The best investment that anyone interested in the future of education can make is to spend 10 minutes of their lives watching this video . You can do it right now and then resume this note. Here we wait for you.
Who speaks is José Ferreira, the CEO of Knewton . He is not a dreamer or a science fiction writer. He is the CEO of the world’s largest adaptive learning company.
What does Knewton do? It’s not easy to explain Knewton to someone who does not know much about adaptive learning. As defined in its recent White Paper or in the video tutorial , Knewton is a flexible platform that produces adaptive learning based on the analysis of large amounts of interactions in digital learning environments.
It does not work alone, it needs partners. What are your partners? Mainly publishers and producers of digital educational content.
What do you ask your partners and what do you offer them? It asks for contents that are used by the students, typically a digital textbook, an online evaluation and all the existing information of the students’ learning that may have a digital format. It offers an analytical system of all the information produced by millions of interactions between students, content and learning.
With this information, students’ learning can be personalized based on previous information about their learning patterns and those of millions of other students in similar situations. This allows you to progressively create a curriculum for each student each day. Not every day but every moment: the adaptation will be in real time.
If at this point they did not watch the video or chose to continue reading the note to see it later, José Ferreira tells what Knewton does. Start by saying that everything in the future will depend on the amount of information that can be measured. Currently, says Ferreira, Google or Facebook manage to get some tens of data per person every day. In contrast Knewton gets between 5 and 10 million data per day per student.
How? Everything an online student is doing is being monitored by Knewton at the atomic level of the concepts. Every word that a student reads has a tag that identifies that and other hundreds of thousands of actions per day. How much a text begins, how it reads it, when it leaves it, what it does next, if it sees a video, if it answers a quiz, if it asks something to the virtual teacher, if it is distracted on the web, if it changes the subject, if it has gaps , if it works or not, with what pace, etc.
This is a part of the immeasurable information that Knewton is processing. The other part is the learning measured by different tests. The system analyzes the learning achieved by the students and can establish predictive models with a level of atomic precision.
Ferreira says it explicitly: ” We know exactly when you will fail and we can change it. We know literally everything about how you learn and how you would learn better … We have more data about how our students learn than anyone else about anything else on earth and not even the second one is close to us . ”
Knewton then produces adaptations, individual routes for each student. If a student is reading at a slow pace or is mistaken in intermediate questions of reading control or if he does not make an inquiry on time, Knewton recreates the learning pattern of that student in his history and confronts him with millions of other cases. Then you can accurately predict the result that you will get in the test and remedy it in advance.
It’s like the movie Minority report : a crystal ball allows you to see the future and modify it. Instead of sending a policeman to capture the killer before committing the crime, Knewton sends a change of pace, contents and pedagogical formats to ensure that each student learns on time and does not fail the test.
In this way the single textbook disappears. In his replacement arrives an individual curriculum.
A student who is studying social sciences will have an individualized content about the history of the French revolution. You will start reading a short text because you can not concentrate much, then you will see a video, then you will be asked easy questions to motivate you to keep reading something else, always knowing how many words you are able to read and with what didactic style. Then you will pass a small more serious test and you will be gratified with an hour of rest, then a brief review lesson will end with the perfect study day, where the maximum learning potential of that student’s French revolution will have been achieved.
This way, each student will go through a unique, perfect learning situation, every day. Everyone will achieve the maximum possible learning.
That is the dream of adaptive learning based on computer assistance.
Is it a science fiction dream? It does not seem like a dream to see that Knewton has a strategic alliance with Pearson , the largest education company in the world. Knewton needs partners as massive as possible because their future depends on achieving the largest possible proportion of the educational market. Like Google in the internet search. Like Facebook on social networks.
Knewton is achieving that dominant position. He recently agreed on a partnership with Microsoft, is a partner of the world’s leading publishers, in France he is a partner of Le Livre Scolaire and since October 2014 he is a partner of Santillana , the largest Spanish-language textbook publisher.
In 2015 Knewton will begin to follow the learning of students who use Santillana math materials in high schools. It will be the beginning of an atomic level knowledge of students from Latin America and Spain.
What are the implications of adaptive learning? This question will perhaps be the most important of education worldwide in the next 10 years.
The platform can follow deep paths of each student’s cognitive patterns. The members of Knewton explain that their work is exciting because they are discovering, for the first time in history, how humanity learns. Not theoretically, but literally. For this they are mapping the mental state of millions of students as they go through their entire lives of school or university learning.
A fascinating path can be that of personalization and enjoyment of learning. Each student could enhance their abilities and learning could be an activity that everyone, with different styles and modalities, can enjoy.
A darker path can be that of a machine that plays at being God and knows more about each person than herself. A machine that knows the deepest secrets of the cognitive paths, behaviors, desires, passions and fears of each student, from his early childhood and throughout his life. A complete digitalization of all the interactions of a person with the world of learning could lead to a new society where privacy disappears and, as Rifkin indicates in a key book about the future of humanity , absolute transparency replaces it.
These risks were already considerable in the case of another adaptive learning platform, inBloom, which had to close its doors by opposition movements of parents in several US states.
The privacy of our children is at stake, who will dare to let the machines know everything about them? Even when Knewton and other platforms guarantee data security, nobody in the digital world can guarantee anything completely.
What implications will adaptive learning have for schools and teachers? This will be another decisive question of the years to come. Knewton proposes to work with the teachers, informing them in detail about the learning of their students to help them personalize the teaching. But the way could well be to ignore teachers and teach directly through computers. Is the biggest bypass in the history of education coming to a definitive end with schools?
Finally, what implications will the use of big data, analytics and predictive learning have on the social structure? Who will benefit from Knewton? What direct or indirect cost will it have for the students? What role will the State play? In Brazil, an adaptive learning platform, Geekie , is directly associating with the State to use analytics in public schools.
If everyone had access to adaptive platforms, what effects would occur? Do adaptive platforms generate more equality by providing greater learning opportunities for all? Or do they generate more inequality, maximizing each one and, therefore, erasing the equalizing power of the school and giving more weight to the differences in the social and cultural context of the families?
It’s time to look at Knewton and all the adaptive learning platforms that are emerging. It is time to start discussing the privacy of the data, the atomic level of knowledge of the students, the new pedagogical forms based on algorithms, the possibilities and threats that arise from this new world that has already begun and will not stop.
Soon a sophisticated algorithm can tell us if they watched the video before reading the note, if they read the note first, if they abandoned it after the first paragraph or if they followed it to the end. But he will not do it now that the note ends, he will do it before starting to read it. Do we want those algorithms to govern the education of the future?