Do you remember the movie “Good Will Hunting” – the 1997 film about an MIT janitor who’s actually a self taught mathematics genius? I can only recall a few scenes, but one that has stuck in my memory is a (seemingly alcohol fueled) bar-side diatribe by Matt Damon’s character explaining how a college education is outrageously overpriced considering access to all of the information in the world is available for free at the public library.
Back when I originally heard this argument, I severely doubted the feasibility of someone really being able to teach themselves anything of substance (much less advanced mathematics) by only using publicly available resources.
After this weekend, I no longer have that doubt.
Catching up on my TED talks yesterday, I stumbled upon Salmon Khan’s presentation on how to use video to reinvent education (http://bit.ly/m4fBzD). In his short presentation, Sal, an ex-hedge fund analyst, explains how he has published over 2,000 educational lessons (10-20 minutes long each) on YouTube covering topics from simple addition to advanced calculus and a variety of other educational topics. His not-for-profit company, appropriately called the Khan Academy (http://www.khanacademy.org/) aims to allow visitors to “Watch. Practice. Learn almost anything – for free”. It’s truly an incredible resource. I encourage you to at least take a look. I’ve gotten rather hooked on his lessons and this past weekend I’ve spent over 5 hours relearning level 4 long division, 4 digit multiplication, and elementary statistics.
Just seeing Khan’s model makes you wonder about the future of education. Why pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for private school and college when you can learn from the very best teachers online for free (another free educational resource is Michael Sandel’s Harvard Justice Course, which I’ve mentioned several times before – http://bit.ly/lyfQAi)?
I suspect that in as little as 15 years, modern education could look very different. Just as the Wikipedia project has made encyclopedic information free and publicly available, I believe that a similar project will come along for teachers to make the very best lessons and classes available for free to everyone in the world.