Khan to MIT graduates: Open content is the future |

Khan to MIT graduates: Open content is the future

Posted 11 Jun 2012 by 

(6 votes)
The key to open education
Image by :

Open education innovator Sal Khan, MIT alumnus and founder of Khan Academy, gave the commencement address at MIT graduation ceremony on June 8, a speech that included both a nod to the power of open education as exemplified by MIT's OpenCourseWare program and Khan's own web site, and an homage to the importance of the unique academic community that is MIT.

Khan spoke eloquently of the inspiration he drew from MIT's 2001 announcement to make all of its courseware openly available on the web.  "MIT announced ... that it was going to take knowledge and resources that used to be behind the wall of elite institutions and not charge for them but give them away for free to the world ... When I read that press release, I had never been so inspired. I had never been more proud to come from this community."

At a time when many are wondering if open education efforts such as Khan Academy and the recently-announced MITx spell the end of the traditional university, Khan argued strongly for the value of the shared experience of the academic community.  "[The MIT environment] pushes us. And I do believe that MIT pushes us harder that probably any other institution in the world. But when you do that, you take someone to another level, you take them truly to recognize to what they are capable of."

As is appropriate for an academic event, Khan also invited the graduates to participate in a series of thought experiments, projecting themselves into the perspectives of others in their lives, and imagining themselves at 70, looking back upon their lives and careers, and asked them to imagine from those perspectives they might do differently. "You...start to think about the things you might have done differently, your regrets. And I can imagine what they might be. You'll wish that you had spent more time with your children. You'll wish that you has told you spouse 'I love you' more frequently. You'll wish that you had spent more time with your parents and told them how much you appreciated them before they passed away." He then extolled the graduates to do this while they could.

Khan's speech points to one of the key dilemmas open education poses to traditional universities. The intense academic environments of today's campuses create much of the open content upon which tomorrow's educational innovations will be built.  MIT OpenCourseWare relies for its richness on the academic community at MIT, and it's hard to imagine a Khan Academy emerging without the immersion in academics that Sal Khan received at MIT and Harvard.  And yet, these innovations threaten to supplant the very institutions that gave rise to them. Creating structures to manage the disruption brought about by open education and ensuring a role that maintains the vitality of our campus environments is the core challenge of the next generation of academic innovators.


Open Minded

One of the more recent buzzwords in innovative teaching techniques is a concept called flipping the classroom. In a flipped classroom, rather than the instructor getting up and giving a presentation to deliver the content to students, students will go online to watch a pre-recorded lecture (or check out open courseware like Kahn academy) and then spend their time in the physical classroom asking questions, working in groups, and so on. This helps keep the class engaged, keeps the students working, and gives the instructor a chance to see if the students understand the material and correct any misconceptions.

Initiatives like Kahn Academy and the courses offered via the Saylor foundation (I haven't explored MITx, yet) only cover half of the instruction equation. While they handle the delivery of content, they are not in the best position to respond to or assess students. While a stand-up lecture can't compete with a carefully-edited video lecture, computers are still a ways off from being able to accurately evaluate student performance and give them targeted help based on their misconceptions of the material.

I think that Universities can coexist, and even leverage, open courseware when it comes to education. It's just a matter of rethinking and addressing the shortcomings of freely available resources.

Vote up!
Vote down!
Steve Carson

Barry, even two or three years ago, I would have agreed with you. But online education as a field has made tremendous progress on both of the issues you identify--interactivity and assessment. Discussions of all kinds are now commonplace online (including this one) and pioneers like Carnegie Mellon University's Open Learning Initiative are creating adaptive systems that provide an impressive level of feedback to students. Programs like MIT OpenCourseWare are more or less static content, but the new generations of massive open online courses such as those offered by Coursera (out of Stanford) and MITx combine content, interaction and assessment to create robust educational experiences. Are they the equivalent of a classroom experience? Probably not. But they are pretty good and they are free--a value proposition that should provoke thought in higher ed when these courses are attracting student enrollments north of 100,000

Vote up!
Vote down!
Open Source Champion

I have to agree with you. I think Khan Academy and MIT OpenCourseWare will help revolutionize education as we know it. Noam Chomsky is now more accessible and available than he ever was.

The worldwide effects of MIT OpenCourseWare will be profound in the years to come. Generations of children who would otherwise not have been able to gain knowledge without physical access and availability to MIT can now do so. How many poor, Nepali girls with a passion for physics are now able to avail themselves to knowledge through MIT OpenCourseWare? What about Sugata Mitra's children through his Hole in the Wall project have studied molecular biology? How many exceptional or profoundly gifted children in this country and around the world are now benefitting from MIT OpenCourseWare? Every week I read about parents on Davidson's Gifted Forum on how they are using MIT OpenCourseWare and being homeschooled/unschooled or supplementing it with a public/private school education. How many children will return to a teacher-directed form of education once they get used to directing their own education through OER?

Vote up!
Vote down!
Amit Saha

Kahn => Khan. Its Salman Khan. Its Khan Academy.

Vote up!
Vote down!
Open Sourcerer

Oops! Thanks for catching that.

Vote up!
Vote down!
Community Member

Well I caught Steve Carson whom I have known for more than 10 years now .
I met him in 2001 when MIT OCW came up .
I asked MIT at that time rather than OCW they should provide online classes to the world.
Now they did and a tremendous job.
May be as a strategy they started with OCW. Now 100,000,000 people know MIT due to OCW project. Therefore MITx has 100,000,000 ready captive customers.
I am an engineer. But I worked with online education for the last 17 years . I asked all colleges to go online. Now I do not . I was wrong.
A knowledge to be disseminated should be valuable enough to be disseminated.
Therefore I concluded online should be done by ONLY top schools of the world .
1.- Top schools can disseminate the top education
2.- They attract millions students
3.- Therefore cost per students becomes nill .
That is what MITx is doing now .
Since cost per person is nill they plan to charge also nill per course only for exams even. But still they will collect $ 10-20 billion a year if they charge only $ 10-20 per course.
Not bad. Target of MITx + Harvardx is 1 billion.
I do not like people to call MITx free. It is not free. But the cost is low therefore fee will be low too. That also means everybody can attend . Plus MITx provides a certificate as well.
To me as an employer as good as a credit from MIT . I hope MITx will provide degrees or some kind of diploma different than MIT .
Now the conclusion is
the world does need many online projects.
Just look up target of MITx + Harvard x is 1 billion.
There are only 200,000,000 university aged people in the world . So 1 online propgram is enough for the whole world .
Therefore I say if Stanford and Princeton and Berkeley join the club it will be fantastic .
Plus only 20 million Americans will attend but 980 million outside of USA will attend and 980 million people + their families will be indebted to USA due to the education USA provides.
USA will gain great respect in the world .
USA economy will prospare since jobs will be filled with skilled people of MITx and Harvardx .
I hope people understand all these

Vote up!
Vote down!

Stephen Carson is the External Relations Director for MIT OpenCourseWare, and served as the first president of the OpenCourseWare Consortium. He can be reached at