An EdLab Profile: Knewton's Law of Adaptive Learning
“Has the holy grail of adaptive learning been discovered?” one journalist asks.
Without a doubt, you've heard of them already. Maybe you recently toured their offices, shook hands with members of their executive staff… perhaps you've even eaten their food.
When bloggers and educators get a whiff of Knewton's product and their higher-scores-or-your-money-back guarantee, they begin tossing around words like “pioneering,” “trailblazers,” “cutting-edge,” “innovation,” “game-changing,” and “sophisticated.”
So what is Knewton, and what makes this ed tech company stand apart from the rest?
Founded by Jose Ferreira in 2008, Knewton is an adaptive learning platform that has created undeniable waves in the realm of educational technology. The company not only offers test prep and college readiness courses, but it also makes its platform accessible to educational institutions to customize for their own purposes.
“Adaptive learning” is more or less what it sounds like: a method of e-learning in which data-mining is used to identify a student's strengths and weakness, and the course material thus adapts to the students' needs as they concern content and learning style. Ideally, adaptive learning brings all students at a particular learning gradation — e.g. fifth-graders, college freshmen, law students — arrive at a relatively uniform level of knowledge. This method of learning was conceived at the same time computers were developed, but Knewton seems to have nailed the concept with nuanced precision:
Recently, Arizona State University made headlines when the school announced that it would begin integrating the Knewton platform into two remedial math courses for new students, as well as two other introductory math classes offered at ASU. Four more schools (Penn State, U. of Nevada Las Vegas, SUNY, and Mount St. Mary's U.) will also be offering Knewton's College Readiness course for new students to take prior to starting school, or during their first semester.
Once upon a time, Knewton founder and CEO Jose Ferreira was an executive at Kaplan Inc., one of the most recognizable names in the learning industry. At Kaplan (best known for its prep classes and tools for tests such as the GRE and SAT), Ferreira re-engineered a massive, company-wide overhaul of their course designs. (And, according to The Huffington Post, he was dubbed the "Antichrist" by the Educational Testing Service for his intricate, code-breaking tactics.)
Ultimately unimpressed with Kaplan's products, however, Ferreira founded Knewton with the idea that computer-assisted individualised instruction could do even more.
And now (assuming he can explain the mechanics behind Knewton better than I ever could), here's what Ferreira hastosay about his product:
- "Now I can track every single thing a Knewton student does: what concepts do you know at exactly what level of mastery? Do you learn geometry concepts best by reading text or watching video? Do you retain vocabulary better if you study it in the morning or the evening? You can't sneeze without the algorithm knowing it and processing it accordingly."
- "Every little piece of content on Knewton is tagged, from bits of video, practice questions, diagrams. Based on what a student does we can generate content based on what helps him or her learn best. If someone can't understand core concepts, we'll make sure they're understandable."
- "Because our teaching materials and practice questions are tagged and organized so finely, we can adapt each student's learning experience to their specific needs more easily than a traditional classroom teacher can. We think that the interactivity and convenience of online learning more than outweigh the lack of a brick-and-mortar environment."
- "Knewton's GMAT course and overall approach to test prep offer three key advantages to students. The first is the superior quality of our level of instruction. Industry pioneers created our computer-adaptive tests, and we have attracted a select group of the most dynamic teachers in the country. Second is our technology, which makes our program both more effective and more convenient. Students can set their own schedules for test prep; all of our materials are available on-demand, around the clock. And, last but not least, we stand by our claims. Knewton guarantees that a student's score will go up by at least 50 points and if it doesn't, we'll refund all the money immediately."
A few Knewton-related Knumbers:
- 42% of community college freshmen and 20% of freshmen in four-year institutions must take at least one remedial course, and as a result, the nation loses more than $3.7 billion a year
- Only half of the 1.3 million high school seniors tested by ACT in 2007 were ready for college-level reading
- In May '08, Knewton raised $2.5 million in a first round of funding to invest in its education services software
- In April '09 Knewton announces it has closed a $6 millionSeries B round of funding
- In April '10 Knewton announces it has completed a $12.5 millionround of funding
- With the U.S. market for online learning expected to grow from $18.2 billion in 2010 to $24.2 billion by 2015
- Knewton's money-back guarantee promises improvements of at least 50 points on GMAT scores, 5 on LSAT, 100 on GRE, and 150 on SAT
- Knewton has more than 40 patents on their adaptive process
- In one afternoon of studying, Knewton can collect 100,000 to 200,000 data points from the student's work
- In November '08, Knewton was one of seven finalists in the Amazon Web Services Start-Up Challengee
- Knewton was among 31 startups selected in 2011 as a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum at Davos
(In a perfect world, this writer would be granted a complimentary Knewton account so she could experience the magic first-hand. Just saying.)