POMONA - Salman "Sal" Khan doesn't want to be the nation's education czar: He'd rather subvert the American education model from within.
"I'm a big believer in more organic change," Khan said Tuesday at Cal Poly Pomona.
Six years ago, the former hedge fund analyst began tutoring his cousin in math via the Internet.
"She started to get a bit ahead of the curve and I became what I like to call a Tiger Cousin," Khan said.
His cousin Nadia ended up taking calculus early instead of being held back in math.
Soon, he found himself tutoring almost a dozen family members and shifted to putting tutorial videos online.
"It was my friend who suggested I make some tutorials and put them up on YouTube," Khan said. "I said, `No, no, that's for cats playing piano."'
His account - YouTube.com/KhanAcademy - became a hit: As of Tuesday, when he spoke before more than 1,000 people at Cal Poly Pomona, he has more than 435,000 subscribers on YouTube and his videos have been watched almost 205 million times.
In 2009, he realized his hobby could - and should - be his life's calling.
Khan has been hailed as a major innovator in education by luminaries such as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Bill Gates. He appears on the cover of this month's Forbes magazine for an article about reconfiguring the nation's educational system.
Local teachers are believers in his approach as well.
"They have at least one good use, as review for students who didn't get it the first time. Students can watch them over and over again," Pomona Unified geometry teacher Keith Browning said.
"Even the best teachers can be frustrated by a student who needs to see the same thing over and over again."
Chelly Alexis' students at Pomona Alternative School are responsible for their own academic success using the Khan Academy website, something Khan recommends for K-12 students, instead of hitting them with it in college as is more typical.
"Many of my students do not have access to the Internet at home. Letting them spend time on the computer in class allows them to take control and be responsible for their own learning.
"From their perspective, they are able to recognize their own individual study needs, track their progress, and take pride in their achievement."
Shawna Moller, a math teacher at Upland Junior High School, has been involved in Upland Unified's pilot programs experimenting with a combination of face-to-face instruction and Khan Academy lessons.
"The students were completely invested in the program," she said. "We saw students committed to assessing their own strengths and weaknesses, motivated to improve both individually and collectively, and eager to be involved in an active learning environment."
Khan said he doesn't see his site as a threat to traditional schools - he intends to send his two children to his local public school in Mountain View - but rather as a tool to free teachers up to do something other than lecture students with a one-size-fits-all approach.
He would like Khan Academy to segue into analyzing students' progress and directing them to more individualized instruction. An idea he goes into in more detail in his book published last month, "The One World Schoolhouse."
"If you removed lectures from the classroom, is there a more valuable use of (teachers') time?" Khan said.
He also believes in tracking individual students' needs based on their individual skills, and not focusing on what other students their age are doing, or are expected to be doing.
Video courtesy of Khan Academy and YouTube.
"In the traditional model, you batch them by age, and then advance them en masse," Khan said. "It sets the students up, oftentimes, to hit walls."
He would also like to see a focus on individual skills, certified with "micro-credentials," allowing employers to see proof that job seekers have the skills they need, rather than simply focusing on diplomas earned at colleges, which doesn't communicate actual skill sets.
"Degrees aren't going to go away. Four-year colleges won't go away. But they're going to just be one" path for education, he said.
Education is now at a turning point, according to Khan, with the possibility of individualized education in the form of electronic textbooks, lectures delivered over the Internet and other technology able to help teachers better evaluate and instruct students.
"The new world is not about selling or having a gate to knowledge," he said. "It's about having a relationship with the user."
Staff Writer Mike Cruz contributed to this report.