AI tutor Khanmigo excels at asking questions, heralding possible turn in education

Arn Menconi
For The Aspen Times
Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, unveiled the promising capabilities of Khanmigo at the Ideas Fest’s, “Harnessing AI for Education” session Wednesday.
Arn Menconi/For The Aspen Times

Fears of artificial intelligence in education are making headlines like, “Alarmed by AI Chatbots, Universities Start Revamping How They Teach,” as in The New York Times; and, “ChatGPT and the Death of Education,” in the Harvard Independent.

But at the Aspen Ideas Fest, the operative headline is how students will be learning easier, faster, and become smarter, too.

In a possibly groundbreaking development, Khan Academy, a non-profit educational organization, has unveiled Khanmigo, an AI-powered tutor aimed at providing personalized learning experiences to students across the globe.

Khanmigo, which went live in March, seeks to bridge the gap between traditional educational resources and the individualized guidance that comes with human tutoring. This innovation comes as the academy continues its mission bring access to quality learning for all, regardless of background or resources.

Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, unveiled the promising capabilities of Khanmigo at the Ideas Fest’s “Harnessing AI for Education” session on Wednesday.

The AI tutor mirrors the experience of a personal tutor, engaging learners in exercises, diagnosing errors, and promoting deeper understanding rather than rote memorization. Khanmigo uses a mix of support and challenging questions to encourage learners to think critically about their answers.

In a math exercise example shared by Khan, the AI bot is depicted at the bottom of the student’s screen. When students interact with it, Khanmigo guides them through the problem: “I tutor Khanmigo; I’m here to help you learn to understand the problem, not just give you the answer. Let’s work on this,” explains the AI. It even addresses incorrect steps taken by the students, asking them to elaborate on their thought processes.

Its capabilities extend beyond math. The AI tutor is adept at assisting with computer programming, a subject often not even taught in many schools due to a lack of qualified instructors.

“This is actually a better tutor than I am,” Khan said. Khanmigo doesn’t just give solutions, but offers hints and guidance, much like a human tutor.

Furthermore, it helps students understand the relevance of what they’re learning. For example, if a student inquires why learning about molecular scales is necessary, the AI responds with a question: “Well, what do you care about?” Depending on the student’s interests, Khanmigo illustrates how the subject can be beneficial in their aspirations.

What sets it apart is its focus on understanding students’ reasoning and thought processes. This stands in contrast to traditional educational resources, which often prioritize the correct answer over understanding underlying concepts.

Khan Academy, best known for its extensive library of educational videos, has always aimed at making quality education accessible.

With Khanmigo, the organization takes a leap further. Even before the introduction of AI to the curriculum, the academy had shown that students can accelerate their learning significantly with 30-60 minutes of engagement per week.

Khan cited a study that reported that putting in 18 hours over a year could accelerate learning by 60% for eighth graders.

“If students were able to do 50 hours in a year, they can improve a whole standard deviation,” he said.

He put up a slide to show what’s coming soon:

  • Interactive reading comprehension
  • AI memory for long-lasting “tutor and “teaching assistant” interactions
  • Teachers assigning AI activities
  • Assessments of written and other open-ended work
  • Narrative-based student progress reports
  • Multi-user AI-intermediated activities
  • Goal setting and study “advisory”
  • Voice-based interaction

Khanmigo also addresses concerns regarding misuse and security. Conversations with the AI are recorded and viewable by teachers. Additionally, a second AI monitors the conversations, and if anything inappropriate or concerning is detected, parents and teachers are notified.

Not only does it aim to empower students to take ownership of their learning, it also provides educators with tools to support students. Khan Academy has been working with school districts that want additional support, training, and integration with IT systems, offering district-level dashboards and services for a fee.