The Knewton Blog

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Platform and Apps: How a Shared Infrastructure Benefits Learners

Posted in Adaptive Learning on January 22, 2014 by

Knewton has built a shared platform that enables any company or developer to build powerful proficiency-based adaptive learning applications. Many leading learning companies are already integrating our API into their products.

I often get asked about Knewton’s choice to be a technology infrastructure provider rather than an app developer. Why build a platform to help others make adaptive apps? Why not just make them ourselves?


In Knewton’s early days, we actually did build apps (for test prep and college math readiness). This was never our ultimate goal, but we needed proof-of-concepts for what was — our adaptive infrastructure platform.

Knewton’s infrastructures enable proficiency-based adaptive learning. We can measure not only what students did, but also what they know, how prepared they are, and how their abilities evolve. We never thought of ourselves as experts in how to design apps. We want to support those experts.

Supporting Innovation

There’s a remarkable amount of innovation in the edtech space. Other organizations will experiment with new types of digital materials and experiences. Knewton’s infrastructure helps support this creativity — allowing others to focus on their core competencies (content development, user experience, pedagogy, distribution) while still providing proficiency-data-driven personalization to students.

“Warm Starts”

As a platform, we can provide students using Knewton-powered apps with features that wouldn’t be possible in the closed-app environment that has heretofore dominated the education industry.

Today, students walk into classrooms each September as if they were just born. Teachers must learn everything about them from scratch. Knewton-powered apps change this, allowing each student to start courses “warm” by connecting his or her learning history to every app. Instructors see students’ proficiency in individual concepts, how they study, and how well different strategies work for them. Students get learning products that provide the exact material they need, when they need it. This learning history stretches across grades and subjects, for every Knewton-powered app — helping all students maximize their potential.

Network Effects

The vast number of students across Knewton-powered products produce potent network effects. Knewton uses the combined power of every student’s anonymized data to help every other student learn more deeply and effectively. Our API partners’ products share the benefits of these network effects.

The Knewton team comprises many former teachers, content developers, and instructional designers, in addition to software engineers and data scientists. We recognize the fundamental importance of pedagogy, content, teachers, and user interfaces. Our platform is just one part of this larger ecosystem.

Early on, Knewton decided to focus on the science of digital education — to devote the time and technical expertise to building an adaptive learning infrastructure — to make it easier for our users to perfect their art of producing world-class education apps.