6 Questions with Sal Khan, Workiva Amplify Keynote Speaker

July 15, 2019

Each year at Workiva Amplify, thought-provoking keynote speakers take center stage. They inspire us. They challenge us. They change the way we think about how we work and live. And this year is no different.

Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, will deliver the closing keynote at Workiva Amplify. Sal has dedicated his career to advocating for the importance of education and knows the impact connectivity, technology, and a forward-thinking mindset can have on our work.

Keep reading for an exclusive Q&A with Sal Khan, full of insight about education, innovation, and what businesses can learn from his organization's progressive tactics.

How have the advancements in connectivity over the last decade impacted the way we learn?

Clearly, expectations are different today than they were 10 or 20 years ago. Then, if someone wanted to learn something—especially something meaty and substantive and potentially academic—they would either enroll in a course or go to a local library.

Now, a lot of folks have almost gotten into the habit of going to the internet first. The internet has just become a lot more common. We're still not at 100% connectivity, but it's come a long way.

The Khan Lab School applies your online education tactics in the classroom. What have you learned from the lab school, and how can that apply to business?

What I've learned from the lab school is that almost everyone intellectually agrees with the idea that students need to learn at a pace that is appropriate for them, but implementation and change is often harder than you suspect.

Even 45 minutes a week of personalized learning accelerates students' growth by 20% or 30%. What we like about that is it's not asking for a huge reboot of a system. As for businesses, find ways that change can happen incrementally. It's a pathway so that larger change can happen in a very major way over 5 or 10 years.

Is the global diploma the future of higher education? What does it mean to have education presented on an even playing field across countries?

Let's say you go to a regional university, and you later move to the next town, the next state, the next country over—people might not know how rigorous your program was.

So, if there was a global standard where anyone could have the materials to learn—maybe through something like Khan Academy—and they could prove themselves to get that diploma, that could be a hugely powerful signal and really level the playing field for a lot of folks.

We know we're likely to have a lot of economic disruption in the next few decades as artificial intelligence disrupts the labor force in many industries. Wouldn't it be great if there was a way for people to re-skill themselves and earn the jobs that will be created as part of this?

In one TED Talk, you explain the concept of mastery and how academics are not structured around mastering the base of knowledge before moving forward. How do you see the same misstep applied in modern business, and what steps can companies take to avoid this problem?

In a traditional academic model, students are grouped together usually by age or perceived ability, and then move together at a set pace. For instance, let's say we're learning basic exponents. We'll get lectures and homework, and at the end of that, we get a test. Maybe I get a 70%.

Still, I didn't know 30% of the material that happened to be on the test, and now the whole class will then move on to the next subject. That's why we see so many students hit walls—they have a gap in dividing decimals or a gap in negative numbers, and now the algebra equation that deals with both doesn't make sense.

A lot of folks would be more willing to use tools that will make them more productive if they only understood the tools, or they understood the problem space more. And, all of this is because they have been learning where it's not often felt safe to ask what some people would consider a "dumb" question.

If there are ways for people to learn things so they don't have to feel embarrassed or shy, I think you're going to have a much more capable workforce who really understands what they're doing and a much more capable customer base or partner base.

What is a growth mindset, and how can it be applied to the task of process improvement?

People tend to have one of two mindsets—a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. They say, "Hey, I'm not a math person." That's a fixed mindset. They think they're programmed to be good at that or not. Someone else could say, "Well, I don't know my potential unless I keep trying." That's a growth mindset.

There's been a lot of research, and it's not surprising that people with a growth mindset are disproportionately successful, and successful people disproportionately have growth mindsets.

The only way that people stay competitive and really innovate is questioning things and moving out of their comfort zone. We should always step out of our comfort zone and always challenge our assumptions and see how much we can improve it and be willing to fail. Only through that process are you going to keep making advancements.

How pivotal will technology be for education in the future?

I've always said if I had to pick between an amazing teacher and an amazing technology, I'd pick an amazing teacher every time. Luckily, we don't have to make that trade-off.

Technology is going to play a role, but it should never be technology for technology's sake. Once you know your pedagogical objective, then you think about what are the tools at your disposal: great teachers, peer to peer learning, chalk, a computer. Always put the objective first, and don't use technology for technology's sake. Use it where it makes sense, for connecting people and making lives richer.

Hear more from Sal Khan

Ready to hear more from Sal Khan, and take a deeper dive into his thoughts around education, technology, and growth in business? Register to attend Workiva Amplify in Dallas, Sept. 9–12.

Each year, Workiva Amplify brings together over 1,800 accounting, finance, and compliance professionals, industry thought leaders, and Workiva experts. Take a closer look at the sessions at this year's conference, and register now to save your seat.

Mitz Banarjee

About the author

Mitz Banarjee is the Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer. Over the past 10 years, he has been heavily involved with technology companies of all sizes at an operational level driving customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.