The founder of the organization, Salman Khan, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States to immigrant parents from Bangladesh and India. After earning three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (a BS in mathematics, a BS in electrical engineering and computer science, and an MEng in electrical engineering and computer science), he pursued an MBA from Harvard Business School.
In late 2004, Khan began tutoring his cousin Nadia who needed help with math using Yahoo!’s Doodle notepad. When other relatives and friends sought similar help, he decided that it would be more practical to distribute the tutorials on YouTube. The videos’ popularity and the testimonials of appreciative students prompted Khan to quit his job in finance as a hedge fund analyst at Connective Capital Management in 2009, and focus on the tutorials (then released under the moniker “Khan Academy”) full-time.
The project is funded by donations. Khan Academy is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, now with significant backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Broad Foundation, Google, the O’Sullivan Foundation, Skoll Foundation, and other philanthropic organizations. In 2010, Google announced it would give Khan Academy $2 million for creating more courses and for translating the core library into the world’s most widely spoken languages, as part of their Project 10100. In 2012, Google’s first employee, Craig Silverstein, left there and joined Khan Academy. In 2013, the Mexico-based Carlos Slim Foundation made a donation to Khan Academy to expand its Spanish library of videos. In 2015, AT&T contributed $2.25 million to Khan Academy to fund development of a new mobile learning platform and app.
In the beginning, Khan Academy offered videos mostly about mathematics. Thanks to donations (the first of significance was from philanthropist Ann Doerr), Khan Academy has been able to expand its faculty and offer courses about history, healthcare, medicine, finance, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, cosmology, American civics, art history, economics, music, computer programming and computer science. There are more than 5,000 courses in all, as of 2015. In addition to faculty, the organization has a network of content specialists.
Khan Academy also has thousands of resources translated into other languages. It launched the Spanish version of the website in September 2013 followed by the Brazilian Portuguese, French, Turkish, and Hindi versions. It is supported by partners and volunteers in languages including Indonesian, German, Spanish, Czech, French, Italian, Swahili, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, Xhosa, Greek, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Bengali, Hindi, Malayalam, and Chinese. Khan Academy’s website has been translated to 23 languages and its videos to 65.
The brick-and-mortar Khan Lab School opened on September 15, 2014, in Mountain View, California.
The Khan Academy started with Khan remotely tutoring one of his cousins interactively using Yahoo Doodle images. Based on feedback from his cousin, additional cousins began to take advantage of the interactive, remote tutoring. In order to make better use of his and their time, Khan transitioned to making YouTube video tutorials. Drawings are now made with a Wacom tablet and before the free natural drawing application SmoothDraw, but now Sal Khan uses ArtRage and recorded with screen capture software from Camtasia Studio.
All videos (hosted via YouTube) are available through Khan Academy’s own website (khanacademy.org), which also contains many other features such as progress tracking, practice exercises, and a variety of tools for teachers in public schools. Logging into the site can be done via a Google or a Facebook account for those who do not want to create a separate Khan Academy account. The material can also be accessed through Khan Academy’s own mobile applications, which can be found free of charge in Google Play, App Store and Windows Store.
The videos show step-by-step doodles and diagrams on an electronic blackboard. Nonprofit groups have distributed offline versions of the videos to rural areas in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
Khan Academy also provides an adaptive web-based exercise system that generates problems for students based on skill and performance. Khan believes his academy presents an opportunity to overhaul the traditional classroom by using software to create tests, grade assignments, highlight the challenges of certain students, and encourage those doing well to help struggling classmates. The tutorials are touted as helpful because, among other factors, they can be paused by students while classroom lectures can not.
Khan Academy has been criticized because Salman Khan does not have a background in pedagogy. Statements made in some videos have also been questioned. In response to these criticisms, the organization has fixed errors in its videos, expanded its faculty and built a network of content specialists. Others have presented data showing Khan videos are less effective than those of other publishers and that the concept of chalk on a blackboard is less engaging for students than other styles of video, such as cartoons.
In a January 2016 interview, Khan defended the value of Khan Academy online lectures while acknowledging their limitations: “I think they’re valuable, but I’d never say they somehow constitute a complete education.”
In 2010, Khan Academy introduced badges as part of a program to promote gamification of learning. There are currently 6 main levels of badges, with hundreds of different badges in total.
Services and vision
The major components of Khan Academy include:
- a personalized learning engine to help people track what they have learned and recommend what they can do next
- a video library with over 9,000 videos in various topic areas. These videos are licensed under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) 3.0 license.
- automated exercises with continuous assessment. The exercise software is available as open source under the MIT License.
According to Khan Academy’s filings with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, Salman Khan has received over $350,000 in annual compensation from Khan Academy since 2011. In 2015 it was raised to $556,000. In 2013, President and COO Shantanu Sinha also received over $350,000 in compensation. Khan’s perks as Khan Academy’s leader include first-class travel on business flights. In total, 29 employees of Khan Academy make more than $100,000 per year.
Khan Academy has gained recognition both nationally and internationally:
- Bill Gates spoke about Khan Academy at the Aspen Ideas festival.
- In 2010, Google’s Project 10100 provided $2 million to support the creation of more courses, to allow for translation of the Khan Academy’s content, and to allow for the hiring of additional staff.
- In November 2011, the Khan Academy received a $5 million grant from the Ireland-based O’Sullivan Foundation.
- In April 2012, the founder and executive director of Khan Academy, Salman Khan, was listed among the Time 100 Most Influential People for 2012
- In 2013, the Mexico-based Carlos Slim Foundation made a donation to Khan Academy to expand its Spanish library of videos.
- Khan was one of five winners of the 2014 Heinz Award. His award was in the area of “Human Condition.”
- In July 2014, the U.S. Department of Education launched a $2.2 million randomized-control trial to gauge the effectiveness of Khan Academy. The trial will focus on mathematics and will take place during the 2015–2016 school year.
- In August 2015 Khan Academy partnered with Disney & Pixar Animation Studios to launch Pixar in a Box on Khan Academy. The goal is to show how academic concepts students learn in school are used to solve creative challenges in the making of Pixar films.