Adaptive learning helps personalize instruction for students

Knewton, a technology company founded in 2008, aims for personalized online learning as the best vehicle to improving the quality of educational content and making education more accessible.

Knewton has teamed with Arizona State University (ASU) to address a growing mathematics challenge on its campus.

“At ASU, the biggest challenge in general in terms of freshman retention seems to be mathematics,” said Art Blakemore, ASU’s vice provost. “We knew that we needed something to keep the students on track, and that’s what brought us to Knewton.”

ASU implemented the Knewton Math Readiness program, and the partnership has proven successful. Regarding ASU Remedial Math:

  • Pass rates have increased from 64 percent (fall ’09-spring ’11) to 75 percent (fall ’11-spring ’12).
  • Withdrawal rates have decreased from 16 percent (fall ’09-spring ’11) to 7 percent (fall ’11-spring ’12).

“The exciting aspect of Knewton in the classroom, I believe, is that it allows the students to work at a pace that works for them, and I think that it’s going to make a positive difference in their attitudes,” said Scott Surgent, a senior lecturer and associate director of mathematics. “I think they like the freedom to work a little quicker if they’re getting it, [and] if they need some extra time they can catch up on the weekend.”

ASU students also attest that they find the Knewton program to be beneficial to their learning.

“If you want to work faster, it’s not where you just have to sit there and be bored,” said Sabrina Forbes, a university freshman. “You can just move forward, get help when you need it, and just go at your own pace.”

“The platform is continuously adaptive, meaning it responds in real time to each student’s activity on the system and adjusts to provide the most relevant content,” Knewton’s website explains.

After assessing a student’s strengths and weaknesses in a given subject matter, Knewton offers students individualized recommendations of activities and subtopics that may interest them and generally enhance their learning.

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Knewton focuses not only on creating individualized learning maps, but it also tracks the ways that a student interacts with the system: the time of day, number of hours that a student spends on the program, and type of content the student frequently views in order to create a multi-dimensional picture of a student over time.

Within Knewton’s platform guide, its creators and leaders explain how their real-time recommendation engine works, and the theories that they used to guide the creation of their model. In particular, Knewton touts its continuous adaptivity model (as opposed to a more common single-point adaptivity model) as a key to its program’s success.

The more frequently a student uses the Knewton program, the more data are collected by the site, which can offer a student a peek into the mind’s patterns—including where pitfalls and triumphs are located in a particular subject matter. This tool can be strongly effective in helping not only students, but teachers in discovering how to improve their teaching methods, and which subtopics to focus on more heavily in class.

Students who succeed in working through a Knewton program receive “badges,” or points that allow students to move forward in coursework. Badges also let students finish a given course early.


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