Last year, more than one million unique visitors from more than 160 countries came to Smarthistory to learn art history, a 300 percent increase over the prior year. But this is just a fraction of the tremendous growth seen by our parent organization, Khan Academy. In its few short years, Khan Academy has helped more students learn, math, science, and related subjects than Harvard University has enrolled since it was founded 375 years ago. The explosion of interest in open educational resources and open courses underscores that we are in the midst of the most significant change in education since the beginnings of public education in the nineteenth century.
Khan and Smarthistory both chose a radical approach—to give our content away for free. We found that this is both economically feasible and well worth the time and effort. We are reaching millions, not hundreds, of students. We regularly receive emails from grateful students and colleagues from around the world including those teaching in high schools and colleges without sufficient resources. They tell us that Smarthistory makes all the difference.
Smarthistory is not textbook-style content uploaded to the web. Our primary audience, students new to art history, need a solid foundation, but also an engaging format. We employ a conversational, experiential and contextual approach utilizing multimedia, text and images. These tools allow us to create a sense of intimacy and provide the narrative hooks that draw students in. Careful web design has allowed us to offer far more content than space-constrained textbooks and we do this in a way that we think is more compelling—and we do it for free.
The next few years will be telling. Khan Academy, MITx, Peer-to-Peer University, University of the People, Udacity, Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and many other initiatives are creating new models for teaching and learning that challenge both the pedagogic and economic underpinnings of the “factory model” of education. How can the personalization that technology enables, and the data that it produces, make learning more efficient? How can gaming mechanics make learning more fun? Just what does the classroom of the future look like? Join us as we reinvent education for a digital world.