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Education Data in Action: A brief look into the Knewton Adaptive Learning Platform


Posted on Jun 20, 2012

Brad McIlquham is the Director of Academics at Knewton, a New York City technology company that created the Knewton Adaptive Learning Platform. Brad has worked all along the education spectrum, from working at Kaplan to helping teach ex-gang members the skills they need to succeed in college and life. After working with gang members for several years, Brad was contacted by Jose Ferreira, a former colleague of Brad’s from his time a Kaplan. Jose called him and challenged him to “help revolutionize education” at Knewton.

The Knewton Adaptive Learning Platform analyzes learning materials by keeping records and data about each student’s difficulty level, way of learning, and personal needs. This gives a recommended learning path that can optimize instruction. That is what Jose Ferreira created with the help of Brad and seven other individuals in a squeezed room in the West Village. I had a chance to speak with Brad and ask him about how Knewton works and what implications it could have with online learning and students with disabilities.

Q. When Knewton was named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum, following in the footsteps of companies like Twitter, Firefox, and PayPal what success did it bring to Knewton?

A. It is hard to say. This was the most prestigious award Knewton had won. The success it brings is having more schools want to incorporate Knewton in their classes. This helps Knewton to grow and spread the word.

Q. As I understand, Knewton can be used in a flipped classroom setup. Can you explain more about this?

A.  Knewton is used in flipped classrooms by students using the computer. Students can work at home or in a computer lab on that day’s lectures and work. When they come to the classroom Knewton is able to group the students in areas that they need extra instruction from the teacher. This way students get help on what they need from the teacher and are allowed to work at their own pace.

Q. Does Knewton provide any support for students with disabilities?

A. Yes, Knewton works with students with disabilities. Knewton works with the school to accommodate the needs of each student. Teachers can add extra testing time, audio, or anything the student might need.

Q. Do you have K-12 classes?

A. Yes, we have 8th to 9th grade students that work on algebra, helping them prepare for high school math. Knewton also has a senior high school class to prepare for college. We also have a four week online summer program to prepare for college. Currently, Knewton has about 10 high school partners.

Q. Can you give me an example Knewton in use?

A. In College Mathematics at Arizona State University the class usually runs twice a week. During the first class, students work in an emporium style computer lab setting. Students are delivered adaptive instructional video, text, and assessment at their own pace. As they work through the course objectives, instructors walk through the lab assisting students who need help (either because students asked for help or by using Knewton’s reporting features to identify at-risk students). In some cases this is also done at home, which constitute a true “flipped” model, with video lectures and adaptive instructional content being delivered through a digital learning solution.

Q. What else happens when students return to class?

A. In the second weekly meeting, students attend classroom setting where they are broken up into groups to work on problem solving, critical thinking, and collaborative projects. The instructors have designed these projects for each learning objective in the course (around 45 different topic areas). Because students are working at different paces and have different strengths/weakness, Knewton developed an adaptive grouping tool that allows teachers to optimize groups around these adaptive ideas. The instructors can then work directly with these different groups on exactly the types of things they’re focused on at that moment. One group might be working on understanding polynomials, while another has progressed to graphing rational functions. The teacher can target the group instruction accordingly.

Q. How would you quickly summarize Knewton’s use?

A. Basically, the instruction (video, text, strategy) gets moved online or to independent lab study, while targeted instruction and formative problem solving takes place in the classroom and with Knewton, it adapts to the pace and performance of each individual student.

Katie Mulich is a blogger and reporter for the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities.

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