According to Business Insider, the Khan Academy has just raised an extra 5 million dollars in funding. It was started in 2004 by an MIT graduate called Salman Khan, who started tutoring his cousin in math via Yahoo’s Doodle notepad. It went so well that other members of his family asked him to do the same, so Salman decided to record his lectures as videos and upload them onto YouTube. At this point, of course, they could be shared, and they were. This way of learning became very popular, and seven years later the Khan Academy is a well-funded charity that draws 39 million page views a month.
Assume 20 pageviews (videos) make up one student’s day of schooling; assume further 25 students in a real-life classroom, and 22 days of school in a month. That means that the Khan Academy takes the place of a very large 3500-classrooms school, being taught by, at most, ten extremely skillful teachers. Plus, each student can proceed at their own pace, with no need to sync with others that might prefer different speeds or learning times. Given the well known limits of traditional education as a learning method, it is easy to foresee continued success for endeavors of this kind.The Khan Academy’s successes may be a sign that a significant fraction of that market is going to get commodified, fast. When that happened to the music industry, it lashed back, hirinfg lobbyists to build legal barriers around its stream of revenues and lawyers to sue high school kids guilty of unlawfully sharing music files. I am not looking forward to what happens when universities get wind that they are being bypassed. Students in countries like the UK, where university tuition fees stands at three thousand pounds per year, are certainly going to want to bypass them: the alternative is getting into student debt, and the financial crisis is teaching us a thing or two about debt. Things could get ugly.
Marco De Rossi, the young founder of the Italian peer-to-peer online school Oilproject, dreams of putting online, on video every lecture of every course of every university in the country for free viewing. He certainly has the community to do it: what he needs is a one-line piece of legislation, that puts squarely in the public domain the intellectual property rights of taxpayer-funded university lectures. My guess is that it is now or never: either this legislation is made now or the education lobbyists will lock it down for good. Until the next Tahrir Square.