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The future of learning, according to Khan Academy’s Salman Khan, will be competency-based learning, where it wouldn’t matter if you have learnt it sitting on a chair or a beach or in your kitchen. Khan, who founded the not-for-profit online learning platform in 2007, said the coronavirus crisis has presented an opportunity to fix the problems brought forth by the tuition industry, which is adding to the financial stress and anxiety of the middle-to low-income families in India. Edited excerpts of an interview:

With the pandemic being the inflection point for the adoption of education technology (edtech) globally, what is your view concerning this current trend?

Even as we were building Khan Academy for the last 10 years, we could never have imagined such an unprecedented situation.

When the closure of schools began all over the world, it dawned upon us that we needed to step up since people would require continuity in learning, as a trusted, quality education wouldn’t be quite accessible due to the lockdown. So, we started stress-testing our server capacity, organizing webinars for teachers and parents and putting out daily schedules which would help close the potential gaps post the covid phase.

We are happy that even with our web traffic increasing to 300% of what it typically used to be, we are ready to ensure the delivery of world-class and relevant education.

Nowadays, we see the term ‘new normal’ being bandied around loosely, but does one want to get back to the ‘normal’ as we knew it? The pandemic has shown us that our normal needs to be redefined as anti-fragile. How do you become anti-fragile in the edtech space?

There are two types of anti-fragility in the edtech space. One is anti-fragility in the organization, and another is anti-fragility in the system as a whole.

When we talk about the system, every school leader around the world recognizes the significance of the continuity in the learning process... We are looking at a new normal which will be more anti-fragile as learning will not be bound by the concept of time and place, allowing students to move nimbly from one place to another.

Do you think this pandemic can put the entire model of paying for edtech to test in the long run?

I think the current model will not be put to question as they are doing quite well. There’s no dearth of people willing to pay for online learning of some kind...

However, it must be realized that it is not necessary to pay for quality content as resources must be equally accessible by all. So in a country like India, where families spend a third of their income on virtual learning of low quality, it becomes even more important to break this wheel of scepticism that there must be a catch if the course material is free!

What have been your key takeaways from India and what can India take from the US in terms of edtech?

One very fascinating aspect I discovered in India was the use of “Hinglish", so we wasted no time in incorporating this unique language on our platform. The manner in which Indians interface with the devices is different to that of people in the US, so this pushed us to integrate the kind of modalities which would be more aligned to the consumption pattern of online content in India.

What are the key opportunities and challenges for your business in India?

India’s large population and the hunger for learning and education ingrained in its culture definitely provides a huge opportunity for the edtech sector… There is also an opportunity to fix the problems brought forth by the tuition industry, which is adding to the financial stress and anxiety of the middle- to low-income families in India.

How are you coping with your competition like the hugely funded Byju’s? Do you consider for-profit models your competition?

The more the people innovate in this space, the better. If students are getting value, then nothing could be better. What would be unfortunate is students not trying out Khan Academy, which is free and is just as good as any other content out there.

When Bill Gates can afford anything and his children are using Khan Academy, then a family with an annual income of $2,000-3,000 investing 10% of their income for their child to learn calculus feels like a lost opportunity.

What do you think the Future of Learning will look like?

I think children will be able to learn asynchronously with a blend of physical learning... The future of learning is competency-based learning, where it wouldn’t matter if you have learnt in a chair or on a beach or in your kitchen.

If you have learnt it, show it, we will give you credit for it. While I greatly appreciate what Byju’s and other talented content creators are doing, I would really want to convince them that the future belongs to a model where you can create more impact on everyone.

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