Khan Academy Founder Discusses How to Personalize and Equalize Education With AI Technology

Salman Khan, photographed at a TED Talk in 2011. (Photo: Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0)

For the past decade, Kahn Academy has been a leader among education non-profits. By producing thousands of videos on topics ranging from kindergarten counting to LSAT logic problems, the organization promotes a free, excellent education available to all. Help in algebra and trig, social studies and math, all meet the student where they are at. As impressive as Khan Academy’s educational offerings already are, the organization’s founder Sal Khan believes the expanding world of artificial intelligence (AI) will lead to an even more personalized experience. In a recent TED Talk, Khan gave a demonstration of the possibilities with their new chatbot, Khanmigo.

The TED Talk comes in the midst of a raging debate about the future of AI, especially “all-knowing” bots such as ChatGPT. Teachers, administrators, and commentators are realistically concerned that AI may enable students to skate by actual learning at best and cheat at worst. While Kahn acknowledges the need for “guardrails,” he paints an exciting picture of a massive development in education if AI is used responsibly. In fact, it can be a personal tutor uniquely tailored to every student’s needs. Based on studies stretching back to 1984, Kahn notes this could dramatically shift the bellcurve of student achievement higher.

Problems of scale have held back achieving this reality. However, Khan introduced Khanmigo. Looking like the little paperclip that used to dance across Microsoft Word docs, the bot opens a chat function. The bot can help students work through a problem step by step, but it doesn’t give the answers without the student doing the work. Like a true teacher, the bot catches mistakes and asks the student to explain their work. In this way, they learn. The bot is also moderated by another bot and conversations are recorded and viewed by their teachers.

Khan shows off how fast the bot is and highlights the ways in which it acts like an excellent live tutor. It can do even more, such as link your studies to expressed interests in careers or to the videos it knows you watched. The bot can even advise students much like a high school guidance counselor. You can even talk to the bot as if it is a famous literary character and get in-character answers. It can help you edit and critique your uploaded papers, and even write a short story of your own by providing special prompts. High schoolers around the world—including at Khan World School, Kahn’s own online high school—will benefit from the bot’s attention in ways “auto-answer” bots will not achieve.

Khan ended his TED Talk with a dual call: to vigorously call for safeguards on AI, and to vigorously advocate for its beneficial uses. Schools are underfunded and understaffed, a problem AI and Khan Academy cannot cure alone. But democratizing learning is one incredible possibility of AI, and chatbots such as Khanmigo might be the free, available, structured “teachers” everyone needs.

The founder of the wildly successful Kahn Academy believes AI offers promise for tailoring curriculum to each student’s unique academic needs.

h/t: [TED]

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