The ed-tech company Knewton peddles adaptive-learning software that is almost futuristic: As students move through lessons and readings on their devices, it collects millions of data points about how children learn, spinning them into different learning pathways and recommendations for teachers. The idea is to create complex profiles of how students learn, then distribute lessons based on their abilities — giving vocabulary refreshers to students who pause on certain words, for example, and allowing those who know the terminology to move on.
But all this takes the presence of laptops and tablets in classrooms for granted. So what about all those schools without the resources to deck students out in technology? Knewton's newest product attempts to bring adaptive learning to the most low-tech of materials: paper.
The venture, a partnership with the technology company HP, allows teachers to scan their students' printed worksheets and use Knewton's technology to generate — then print — adaptive lessons and materials. There's very little technology required: Printed materials are tagged with HP technology and scanned with teachers' smartphones. New printed materials can be assembled on a smartphone.
More than half of American schools have inadequate internet connections, and many more have limited access to digital materials, such as the individual devices for each student that would be required to utilize Knewton's traditional adaptive technology. Knewton hopes to tap into that market.
The ed-tech company has already made inroads with many major publishers, like Houghton Mifflin and Pearson, and will need their cooperation to make the adaptive-print technology work broadly.