21st Century Learning

Free Learning Content Platform Runs Knewton Adaptive Engine

A company that has long partnered with education publishers to provide digital content has launched a new platform today that makes adaptive, personalized learning available free to anybody. Knewton, whose technology has resided inside offerings from Cengage, Pearson, Elsevier and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (among many other publishers) has introduced its own open content digital learning system.

The service, which is officially in beta, has invited teachers, parents and students to set up accounts. Any of those users may add learning content — instructional text, video lessons, quizzes and assessments — and make it available to everybody else.

Knewton will host the content and "transform" it into free, adaptive, supplemental lessons. According to the company, the technology monitors what a student knows through the assignments he or she takes and then tweaks the content on the fly to the appropriate level of difficulty and media format. The more the platform is used, the more precise the predictions should become about what will work best for with any given student.

Knewton founder and CEO Jose Ferreira called the new platform “a friendly robot-tutor in the sky," adding that it is designed to use “the combined, anonymized data power of millions of students to find the perfect strategy to teach you any material.”

Students can set up their own accounts to practice specific concepts by logging in and clicking through to the type of content they want to work on.

Instructors can set up learning goals and courses (each must have at least one assignment) and then assign them to individuals or groups of students via an e-mail function. Parents have a similar capability.

All users can monitor progress through personal dashboards. A teacher dashboard provides a drilldown overview of student progress, including a breakdown of those who have finished the assignment, are likely to finish by the due date, are on track to finish or are behind.

Currently, the system includes a scattering of pre-loaded courses for biology, English and math. The content consists of videos made by teachers, courses created by universities and study guides created by the government for statewide testing.

The company hopes to entice teachers and others to make learning materials that have been "trapped" on their individual PCs available through its platform. As Chief Operating Officer David Liu put it, “Knewton's engine analyzes this ocean of free content and delivers exactly what individual learners need, because our mission is to personalize learning for the world.”

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.