Guest Contributor: Jennifer Shea, Knewton.

Lately, it seems every new educational product features some form of adaptive learning. It can be hard to sort out the differences between these products. What does personalization in a learning product really mean?

It depends. Not all adaptive learning is created equal. Most of today’s “adaptive” solutions are built on rules-based systems, which use a few checkpoints to route students through a variety of pre-determined paths. These products are a lot like Choose Your Own Adventure books: students can move through the course in one of a few possible ways. For example, the system might specify, “Students who get 7 out of 10 questions right on this fraction division exercise can move on; otherwise, give them more similar questions on fraction division.”

Products powered by Knewton technology work differently. Knewton provides a continuously adaptive experience for each learner. Continuous adaptivity means the education product responds in real-time to each individual’s performance or activity. Rather than analyzing a student’s knowledge at just a few points during the course, Knewton does so at every moment in time — ensuring that each student gets exactly the instruction she needs, exactly when she needs it. When a student struggles with a particular question, Knewton figures out the student’s exact misunderstandings, and delivers material designed to increase the student’s skills in those areas. For example, a student studying algebraic expressions in 6th grade math might need to brush up on order of operations, which she learned in an earlier grade.

A Personalized Study Center for Every Student

Cengage Learning and Knewton have collaborated to bring robust, continuously adaptive learning to 10 Sociology and Management courses, delivered by Cengage’s digital MindTap platform. These next-generation courses were created from the ground up to be used via digital devices. They will be piloted this spring and launch nationwide in fall 2015.

Each Knewton-powered course features an adaptive Study Center to help students learn and reinforce content from a specific course unit, or prepare for an upcoming exam.

With Knewton, the Study Center can provide each student with real-time, personalized recommendations for what to study next. As a student works through the course, Knewton figures out exactly what she knows — then recommends instructional and assessment content to help her solidify her understanding of core concepts, expand her knowledge, and move forward toward mastery.

The Study Center also provides students and instructors with analytics to better support each student. Knewton uses its understanding of each student’s progress and of the entire range of course content to estimate and predict each student’s mastery of topics in the course. These analytics help students gain a greater sense of self-awareness about their progress through the course, and help instructors tailor their class lessons to students’ level of understanding.

Paving the Way for Deeper Learning

Cengage Learning’s Knewton-powered products improve student engagement by providing students with real-time feedback on performance and actionable suggestions for improvement. Knewton helps students focus on exactly the concepts they need to address weaknesses, increase their understanding of difficult concepts, and efficiently prepare for exams. Instructors can use Knewton-powered analytics to inform their curriculum and quickly react when students fall behind on learning objectives.

Jennifer Shea is a Partnership Manager at the leading adaptive learning company, Knewton. Jennifer is responsible for helping education companies around the world leverage Knewton technology to power digital course materials that dynamically adapt to each student’s unique needs. Jennifer graduated with a BA from Brown University and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School.