Knewton's plan to kill oldschool school

Matt Bowman · April 23, 2010 · Short URL:

Adaptive learning platform will open up to developers in 18 to 24 months

The Internet has taken out several entire distribution industries--think record labels, mainstream news, and book publishers--but one of the most resilient forms of media has been K-12 education, where entrenched bureaucracy tends to slow down innovation.

Online education is picking up steam, though, and has already proven more effective on the whole than traditional classrooms, according to some studies. One company that could accelerate the trend is adaptive learning test-prep site Knewton.

The New York-based venture-backed company provides online test prep courses for SAT, GRE, LSAT and other standardized tests. Its secret sauce involves tracking performance, gradually learning how a student best absorbs material and what he needs to work on, in order to provide the most efficient test prep experience possible. “If you learn concepts best by haiku for Math, that's how you'll get it,” says CEO Jose Ferreira, a former executive at Kaplan.

Earlier this week, the company raised a $12.5 million funding round, and hinted in its press release that it would soon open an adaptive learning platform for anyone in the world--from textbook publishers to small schools in developing nations--to use. Pricing will depend on the organization’s intentions, Ferreira told VatorNews. “If you charge for your content, then we charge you; for other people it's free.

”Knewton's open platform will also include live classroom technology that lets teachers interact with students from around the world in real time.

Though the platform won’t open up for 18-24 months, the company is already working with textbook publishers on pilot programs. If the platform becomes widely used by content creators, an student’s Knewton profile could become a valuable repository of information about the students’ learning style, knowledge base and skill set. A student’s profile can stay with him regardless of the application, which means that once Knewton learns, for instance, that musical rhymes helps a given child learn times tables in McGraw Hill’s 3rd grade math curriculum, that information could follow him locked up in his Knewton profile to his 8th grade algebra class, developed by Holt McDougal.

Eventually, Knewton could build a learning profile for massive amounts of users, especially if the platform is free.

According to a study by SRI International for the US Department of education, "on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction." As technology makes online education even more effective through technologies like Knewton's adaptive learning engine, the old brick and mortar public school system could eventually go the way of music record labels.

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