Knewton has been offering online test prep courses (SAT, LSAT, etc), but in its new partnership, the company will us its "adaptive learning platform" to develop two primary and two remedial math courses for ASU. Most universities offer some kind of online learning, but in most cases they "simply dump course content online for their students to download." Knewton will offer a far more nuanced experience:
As a student progresses through a Knewton course, the system gathers more and more information about the student; how he or she learns best, what bores them, what concepts they know well (or don't know well), even at what time of day they perform best.
In an introductory algebra course, for instance, if a student is stronger with, say, linear equations and weak with exponents, the course will emphasize exponents as it progresses. If a student learns better with video, the course will add more video elements to future lessons.
Similar to the way that Google (GOOG) collects data based on its users' search patterns, Knewton collects data from every student that has taken one of its courses and uses it to improve its courses. Eduational content that achieves better student results will then be ranked higher in the system and be used more often. Ideally, the system becomes smarter and better over time.
Earlier this school year, I asked my colleagues to consider what unique value they brought to their students' experience in the courses they taught. This question was not a put-down. Instead I wanted them to reflect on which elements might be replaceable with an online course (drilling, providing information, etc.) versus which elements they contributed with their unique talents and experiences. Since we teach at a tuition-based school, it seems very important to me that the courses of study that we offer completely distinguish us from less expensive alternatives. After reading this article about Knewton, I have decided to revisit this topic with even more urgency!
Newton.com logo pictured above.