Khan Academy is a nonprofit with a mission to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. The organization offers thousands of lessons in math, science and the humanities for students of all ages.
But every student is unique, and their grasp of concepts and skills varies—by a lot. Some may breeze through a subject while others need step-by-step help. And when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted countless education systems, that disparity for a lot of classrooms only deepened.
“It’s challenging to keep everyone advancing, given their different needs,” says Khan Academy’s Chief Learning Officer Kristen DiCerbo. “They’re all at different levels. They all have different gaps. They all need different things to move forward. That is a problem we’ve been trying to solve for a long time.”
Today Khan Academy is announcing that it will use GPT-4 to power Khanmigo, an AI-powered assistant that functions as both a virtual tutor for students and a classroom assistant for teachers. The nonprofit began testing the newest version of OpenAI’s language model in 2022 and will initially make the Khanmigo pilot program available to a limited number of participants, though the public is invited to join the waitlist.
“We think GPT-4 is opening up new frontiers in education,” says DiCerbo. “A lot of people have dreamed about this kind of technology for a long time. It’s transformative and we plan to proceed responsibly with testing to explore if it can be used effectively for learning and teaching.”
Khan Academy is running Khanmigo as a pilot to explore AI responsibly. Early participants will be watching for errors, especially in math questions, and flagging them for correction.
One of GPT-4’s chief capabilities is being able to understand freeform questions and prompts. That ability—to have a human-like back and forth—provides Khan Academy with perhaps the most key capability: asking each student individualized questions to prompt deeper learning.
“One of the things we and all educational technology companies struggle with is how to get students thinking deeply about the content that they’re learning,” DiCerbo says. “To think about questions like, ‘Why did you answer that way? Why do you think that's true? What would happen if—?’ So we’re making sure students aren't just understanding how to do the problem, but really understanding the concepts behind them.”
Early testing by Khan Academy indicates that GPT-4 may soon be able to help students contextualize the greater relevance of what they’re studying or teach specific points of computer programming.
“These were all things we were thinking about deeply and then GPT-4 showed up,” says director of engineering, Shawn Jansepar. “We see this technology as a potential way to accelerate our roadmap of building more tutor-like abilities into our platform within the next few years, while also providing capabilities we had only dreamed of before. Without a really powerful large-language model, these ideas weren’t feasible, but now we think we can make real progress.”
Adapting GPT-4 for teachers is also top of mind for Khan Academy. The nonprofit is testing out ways teachers could use GPT-4, such as writing classroom prompts or creating instructional materials for lessons.
“What’s even more exciting is the potential to help teachers tailor learning for every student quickly and easily,” said director of program and product management, Ricky Chandarana. “We think teachers could use GPT-4 to get a snapshot of how every student in their class is doing on Khan Academy on any given day. We’re going to test out that feature in the very near future.”
“How often do students say, ‘Why should I learn this? Why should I even care?’” DiCerbo says. “And just in our early testing in putting GPT-4 in front of them, they're asking those questions. And GPT-4 is answering specifically for them, so a student can say, ‘Hey I'm interested in X-kinds of things’ and GPT-4 can provide them with that specific motivation.”