Online Ed’s Khan Sees Challenges, Opportunities In Market

Salman Khan, a former hedge fund analyst turned into a well known education technology mogul in Silicon Valley, spoke in Santa Clara after being awarded a civic entrepreneurship award at the annual State of the Valley conference sponsored by the think tank Joint Venture Silicon Valley, which has been focusing on the increasing economic inequality in the region.

Lauren Kepler of the Silicon Valley Business Journal writes that Khan touched on how his education technology company took off and more importantly on how education could play a large role when addressing broader economic issues.
He stated how technology is shifting society away from a “pyramid structure” that has traditionally included a large base of low-skilled labor, a sizable number of white collar jobs and a small “entrepreneurial or creative class” at the top.

“You’re able to generate so much wealth with so few employees,” Khan said, mentioning tech firms like Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. “What about everyone else?”

Khan maintained that residents of Silicon Valley and more remote locations around the world may be able to leverage new education channels to move up. He is of the position that online education is one of those channels, it has the potential to make a dent in the growing income inequality in not only Silicon Valley but elsewhere as well.

His hope for Silicon Valley now: “To get the top of the pyramid to encapsulate almost everyone.”

“(Education) has always been a determinant between a have and a have not,” Khan said. “We can get closer to (education) — like shelter, like running water — being a fundamental human right.”

This ambitious ideal though has also been recited by other founders of for-profit technology startups such as Coursera and Udacity. Educational technology entrepreneurs albeit went from working on offering free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that suffer from low completion rates to being pushed to the corporate training market, which has a supply of available and willing paying customers.

Khan’s company which was founded over a decade ago after Khan began tutoring his 12-year old cousin over the phone and with the help of rudimentary instant messaging tools, is now worth $7 million and has over 10 million monthly users from about 200 countries accessing its store of educational videos.

Khan Academy like Coursera hopes to expand from being not only a large educational platform but also into an analytical tool for corporations.

The Academy is currently translating content into multiple languages as part of a push to grow its global audience. Animation techniques from the gaming industry are being employed to make that content more engaging. The academy uses analytics designed to see what spurs students to spend more time on the site. These analytics are also hoped to be able to one day allow corporations and employers to measure what their employees are learning.

“One of our goals is really to become an analytics platform for scientists and educators,” Khan said.

Khan said his organization continues to seek new ways to teach and analyze its online students and remains optimistic about the opportunities for education technology.