WHEN SALMAN KHAN POSTED
his first tutorials on YouTube, he simply wanted to teach math concepts to his friends and family. He had no intention of disrupting the delivery of conventional education. But once he realized that he had tapped into a tremendous demand for knowledge, Khan created a YouTube channel in 2006; he quit his job in 2009 to focus full-time on creating a library of online videos teaching everything from linear algebra to art history to macroeconomics. Today, the Khan Academy offers more than 2,400 instructional videos, which have received nearly 900 million views and attracted more than 2.7 million subscribers.
Viewers who range from children to working adults come to Khan Academy to learn because its video instruction is straightforward, focused, effective—and free.
This summer, the Khan Academy made news when it announced that the entrepreneurs who created Duck Duck Moose, an award-winning educational app for preschoolers and kindergartners, had decided to gift their company to the Khan Academy. On DDM’s website, its CEO and co-founder Caroline Hu Flexer explains that she and her co-founders decided to donate their company because they wanted the educational content they had created to be “accessible to children all over the world, regardless of their financial resources.”
In recent years, educators have worried most about teaching so-called “digital natives” who have never known life without the Internet. Now, as today’s preschoolers learn their ABCs and 123s via online apps, educators also need to prepare for a younger generation of “free education natives.” This group will never have known life without high-quality educational content, on any topic, available at any time—all online, all for free.
In this issue, we wanted to get a glimpse into the future of these youngsters, by seeing it through the eyes of some of today’s most pioneering education entrepreneurs. We talk to Ben Nelson, founder of the Minerva Project, and Roshan Paul, co-founder of Amani Institute, who describe how their own disillusionment as undergrads inspired them to re-imagine higher education, designing curricula that de-emphasize rote lecture courses in favor of action-based learning. Next, we speak to MIT’s Anant Agarwal, CEO of the MOOC platform edX, who discusses the role of MOOCs in education. In the feature that follows, Laurie Pickard tells us why she decided to complete her own “No-Pay MBA” through MOOCs alone.
Like Khan before them, these individuals decided that the traditional educational model—bound by physical classrooms too often isolated from real-world experience—needed a makeover. And they set out to invent new ways to teach and learn.
In many ways, Khan Academy’s tagline says a lot about the potential future of educational delivery: “For free. For everyone. Forever.” That’s a future that schools like Minerva and Amani are preparing for today. After all, the “free education natives”—let’s call them the Duck Duck MOOC generation—will be heading off to college in the late 2020s. By then, higher ed better be ready to pick up where the Internet leaves off.