AI’s Education Revolution

Khan Academy is using ChatGPT to bring one-on-one teaching to scale.

“Millions of students use Khan Academy’s online videos and problem sets to supplement their schoolwork. Three years ago, Sal Khan and I spoke about developing a tool like the Illustrated Primer from Neal Stephenson’s 1995 novel “The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer.” It’s an education tablet, in the author’s words, in which “the pictures moved, and you could ask them questions and get answers.” Adaptive, intuitive, personalized, self-paced—nothing like today’s education. But it’s science-fiction.

Last week I spoke with Mr. Khan, who told me, “Now I think a Primer is within reach within five years. In some ways, we’ve even surpassed some of the elements of the Primer, using characters like George Washington to teach lessons.” What changed? Simple—generative artificial intelligence. Khan Academy has been working with OpenAI’s ChatGPT since before its release last December. [..]

Mr. Khan’s stated goals for Khan Academy are “personalization and mastery.” He notes that “high-performing, wealthier households have resources—time, know-how and money—to provide their children one-on-one tutoring to learn subjects and then use schools to prove what they know.” With his company’s new AI-infused tool, Khanmigo—sounds like con migo or “with me”—one-on-one teaching can scale to the masses.

Khanmigo allows students to make queries in the middle of lessons or videos and understands the context of what they’re watching. You can ask, “What is the significance of the green light in ‘The Great Gatsby?’ ” Heck, that one is still over my head. Same with help on factoring polynomials, including recognizing which step a student got wrong, not just knowing the answer is wrong, fixing ChatGPT’s math problem. Sci-fi becomes reality: a scalable super tutor.

Mr. Khan suggests, “There is no limit to learning. If you ask, ‘Why is the sky blue?’ you’ll get a short answer and then maybe, ‘But let’s get back to the mitochondria lesson.’ ” Mr. Khan thinks “average students can become exceptional students.” [..]

Mr. Khan tells me, “We want to raise the ceiling, but also the floor.” He wants to provide his company’s AI-learning technology to “villages and other places with little or no teachers or tools. We can give everyone a tutor, everyone a writing coach.” That’s when education and society will really change. [..]

Khanmigo saw a limited rollout on March 15, with a few thousand students paying a $20-a-month donation. Plugging into ChatGPT isn’t cheap. A wider rollout is planned for June 15, perhaps under $10 a month, less for those in need. The world has cheap tablets, so it shouldn’t be hard to add an Alexa-like voice and real-time videogame-like animations. Then the Diamond Age will be upon us.

With this technology, arguments about classroom size and school choice will eventually fade away. Providing low-cost 21st-century Illustrated Primers to every student around the world will then become a moral obligation. If school boards and teachers unions in the U.S. don’t get in the way, maybe we’ll begin to see better headlines.”

Full article, A Kessler, Wall Street Journal, 2023.5.21