Adaptive Learning Platforms – Knewton Beta

A glance through Helen Bullock’s brilliant crowd sourced eBook “How I Learn” and you quickly see how many different learning styles there could potentially be within the “average” classroom. In fact there is little “average” about a classroom; it is a diverse mix of needs, abilities and interests. We all see and engage with the world in our own unique way yet we sometimes expect students to process, understand and evaluate information in exactly the same way. In recent years there has been a move beyond simply differentiated learning content towards more personalised learning. We are slowly moving away from the one size fits all education system – made slower still by the practicalities of providing individualised tailor made learning content for students with differing abilities, educational needs and learning styles.

Technology can aid in the provision of personalised learning particularly in the area of adaptive learning. If used in a meaningful way adaptive learning platforms can enable educators to deliver differentiated and personalised content for each and every student which in turn can potentially increase academic engagement and achievement. They can help to build a student’s knowledge and understanding incrementally from the ground up and at whatever level based on the individual needs of the student. They can also give timely feedback to improve engagement and motivation, flag problem areas and allow for intervention if required. In the last couple of years interest in adaptive learning has been hotting up with large scale investment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a growing number of educational and commercial partnerships. Whilst it’s easy to see adaptive learning platforms as the next big thing – amazing personalised learning environments which could potentially replace a teacher, these should be seen as potential tools in the teacher’s toolkit to support learning rather than a replacement. No algorithm, no matter how clever, can replace the student/teacher dynamic when the teacher is well trained, motivated, supported and supportive of their student’s needs.

At the moment the industry leader for adaptive learning is Knewton. Based in New York, it boasts 10 million students in 190 countries, has developed content with other digital learning partners and is widely used in schools in the US. Its adaptive learning platform is data driven based on a “secret sauce” algorithm that adapts the learning content to the student’s needs in real time. Based on the student’s performance the software learns what has been understood or not as the case may be and using this data will then decide the next appropriate content in terms of level of difficulty and the type of media format it should take. As the student uses the platform, the software provides feedback to both student and teacher/parent that can help them to progress at their own pace and to highlight any problem areas where they might need additional support. According to the website blurb its software “can take any free open content, algorithmically calibrate it, and bundle it into a uniquely personalized lesson for each student at any moment.”

So, is it expensive? Up until August 2015 Knewton was only available by license with premium content from its education publisher partners. Now it has opened its platform on a beta basis to teachers, students and parents for the first time to significantly widen its user base and learning library. It is still in very early stages with limited subject content (K12 Maths, Biology and English) but it is definitely one to watch. Right now you can set up an account as a Teacher, Student or Parent; just provide an email address and away you go. You can also choose to become a contributor and add your own learning content to their public library.

Note on Student Accounts for ages 13 – 18 years:

 A parent, guardian or Educator (to the extent permitted under applicable law) must consent to the creation of a Knewton Account for any user who is under 18 but at least 13 years old.
If you are under 13 years old (a “Child User”), you may not register for a user account without consent and approval of your parent, guardian or Educator (to the extent permitted under applicable law). If you are the parent, guardian or Educator of a child that seeks to register as a Child User, you may register for a Knewton Account and create, register, manage and approve a sub-account (a “Child Account”) for such Child User under your Knewton Account. Terms & Conditions

Teachers can:

  • Create courses and invite students
  • Set Learning Goals
  • Preview Assignments
  • Review and Track Student Progress


Once logged in, you can create a course, either based on your own content or on the limited library of available assignments. “An assignment is a single unit of a course that is meant to span a short amount of time, from a day to a couple of weeks.”  To create your own learning content go to the Create Dashboard and choose either from Assessment or Instruction type content.  A course consists of at least one assignment and once complete you can then assign this course to yourself or a group of students. You can invite students by email or username and there’s also a useful option to share the course though a link. Once active you can then manage students as they negotiate your course and assess strengths and weaknesses. The value of the platform is that it will adapt your learning content to the students’ performance – well that’s the theory. Definitely a tool worth exploring.


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