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Visualizing Personalized Learning

Posted in Adaptive Learning on September 10, 2015 by

In most classrooms, every student gets the same assignments, which a teacher has usually planned out months or weeks in advance. Students in classrooms that use Knewton-powered adaptive products have a totally different experience: we are able to figure out what each student in a class knows, and what she’s struggling with. Given this information, and the goals she’s working towards in a given class, Knewton recommends the best activities for that individual student to work on next, in real time. So in a class of 30 students, every student might be concentrating on different types of questions at various levels of difficulty while working toward the same goal.   

It’s understandably difficult for most teachers, students, and parents to picture what that might look like in practice.

To help picture what Knewton is actually doing, let’s look at a few interactive animations that demonstrate the power of Knewton adaptive learning. These visualizations represent real students using a Knewton-powered course.

Example 1: Differentiated Assignments

For the first example, let’s take a look at three real elementary-school students in the same class. Student privacy is important to us, so we don’t know these students’ names; however, to make it easier to talk about them, let’s call the student on the left Amy, the student in the middle Bill, and the student on the right, Chad.

All three students are all working on the same goals: interpreting multiplication equations (green), multiplying by 1-digit numbers (yellow), multiplying by two-digit numbers (blue), and solving multiplications word problems (pink).

In order to understand these four concepts, it’s also relevant to know some prerequisite topics (shown in grey).



For instance, students need to understand “multiplying by 1-digit numbers” in order to learn how to “multiply by 2-digit numbers” .

The video below shows how each student progresses through the course material.

When you press the play button, boxes will appear under each student’s graph. Each box represents a different question that the student answered. The color of the box tells you what concept that question was from. Green check marks represent questions that were answered correctly on the first try, while red x’s represent questions that were answered incorrectly on the first try. Use the back and forward buttons to skip through the students’ histories.

Notice how Knewton recommends the same first three questions to all three students? That’s because this is their first time using a Knewton-powered product and we’re trying to learn a little bit about their current level of knowledge.

Let’s dig a bit into why Knewton makes the recommendations it does to each individual student. On the third question, for example, we see that Bill is struggling with multiplying 2-digit numbers. While Amy and Chad move on to a new topic (interpreting multiplication equations), the middle student keeps working on multiplying 2-digit numbers. That’s differentiation in action!


On the fourth question, Knewton notices that Chad seems to be struggling with interpreting multiplication equations, so he’ll continue to work on questions related to that concept, while Amy continues through the assignment.


Notice how Knewton guides Bill and Chad to keep working on the concept that they’re struggling with until they start to understand and get questions right, eventually mastering that concept.


Knewton’s differentiated instruction lets students focus on the concepts that they are struggling with, rather than bogging them down with busywork on topics on which they have already demonstrated understanding. In addition to supporting students who are falling behind with targeted remediation, Knewton also gives advanced students the opportunity to move forward at their own pace — Amy is a great example of this.


Example 2: Leveraging Past Performance

In the second example, we illustrate how Knewton takes a student’s past work into performance when providing recommendations. Again, for privacy reasons we don’t know these students’ names or where they’re from, but for this example, we’ll call the student on the left Mary and the student on the right Joe.

Like the students in the first example, Mary and Joe are also working to master multiplication word problems. However, whereas all three of the students from Example 1 were in the same class, Mary and Joe are in different classes. On a previous day, Mary was assigned lessons that covered the three prerequisite concepts. Her responses to those questions are shown as grey boxes. This is Joe’s first interaction with Knewton, so he has no prerequisite work.


When both students start working on this goal, Mary immediately starts working on the goal concepts. Joe, meanwhile, begins with prerequisite concepts because Knewton is trying to verify that he is proficient in the prerequisite concepts before trying to teach him the goal concepts. Because of the information the Knewton already knows about Mary and Joe, it recommends prerequisites to Joe, but not to Mary — the system knows that she’s already mastered those earlier concepts!


Even though Mary misses more questions than Joe on this assignment, she is able to finish it faster because of her earlier prerequisite work. Joe gets extra help because he hasn’t learned the prerequisites yet.

In this way, Knewton again helps students who have demonstrated proficiency to finish their work quickly — so they have more time to learn new things. We also make sure that students who are new to the material feel comfortable with prerequisite concepts, ensuring that they are primed to excel at their goal.

These two examples are just a snapshot of the way Knewton continuously targets and differentiates instruction to meet every student’s needs. With the help of Knewton-powered products, teachers can ensure that every student works on material that supports in-class instruction and helps them move forward toward learning goals.