When education investors talk about so-called adaptive learning, in which a computer tailors instructional software personally for each student, the name Knewton invariably surfaces. The ed-tech start up began five years ago as an online test prep service. But it transformed the personalization technology it uses for test prep classes into a “recommendations” engine that any software publisher or educational institution can use. Today the New York City company boasts it can teach you almost any subject better and faster than a traditional class can. At the end of 2012, 500,000 students were using its platform. By the end of this year, the company estimates it will be more than 5 million. By next year, 15 million students. Most users will be unaware that Knewton’s big data machine is the hidden engine inside the online courses provided by Pearson or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt or directly by a school, such as Arizona State University and University of Alabama.
The Hechinger Report talked with David Kuntz, Knewton’s vice president of research, to understand how the company’s adaptive learning system works. Kuntz hails from the testing industry. He previously worked at Education Testing Service (ETS), which makes the GRE and administers the SAT for The College Board. Before that Kuntz worked for the company that makes the LSAT law school exam.