Tuesday, March 22, 2016

You only have to know one thing: You can learn anything

If you've ever taken a math class before, chances are you've seen a video that looks like this:

These videos are a part of the calculus series at Khan Academy, the non-profit educational organization that produces highly popular short lectures in the form of YouTube videos. These lectures - which now include lessons in everything from medicine and computer programming to art history and entrepreneurship - have reached millions of people all over the world. The organization's slogan is, "You only have to know one thing: You can learn anything." 

The man behind the magic, Salman "Sal" Khan, was a former hedge fund analyst when he posted his first video in 2006. As stated in Creativity, Intelligence and Personality by Frank Barron and David M. Harrington, "The aha! comes when the process reaches a conclusion." Khan's aha! moment came about while we was tutoring his cousins, who lived in New Orleans, from Boston by posting YouTube videos they could use for review. He says that he recognized something profound when "they told me that they preferred me on YouTube than in person." Now, with over 2,200 videos and 762 million views, his creative insight has allowed him to transform education as we know it on the global scale.

In the Handbook of Creativity, Mary Ann Collins and Teresa Amabile discuss the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in relation to creativity. Many believe that greater creativity would result if a person was primarily intrinsically motivated to do a task (Crutchfield, 1962). There is no doubt that Khan was intrinsically motivated when deciding to create Khan Academy. He quit his day job and poured his energy into the organization, with a vision for what he realized could lead to "a global one-world classroom." His lack of conventionality, along with his intellect and vision for change are perhaps the result of an inner drive to pursue this "craft."

Although Khan's vision - which would be fulfilled by this online breakthrough - has been criticized by educators as an example of "technology replacing teachers." In response, he says, "I want to be clear: we don't view this as a complete math education...it frees up time for the simulations, for the games, for the mechanics, for the robot-building, for the estimating how high that hill is based on its shadow." In fact, Khan Academy has actually allowed teachers across the country to flip the classroom - assigning videos as lectures for homework, and completing what would have otherwise been assigned as homework in the classroom, allowing for more teacher and peer interaction, further "humanizing" the classroom.

From young boys and girls who must provide for their families and cannot attend school, to adults who are continuing their education, Sal Khan's videos - and ultimately his creativity - have allowed individuals all over the world to realize that they really can learn anything.


Barron, F., & Harrington, D. (1981). Creativity, Intelligence, and Personality. 
Collins, M. A., & Amabile, T. M. (1999). Motivation and creativity. In Robert J. Sternberg (Ed.) Handbook of Creativity.New York: Cambridge University Press.


  1. I loved this blog post because I definitely have seen my fare share of Khan Academy videos. Many a times when I didn't understand my homework in high school or I just wanted to review, I would hop on Khan Academy's website. I found it interesting that his cousin preferred the videos to Sal teaching in person. I would actually agree because I would always pause the videos and go back to hear the explanation repeated one more time. During class, there might be times when I don't understand one section of the material that builds off another and then I stop paying attention. With Khan Academy's videos, I was able to rewind and continue to learn without being disengaged. I owe Sal many successfully completed homework assignments!

  2. I am a huge fan of Khan Academy. I have used it many times throughout high school and college to help myself in understanding certain topics in challenging classes, for standardized test prep, and also just for the sake of expanding my knowledge on subjects that I don't learn in school. What I find most interesting is the idea of "flipping the classroom". I have experienced this type of learning twice in my life. Once in high school for an anatomy class and once in college for a physics class. Although it is very unorthodox, I really enjoy learning this way. It definitely enhances teacher-student communication, in my opinion. It is a very innovative way of teaching and I hope it continues to spread to schools all over the world.

  3. I found it ironic that I saw this article after watching a Khan Academy video. I personally use Khan Academy for most of all my science classes. His videos are not only informational, but they are also engaging and color coded! Just like many people, I started using Khan Academy for math videos but eventually expanded to other fields. It is even more impressive that the organization, even after hiring new teachers and members, is free and is solely run through donations ! I think it really shows how dedicated he is to changing the world through free education. It is amazing how habituated the students have become to his website through frequent use. At least for me, it is hard to imagine doing well in some of my classes without the assistance of Sal and his pals. Great article on something most students take for granted!


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