Online educator will speak at UT

Khan Academy founder challenges traditions


Salman Khan may be a disruptive force in education, but he feels right at home in front of a college crowd.

The nonprofit company he founded, Khan Academy, has been heralded as being at the forefront of a paradigm shift in education. His free YouTube sessions on a variety of subjects started as tutorials for family members and spread across the Web; there are now thousands of courses done by Khan Academy, and millions have viewed the lessons.

“The groups I found value in speaking to are groups of educators, groups of students, and groups of folks who are looking to rethink what they are doing,” Mr. Khan said.

Mr. Khan is the initial speaker in a new University of Toledo distinguished lecture series that premiers Sept. 17. The Jesup Scott Honors College Distinguished Lecture series will include four speakers this year, with two in the fall and two in the spring.

Mr. Khan said he plans to discuss both his personal story and Khan Academy, and also lead a broader discussion about whether it's possible to totally rethink our education models.

“My argument is yes,” he said in a phone interview, “and not only can we, and is it kind of a good idea, it's actually happening.”

Khan Academy is probably best known for its open concept, allowing people all over the world to take its tutorials. But Mr. Khan and the academy also are strong advocates for rethinking the whole idea of what class or course is, eliminating the use of a set time frame such as a semester, and instead advancing students only when they've actually mastered a concept.

“I challenge the assumption of courses that you get graded on,” he said. “It should be much more about competency.”

While Khan Academy is based online, Mr. Khan doesn't reject the physical university or classroom, and advocates using the academy's courses in conjunction with in-person collaboration and guidance by teachers. But he does reject the 300-person lecture concept, which he calls a rather inhuman experience.

Mr. Khan's relationship with UT may soon go beyond the lecture series. Like many other universities, UT is developing its own online based coursework.

Both Mr. Khan and Scott Scarborough, UT’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, hinted at possible further connections between Khan Academy and the university. Mr. Khan declined to be specific, saying he didn't want to “steal [UT's] thunder,” and Mr. Scarborough only said there have been discussions between the two.

“We are delighted at the prospect of working more in-depth with the Khan Academy,” Mr. Scarborough said in a statement. “We've had some preliminary discussions that we hope will help us bring their revolutionary work to our students. Sal Khan is an innovator, and we think there is much we can learn from his approach.”

Other speakers in the lecture series include James Carville, a political analyst and Democratic strategist who worked for former President Bill Clinton; Richard Rumelt, the Harry and Elsa Kunin Chair in Business and Society in the UCLA Anderson School of Management; and Michael Crowe, president of Arizona State University.

The 7 p.m. lectures will be held in the newly renovated Doermann Theatre in University Hall. The theater has a capacity of about 600, but overflow space would be made available if the events sell out. Tickets for students cost $10 and $25 for nonstudents. Overflow seats would be free. More information about the lecture series can be found at​honorslecture.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at:, 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.