Khan’s University

December 6th, 2012

Salman Khan’s university concept is excellent:

In a chapter titled “What College Could Be Like,” Mr. Khan conjures an image of a new campus in Silicon Valley where students would spend their days working on internships and projects with mentors, and would continue their education with self-paced learning similar to that of Khan Academy. The students would attend ungraded seminars at night on art and literature, and the faculty would consist of professionals the students would work with as well as traditional professors.

“Traditional universities proudly list the Nobel laureates they have on campus (most of whom have little to no interaction with students),” he writes. “Our university would list the great entrepreneurs, inventors, and executives serving as student advisers and mentors.”

That’s quite similar to what I wrote earlier this year. Giving students access to leaders in different fields as a key part of the process, and providing seminars on diverse topics, are brilliant ideas. The goal is to get students engaged on their own work, something that’s meaningful to them, and to provide the resources they need to act on them. By doing so, students are actively seeking knowledge they need, and even knowledge that isn’t immediately necessary. When someone’s engaged in creating something of their own, they are much more likely to get something out of seminars on a variety of topics than they would be when sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture to fulfill a general-education requirement.

I don’t think this concept will work for everyone, but I think that’s exactly the problem: we’ve settled on the traditional university as a solution for everyone when it simply isn’t, and due at least in part to political reasons, have made it very difficult for radically different concepts to be explored. We need experiments like this—and many of them—to improve our education system.