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Knewton is an education technology company founded in 2006 that specialises in 'adaptive' online learning.

Knewton's technology claims to be able to 'personalise' online education content by: tracking students' activity; using the enormous amounts of pupil data it has collected to predict how best to teach a concept, and then suggesting next steps for the student based on that 'predictive power'. As Politico notes:

'By monitoring every mouse click, every keystroke, every split-second hesitation as children work through digital textbooks, Knewton is able to find out not just what individual kids know, but how they think.'[1]

Reducing the costs of schooling

Knewton claims that its product makes education more efficient and effective.

A report by McKinsey & Company in 2013 also concluded that expanding the use of data in schools and colleges - which it claims improves instruction and makes education more efficient - could drive economic growth in the U.S. [2]

There is considerable political support for technology that can reduce the costs of education, while claiming to improve outcomes.

Student profiling

According to Inside Higher Ed:

One of [Knewton's] goals is to create individual, psychometric profiles that would presume to say, with statistical authority, what students know and how they learn. Such records could theoretically follow those students into the job market, profoundly affecting how they are viewed by graduate school admissions committees and potential employers'.[3]

Data-driven schooling

Jose Ferreira, of Knewton in 2014 said this of the company's ability to predict how a student will learn, and its reliance on big data to 'teach' students:

'Education happens to be the world's most data minable industry by far.
So one of the things that fakes us out about data in education is because it is so big - like the fourth biggest industry in the world - it produces incredible quantities of data... Knewton today gets five to ten million actionable data points per student per day. Now we do that, because we get people, if you can believe it, to tag every single sentence of their content - we have a large publishing partnership with Pearson, and they've tagged all of their content... If you tag all of your content, and you do it down to the atomic concept level, down to the sentence, down to the clause, you unlock an incredible amount of trapped, hidden data.
We literally know everything about you and how you learn best. Everything. Because we have five orders of magnitude more data about you than Google has. We literally have more data about our students than any company has about anybody else, about anything, and it's not even close. That's how we do it.[4]

As Education Week notes:

'Clearly you do not need teachers in this scenario, except perhaps to supervise the students as they work on their devices. Class sizes can expand significantly. You do not even need schools. All a student needs is some sort of computer and a connection to the internet.'

According to one investor, Knewton's data-driven approach is the “Holy Grail” of learning.

'millions of pieces of digital educational content will run through the Knewton engine to create the Knewton Knowledge Graph. This Graph will further identify billions of connections among learners, learning styles, content and instructional methods to personalize a learning pathway in almost any subject for any user. Additionally, Knewton aims to be the “LinkedIn of Learning”—every user on the Knewton Knowledge Graph should have a Learning Portfolio that tells the user how he or she learns best using the data created from the first day of using Knewton-powered content.
'The global education industry is massive ($4.5trn in 2012) and is undergoing a sea change with the move to digital and online instruction, materials and modalities. This shift to digital and online is enabling what many educators consider to be the “Holy Grail” of learning—personalized, adaptive instruction and assessment. Knewton’s personalized learning system has the potential to be the engine that powers this change.'[5]

Data privacy

Politico reports in May 2014 Knewton CEO dismissing parents concerns about companies collecting huge amounts of data on their children: “They’d rather the NSA have it?” he asked. “What, you trust the government?” Ferreira said he often hears parents angrily declaring that their children cannot be reduced to data points. “That’s not an argument,” Ferreira said. “I’m not calling your child a bundle of data. I’m just helping her learn.”[6]

A month later Knewton published '10 Guiding Principles' for protecting student data. It includes statements such as: 'Student data belongs to the student; Everyone else is only a custodian'; 'Education companies should never sell or share personal student data without the student’s explicit approval'; and 'Student data analysis should be completely stoppable — and recoverable.'[7]

Partners with publishers

Knewton's Adaptive Learning Platform claims to transform digital content from education publishers into an adaptive online learning experience. It has signed deals with textbook giants like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Cambridge University Press and Macmillan Education to add an adaptive-learning layer to their content.

The relationship between Knewton and Pearson has been described as 'symbiotic'. In November 2011, Pearson and Knewton agreed on a plan to convert an open-ended number of Pearson products to Knewton’s adaptive format.


UK lobbying

Knewton met with Education minister Elizabeth Truss in May 2014 to discuss 'adaptive learning'.


Knewton has a name for its employees: 'Knerds'



Investors in Knewton include:


Address: New York (HQ), 100 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10011
London office: Knewton opened its London office in Tech City October 2013.


  1. Stephanie Simon, Data mining your children, Politico, 15 May 2014
  2. Stephanie Simon, Data mining your children, Politico, 15 May 2014
  3. Steve Kolowich, The New Intelligence, Inside Higher Ed, 25 January 2013
  4. Anthony Cody, Is Common Core Creating the Code for a Computerized Education System?, Education Week, 9 May 2014
  5. Knewton profile, GSV Capital website, accessed November 2015
  6. Stephanie Simon, Data mining your children, Politico, 15 May 2014
  7. Data Prinicples, Knewton website, 4 june 2014
  8. Knewton Secures $33 Million to Expand the Personalization of Education, Knewton website, 13 October 2011
  9. Knewton profile, Crunchbase, accessed August 2015