Khan Academy Introduces New Features After Successful SAT Partnership
Since its launch just a year ago, Khan Academy’s Official SAT Practice has attracted over 1.4 million unique users. The College Board and Khan Academy partnered in 2015 to revolutionize the way students prepare for the SAT. This year, Khan Academy will be introducing new features, additional practice tests, live instruction sessions on Facebook Live, and new partnerships.
Khan Academy began as a one-on-one tutoring project in 2004 and has since grown exponentially with the mission “to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.”
Twelve years ago, Sal Khan was tutoring one cousin in math. Word got around to the rest of his family, and one turned into many cousins. In an interview with us, Khan said, “I saw that when I was able to personalize instruction for them and really figure out what their strength and weaknesses are—what their gaps in knowledge are, I could help them fill it in.”
Khan’s background was largely in the field of software. He then switched over to working as an analyst for a hedge fund. When he began tutoring multiple cousins, he turned to his old work in software to help him.
Khan began writing software that would give his cousins practice problems and feedback on what they got right or wrong. As their tutor, he could see how they were doing and monitor what they were doing, when they were doing it, and how much work they did. That was the first Khan Academy.
Even after realizing that his lessons were getting traction, Khan wasn’t ready to devote all of his time to it. “I started up in the hedge fund world and said I’m going to do [Khan Academy] for fun. At minimum, I’m helping my family members, I’m getting to dabble with software that I find fun to work on, I like the subject matter. It was a fun project for me to work on,” Khan said.
Khan added that because he was getting so much personal satisfaction out of it, he wanted to protect it by not thinking about it ever becoming a company or organization.
A friend recommended that Khan make videos and put them on YouTube and they soon gained a following. Khan began receiving letters from people saying they helped them pass a test, or a class, or encouraged them to major in science in college.
In the summer of 2009, Khan realized he wanted to switch all of his focus to Khan Academy, so he quit his hedge fund job. He had enough saved up for his family to live off of for a year, and if Khan Academy didn’t get funding after that year, he was going to go back to his old job. Khan made it clear that even if he had to go back to his old job, he was not going to give up on the project. He would still devote a couple of hours each day to it.
Luckily, he never had to worry about it. Khan Academy generated a lot of support from funders. Some of Khan Academy’s biggest supporters include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Broad Foundation, and Google, according to Inside Philanthropy.
Khan Academy will always be a not-for-profit and will always be free. Khan admitted to entertaining ideas in the past for for-profit funding, but in the end realized there was a disconnect in long-term visions between the two options. He said he knew he could sell it for a billion dollars and be rich, but that wasn’t the point. He wants Khan Academy to always be around and for there to never be any barriers for anyone to use it, including ads.
“This is really a very high leverage solution for empowering as many learners and educators around the world as possible so I feel confident,” said Khan about having a case for maintaining funding in the future.
In addition to partnering with corporations for funding, Khan Academy’s collaboration with CollegeBoard and SAT has taken off. The PSAT has even become a diagnostic for personalization on Khan Academy.
Khan Academy has 98 full-time employees in Mountain View and 10 all over the country. They expect to have between 150 and 200 million students this year. Khan said that in order to keep up with the growing number of users, the team needs to grow a little bit so they are not spread too thin.
The large number of users also creates a larger demand for diverse content. Khan Academy is currently working on increasing the breadth and depth of their content, as well as tweaking existing content to make it more effective. They are also working on their site to make it easier for people to find what they need.
Besides working specifically on content, Khan Academy is also internationalizing. Khan Academy India launched a few months ago and they have been putting in significant efforts in Latin America, Turkey, and Europe. Khan said an international focus will be an important part of their future.
To learn more about Sal Khan’s start and personal experience with Khan Academy, listen to our interview with him:
Hannah is a Boston-based writer who hails from Ohio. She has recently become interested in photography and loves taking portraits. You can normally find her curating her Instagram feed and eating all things carbs.