What Knewton Does—and Doesn't—Know

TRUE OR FALSE: Fascinating NPR story this week about Knewton—and accompanying commentary by industry watcher Michael Feldstein.

Knewton has been one of the most vocal advocates of aggressive adaptive learning, namely a scenario where the software monitors every click of a student's mouse to assess how well he or she understands a topic, with the goal of delivering "just the right" content.

Killer quotes:

From Knewton founder and CEO Jose Ferreira: "We think of it [Knewton] like a robot tutor in the sky that can semi-read your mind and figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are, down to the percentile."

From Michael Feldstein, a consultant and cofounder of ed blog, e-Literate: "He is overselling the kind of power that Knewton can do...I would go so far as to say that he is selling snake oil."

Ferreira has a history of making claims and announcements that don't quite turn out the way he predicts. One example: in 2012, Ferreira had announced with some fanfare a project to deliver Knewton’s technology to incarcerated youth. In January of this year, in answer to a question from EdSurge, Ferreira conceded that the project never got started—that “bigger opportunities” with partner Houghton Mifflin had superceded the project.

As Feldstein writes: "If you want to sell me a product that helps students to learn, then don’t insult my intelligence. Explain what the damned thing does in clear, concrete, and straightforward language, with real-world examples when possible."

Here, here. 

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