Knewton to Reinvent Learning To Make Kids Smarter

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I’ll admit, not since college have I thought about the value of education and the impact it has on our communities. I know its importance, but surrounded by diapers and bottles for the last five years had me worrying about more immediate issues. Until now.

students filming
Students filming with iPad by Brad Flickinger via Flickr

My oldest son starts Kindergarten this fall. And I’ve been thinking more lately about his ability to be successful in school. I’m a strong believer that education not only empowers our children to do great things individually, but collectively gives us the potential to literally change the world—for the better. I expect my son to have a role in this change.

http://www.blogher.com/files/studentsfilming.jpg

Like most parents, my husband and I want our children to walk into the first day of school fully prepared so that they have the confidence and interest to prioritize education for years to come. But the truth is, my eldest son isn’t all that interested in learning. He gets frustrated with traditional approaches to spelling, reading, writing and math. He’s impatient with his own abilities to grasp these concepts and loses focus in seconds. The only way to keep him engaged is to dangle a device in front of him with games, music and video that help him see the relationships of letters and numbers in a way that he enjoys. And it works. But, remembering the cookie cutter approach from my own schools days, focused on the masses vs. individual needs, sends a quiet panic coursing through me when I think about my kids’ ability to be successful in such an environment.

Knewton’s Vision

Enter Knewton. Promising to customize content and curricula for each student, Knewton is an adaptive learning software platform that tailors educational content down to personal concept levels, connecting teachers and kids to a customized learning experience according to individual learning styles, pace and preferences. Though still in Beta, the platform is designed for the classroom, used as a foundation for schools, publishers and developers to make their content more relevant and useable, with potentially dramatically improved results.

Believing no two students are alike, Knewton is turning our traditional “one for all” educational approach on its head. Using my own two boys as evidence, kids learn and forget at different rates, they have different interests, and have different intellectual capabilities, attention spans and approaches to learning. Knewton prioritizes individuality, so taking a personalized approach to yield greater results makes a ton of sense.

The Science is the Secret Sauce

The science behind Knewton is hugely complex, and reaches far beyond a typical software application might. Knewton analyzes learning materials based on thousands of data points, structures, concepts, difficulty levels, and media formats, using sophisticated algorithms to piece together the perfect package of materials for each student. Enhancing its super scientific adaptability algorithms, it taps an emerging technology concept known as “Big Data,” generated from across users, disciplines, platforms, and geographies, revealing deep and relevant global insights. So, this powerful combination allows the platform to evolve with the student as he or she advances in school.

Powerful Tool with Big Results

Knewton’s approach, combined with the unique characteristics of our educational system, enables it to build a long-term relationship with every child on its platform and generates a personalized profile for each student throughout the school years. Leveraging the power of the data collected for all students on the platform, the system refines recommendations, allowing the platform to quickly model performance and adjust an entire online course on the fly. The ability to mix and match lessons, chapters, concepts and media from different sources creates a more powerful learning experience. As the child advances, the profile responds with new, appropriate materials that moves the learning forward at a comfortable pace for that student.

According to the company, Knewton adaptive learning can improve student engagement by increasing self-confidence, decreasing frustration, and encourage productive learning habits. It gives teachers deeper insight into the learning process, specifically in terms of efficacy, engagement, and knowledge retention. It enables them to identify patterns in student activity and performance across the whole class and the flexibility to change course, as needed, or drill down into individual student profiles to determine exactly why a student is struggling. From where I sit, it’s a revolutionary approach to learning and cannot be adopted fast enough across our educational institutions.

Get Smart Now

Knewton isn’t the only forward thinker out there trying to evolve learning. Aleks, Grockit, Blackboard, Coursekit and 2tor, are leading the charge to make learning more relevant, personalized and accessible. And if you’re looking to get smart now, many universities offer samples of their coursework online:

  • Khan Academy: Over 3,200 videos covering K-12 math, science topics such as biology, chemistry, and physics, and even reaches into the humanities with playlists on finance and history.
  • MIT Open Courseware:  Includes 2,000 courses, including lecture notes, videos and exams.
  • YouTube EDU: Access to a broad set of educational videos that range from academic lectures to inspirational speeches.
  • iTunes U: Thousands of free courses from dozens of universities and organizations.  

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