Blended Learning, Continuing Education, Cost of Education, Domestic, Education Quality, Flipped Classrooms, High school / Secondary 2, International, Open Source Education, Opinion, Public education, Publishers, Required, University & College - Written by on Friday, November 18, 2011 7:20 - 0 Comments

Heard: Is Salman Khan The New Andrew Carnegie?

by vkp_patel via flickr under creative commons

Science writer Annie Murphy Paul writes about Khan Academy in Time magazine, comparing Salman Khan to Andrew Carnegie and Carnegie’s massive donations to libraries.

The real revolution represented by Khan Academy, however, has gone mostly unremarked upon. The new availability of sophisticated knowledge, produced by a trusted source and presented in an accessible fashion, promises to usher in a new golden age of the autodidact: the self-taught man or woman. Not just the Khan Academy, but also the nation’s top colleges and universities are giving away learning online. Khan’s alma mater, MIT, has made more than 2,000 of its courses available gratis on the Internet. Harvard, Yale, Berkeley, Johns Hopkins and Carnegie Mellon are among the other elite institutions offering such free education. When Stanford announced last August that it would be opening to the online public a course on artificial intelligence, more than 70,000 people signed up within a matter of days. The course’s two professors say they were inspired to disseminate their lessons by the example of Salman Khan. Khan Academy’s own videos now go well beyond basic algebra to teach college-level calculus, biology and chemistry.

This bonanza of educational opportunity recalls an earlier era in American history, and another man determined to make learning available to all: the steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Between 1886 and 1919, he helped open 1,679 public libraries in communities all over the United States. Carnegie, a poor weaver’s son from Scotland who never went to college, gratefully recalled the generosity of a wealthy gentleman who opened his personal library to local working boys, and he resolved use his own riches to make books available to everyone. The list of Americans who educated themselves at the nation’s public libraries is a storied one: the writer Jack London, the poet Kahlil Gibran, the memoirist Frank McCourt and the playwright August Wilson are among those who made libraries their schools.

Today, of course, knowledge no longer needs to be bound into the paper and cloth of a book but can float free on the wireless waves of the Internet. There’s a lot of junk bobbing in those waves as well — information that is outdated, inaccurate, or flat-out false — so the emergence of online educational materials that are both free of charge and carefully vetted is a momentous development. This phenomenon is all the more significant given the increasing scrutiny directed at for-profit online universities, which have been criticized for burdening students with debt even as they dispense education of questionable usefulness. Websites offering high-quality instruction for free are the Carnegie libraries of the 21st century: portals of opportunity for curious and motivated learners, no matter what their material circumstances.

She concludes that the changing landscape means that degrees from top schools like MIT and Harvard will become even more important rather than less. She argues that open source education from MIT gives the public more access to knowledge. But the degree from MIT will carry more weight and prestige to employers. However, some self-taught learners may be able to avoid the cost of attending these schools entirely.

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