The Knewton Blog

Our monthly newsletter features edtech and product updates, with a healthy dose of fun Knerd news.

Adaptive Learning Around the World

Posted in Adaptive Learning on April 12, 2016 by


For the first time in six years, the U.S. Department of Education issued a National Education Technology Plan. So much has changed in the six years since its comprehensive overview of the state of educational technology. As the latest plan puts it, the conversation has shifted from whether technology should be used in learning to how it can improve learning to ensure that all students have access to high-quality educational experiences.

I’ve witnessed a similar progressive shift in my five and a half years at Knewton. In the early days, when Knewton was alone in the field, we had to explain what adaptive learning was and that it was actually possible to implement. Now, most companies in education and everyone from Barack Obama to Mark Zuckerberg is talking about the value of personalized education, and terms like adaptive and personalized get used for a wide spectrum of approaches and tools.

Likewise, educators and publishers from around the world now understand the promise and value of adaptive learning, and they see that its moment has arrived. We’ve seen particular interest from the advanced education markets of northern Europe and Asia. In China, for example, where national exams can determine your future, 7% of disposable income is spent on education, as compared to 2% of disposable income in the U.S. Chinese students turn to supplemental programs, both in person and online.

Take 17zuoye, a digital learning platform for K–12 students that began as an extracurricular learning application. Now teachers recommend 17zuoye as a supplement to the work they do in class. With an audience of 14 million students and 700 thousand teachers, 17zuoye has turned to Knewton to make its math and English language training programs adaptive.

Global interest in adaptive learning is also reflected in our most recent round of funding, which included investment from TAL Education Group, another Chinese K–12 education company, and EDBI, the corporate investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board. This infusion of capital is helping Knewton grow our teams to work closely with our global partners as they ready their products for launch.

Our partners serve everyone from Chinese children learning English to Spanish-speaking teenagers learning algebra or adults preparing for the Brazilian bar exam. These education companies are eager to release their adaptive learning products, to learn from the market and make the most of this moment of opportunity. To get their products to market more quickly, they are turning to companies like Knewton and also making connections with each other. For example, Gyldendal Denmark has partnered with Gyldendal Norway (a completely independent company) to bring the Norwegian publisher’s adaptive learning materials to students in Denmark. Our established Norwegian partner gains distribution, while Gyldendal Denmark can bring adaptive learning quicker to market and at lower cost.

The shift to digital educational materials from printed textbooks is a global phenomenon, and we’re seeing plenty of examples here in the United States, from Khan Academy to AltSchool. With Pearson starting to integrate Knewton into K–12 products, the big three American educational publishers in the United States have all acknowledged that adaptive learning as essential for their future. And our partner Waggle, which makes a smart, responsive practice application for grades 2–8, has shown truly impressive results, improving outcomes from Oklahoma City to West Palm Beach to a high-poverty urban school in Baltimore.

Educational institutions are also taking the initiative in bringing adaptive learning to their students. The Florida Virtual School, which is America’s first and largest online public school district, will use Knewton to power adaptive course materials for more than 200,000 students over the next few years.

We’re also hearing from every kind of institution of higher education, from public and private universities with four-year programs to community colleges to the for-profit sector. Administrators and faculty alike are hungry for learning products with a high-quality user interface, diverse and deep content, and data-driven adaptive learning. With more than 4,000 degree-granting institutions in the United States and international students flocking to study here, this country is well positioned to lead the way in adaptive learning at the post-secondary level and help more people fulfill their potential and find their way in the working world.

It has been fascinating to see the different ways adaptive learning has taken root in different places, and I look forward to seeing how it develops as its adoption spreads and accelerates and as examples from around the world inform and inspire each other. One thing is for certain: As the report from Washington, D.C., says, adaptive learning is no longer a matter of whether. Its all about how.