Online Education will empower humans, not replace them.

Although he shares his name with a super-hero of the Indian film industry, Salman ‘Sal’ Khan is no less super-hero when it comes to reimagining education. Giving classes and sharing his knowledge started casually over a Yahoo! Doodle notepad in 2001, later taking shape of this huge online learning resource platform ‘Khan Academy’. Sal, Founder of Khan Academy predicts the future of online education along with its risks in his email chat with BW Education’s Sreerupa Sil.

Where do you see online education 5 years down the line - globally versus India?
I think there are going be a couple of directions. One is we have these things called textbooks today that are used as kind of the primary resource in classrooms. It's a way for students to do some pre-learning on their own. They study from it. They can get exercises from it. I think online learning is going to be able to replace textbooks, even the digital ones. They can give students as much practice as they need. They can adapt to the needs of the students. They can give teachers and administrators information about what's working and what's not. It can be updated without having to go through another publishing cycle. And also, it's going to be available on devices that most, or all, students are going to have and it's going to be free- a pretty big deal indeed.
The other dimension would be the emergence of internationally respected credentials tied to online learning. Things of high school equivalency, they could give you admissions to reputable institutions of higher education. The most important part- they might be able to connect you directly to economic opportunity in high-growth industries.
I think this is especially important for a place like India. Even though we strongly believe that every student should have access to a great physical school with great teachers, the reality is there's parts of India where kids don't have access to schooling or there might not be someone in their village who can teach certain subjects. And that's where online education, if it's made free, if it's made accessible on things like mobile devices, will be to able reach many more people. Khan Academy is attempting to something similar in India.

Q: What do you think are the risks associated with online education?
I think the big risks with online education are when people take it to extremes. When people start talking about online education as a silver bullet, a panacea for all the world's problems, or when they talk about it as somehow replacing human beings.
At Khan Academy we think it's the opposite. It's going to be about empowering humans. In the classroom, it's going to allow teachers to personalize and give richer activities to all of their students. And for the individual students it's going to personalize more to their needs, whether they're in a classroom or not.

Q: In a presentation of the prediction of 2060, you said ‘assessment is through what one actually does’. How far are we from there? What steps are necessary to be taken by governments in order to increase the ‘creativity or innovation’ atmosphere?
Currently, most of the large examinations, especially for getting into college, for some professions, are through standard exams. And they're always going to have a place in terms of proving your competency around your skills. But, when that's all you have, it does de-emphasize what's arguably more important- your creativity and your ability to make or do things.
When we hire at Khan Academy, we already are looking at portfolios, and a lot of 21st century industries already do that. I think over the next five years or ten years, it's going to be more formalized. We're going to have methods that encourage students to create portfolios. We're going to have mechanisms to evaluate those portfolios, possibly some type of peer-based evaluation. That will give a much better signal to employers and higher education of what student capabilities are.

Q: How should teachers and faculties change their way of teaching to reach the creative height in schools and colleges?
In the traditional model of education, a teacher addresses a class of 30, or 200 or 300 students in higher education. As a result, class time becomes primarily about a lecture, the dissemination of information. After a lot of practice, homework without help and eventually taking a test that may identify gaps, the class moves one leaving those gaps un-remediated.
Technology now helps students to fill those gaps via reading or especially videos, at their own time and pace at customized levels. This frees up class time to do more interactive and human things such as peer-to-peer learning, Socratic dialogue, projects and more. I talk a lot about mastery learning where instead of holding fixed how long they learn something, it's done the other way around: What's fixed is that they all master that concept, but what's variable is how long they take to do it. That would have been very hard to do before we had technology. But now, you could have a teacher with 30 or 40 or 100 students where the students are at different places, filling in their needs as necessary, and the teacher using class time to do higher order tasks like dialogue or projects, thereby giving much more satisfaction to learning.

This article was published in BW Education issue dated 'April 7, 2017' with cover story titled 'BW Education Inaugural Issue April-May 2017'

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