis. Video is also easier to consume than reading, since watching a video tends to be a more passive activity.
Despite requiring less mental focus, the combination of audio and video can be highly memorable, which has helped countless students perform better in school. The main point here is that it is the substance of the content that has earned Khan over 40 million YouTube views, not the style.
The Internet Can Help You Scale
How does one person teach millions of students when teachers often struggle to manage a class of 30 kids? The Internet offers the most effective tool ever to help an individual or small group scale to provide a service for a huge audience. Khan demonstrated this by teaching millions of students from his walk-in closet with some simple video creation tools.
By following the example of Salman Khan, you can create a product or service that can be efficiently scaled to reach a huge audience through free tools like YouTube. Instead of running a small physical shop where you live, you can sell to millions of potential customers from anywhere in the world by using inexpensive tools like online store creator Shopify.
Salman Khan’s story provides a good example of how the Internet can help scale the work of one person to achieve huge results.