Learning From the Master

What does it take to transmit an idea?


The right ones, maybe.


In moderation, maybe.


If they’re pretty, maybe.

As information becomes more important, so does the need to transmit it well. While we are taught — mostly through experience and common knowledge — some rules of thumb of presentation structure, we must go beyond these really get get our point across. So instead of considering a handful of “maybes”, lets analyze how the world’s most-watched teacher presents information.

In this post, I’ll go through some of the techniques used in a presentation by Salman Khan, founder of the Nonprofit Online Education Platform “Khan Academy”. The presentation at hand is a TED talk Khan gave in 2011 called “Let’s Use Video to Reinvent Education”. In it, Salman Khan tells us the story behind Khan Academy and how it currently helps teachers and students around the world. He also reflects on what can be done to make this impact even more far-reaching, and his vision for the platform going ahead.

From the very beginning, Khan combines traditional presentation structure with techniques from other fields to capture the audience’s attention. The talk begins with a compilation of Khan Academy video snippets covering a wide range of topics, followed by a bar-chart-like visualization of all the videos available in the platform. He then goes back to the origins of Khan Academy and tells the story of how the platform grew to such a scale. Here, Khan uses a literary technique called _in media res_ by starting the presentation by showing where Khan Academy currently is before going into its background. Although he assumes the audience knows what Khan Academy is, this introduction makes sure the audience understands the context to the vision he explores later in the talk.

Once the audience knows what Khan Academy stands for, Khan moves on to show how it can become a global classroom. This section focuses on Khan Academy tools that could be used at scale to achieve his vision. These tools are explained under the context of lively examples followed by visuals in order to keep the audience engaged. He augments this by gradually broadening the scale of his examples before culminating in a call to action. The first examples are about a single school district. These are followed by stories of teachers cooperating around America, and ends in a call for teachers around the world.

This was a fairly short analysis on an incredible talk, and there is a lot I must have left out of it. However, the main point I took from it was that there is no set of rules you must follow to transmit an idea effectively. While there is a lot to learn from what has been done before, I feel like the best rule to keep people interested is to break some rules wisely. Seeing this come from one of the most influential teachers out there should definitely be a lesson to itself.



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