Hastings, Khan: Technology in Schools Has Advanced, Long Way to Go

Khan Academy founder Sal Khan and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently spoke at a Vanity Fair Summit concerning their future involvement in education.

Hastings began the event by speaking about the wide popularity Netflix has received as a result of releasing all of the episodes of shows at once, allowing the viewer to binge-watch an entire season or even series, and how Netflix planned to use the movement in the field of education.

“My first binge was calculus,” Hastings said. “I got to college, I hadn’t had much calculus, and the college I went to had a self-paced program . . . I loved it. I could just go at my own pace, and it was a fantastic experience.  It was tremendously engaging in the same way that binge entertainment is—you’re in control,” Hastings continued. “Like reading a whole book in one night, it’s a normal experience to do that. There are things like TV once a week, or having your physics class once a week, which are artificially regulated.”

Hastings has invested in multiple educational opportunities, such as DreamBox Learning, a startup planning on offering “intelligent adaptive learning” technology for K-8 math students.

The pair finished the event by making it clear that while technology had come a far way in the field of education, it was no where near the substantial change they are hoping for.  With about half the world still lacking internet access, technology still has a long way to go.

“This is not going to be like five years and suddenly it works,” Hastings said. “This is a fifty-year plan. Both Sal and I will be involved for a long time. Then you learn what strategies work and some don’t. . . . Nothing we’re doing is a short-term solution.”

Separately, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Sebastian Thrun, CEO and co-founder of Udacity, spoke at a World Affairs Council about the ability of online schools to coexist with traditional school models.

“The issue is whether or not or to what extent online education will replace the residential learning experience,” Dirks said. “So far, from what we’ve observed, most students would rather have that traditional learning experience.”

Dirks cited the rising number of applications to UC Berkeley in his argument for the traditional class model.  However, Thrun disagreed, stating that the rising tuition costs would eventually cause a drop in the number of applications received.  He also mentioned the grade differences amongst students who viewed lectures in person of a class he taught, and those who watched the lectures online, stating that the online students, on average, received an entire letter grade higher on exams.  Dirks argued that this theory only held true for students who “already knew how to learn.”

Online education has become of increasing interest over the past several years.  Last year, the University of California received $10 million in funding that it put towards the Innovative Learning Technology Initiative.

Other universities are increasing their use of online schooling as well.  The University of Arizona is looking into developing an online college that would allow older students looking to finish a degree the opportunity to do so while they continue with their full-time careers and family life.  They will be held to the same academic standards as those who physically attend classes, but the tuition is expected to be less.

Boston University has introduced two MOOCs this year and is expected to roll out three more by the end of the semester, allowing anyone with Internet access to a free, quality education.  Around 7.1 million students across the nation are enrolled in at least one online course.  BU is one of only 5% of schools to offer the option, placing them in an exclusive tier of 30 schools nationwide.