When will we see the first Khan in ESL?

By Kirsten Winkler

At the web 2.0 summit in San Francisco this month, Sal Khan took the stage to share some of the latest data on Khan Academy.

Currently, Khan Academy attracts 39 million pageviews and 3.5 million unique users per month. Or, in other words, “The number of users of Khan Academy is 6 times as many students as Harvard has graduated since 1636!”.

In related news we learned that Khan also joined digital textbook startup Kno on their newly created Educator Advisory Board and that he is from now on not the only member of the Khan Academy faculty anymore. Khan joined forces with the founders of SmartHistory, Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker who created over 300 free art history videos.

I think it is safe to say that web based education video has gained some momentum now, so it is only a matter of time when we are going to see other examples in other subjects as well. I already had the privilege to interview Dr. Derek Muller of Veritasium who hosts a very successful and respected YouTube channel about physics. I also interviewed Henry Reich of MinutePhysics .

The key to success clearly seems to be in the concentration to one subject matter. People who teach across different topics quickly get a notion of “How can he/she possibly know all that?” as the concept of universal knowledge is not popular in today’s society anymore. Khan’s addition to the faculty is part of this, I suppose.

But what about ESL? ESL is so strongly represented on the Internet in general, for instance I’m thinking of the many educator communities, PLN, on twitter and LinkedIn to name only a few. However and please correct me, if I am wrong but at the moment I have not come across an ESL teacher with the magnitude of Khan Academy on YouTube.

Hence I ask myself, when are we going to see a similar stellar star in English language teaching?

There are, of course, some drawbacks that make it more difficult for English teachers to reach a global audience, the biggest one being the native language. That is especially true when you start at the very basics of teaching English to non-native speakers.

Nonetheless, there are some really huge markets. Spanish covers most parts of South America besides Spain itself. French is widely spoken throughout Africa and parts of the Pacific. And there is of course China.

Then there is the question if one can teach English “Khan Academy Style”. Throughout the years I have been experimenting with different types of videos on my free Deutsch Happen channel for German learners. At the moment, it seems as if the latest concept of me standing in front of a whiteboard is the most popular method, a real classic. But we have to consider that Khan’s videos as well as those of SmartHistory solely feature the teachers’ voices.

Another aspect is the accent. They play a far bigger role in language learning than in STEM or other subject matters, and I would assume that the most successful teacher in that respect had a pretty neutral accent and teaches in plain English.


Leave a Comment ↓

  1. mark ptak says:

    Sep 16, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    I’m still struck that folks in the ESL world have not taken advantage of the quizzing platform of the Khan Academy Exercises Framework which does allow for SOUND. A few examples (the number will grow) are show at http://www.we4dkids.com/mark4.html. Hopefully Duolingo will also see how important this is.

  2. Japhet says:

    Jul 21, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    As much as I agree that there are significant sagvins to be found in the type of model being developed by Khan Academy, education spending definitely shouldn’t be cut. Savings should instead be redirected into allowing smaller class sizes, broadening the scope of childrens’ education (e.g. funding more club activities and so on) and so on.Most unionists would support this video but for different reasons than you do. Spending cuts should first be focused on the military.

  3. nyma says:

    Oct 28, 2011 at 7:39 am

    when will they start english language classes ?

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