Knewton, HP Reach Deal to Create ‘Adaptive’ Materials for Print

By Sean Cavanagh — April 03, 2015 3 min read
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It’s widely assumed that the movement from print to digital materials in K-12 is an unstoppable force, but in announcing the launch of a new product this week, officials from Knewton and HP are, by contrast, focusing on schools that still want a print option.

The two companies unveiled plans to collaborate and create “adaptive” print content—lessons that can be customized and delivered from textbooks and other print products, rather than through adaptive technology, which is how much of that malleable content is sold to schools today.

In a statement, and in an interview with Education Week, officials from the two companies argued that their plan will bring adaptive content to schools and colleges that otherwise would have been shut out because they don’t have the technology, or lack strong Internet connectivity, or simply want to stick with print.

“Creating better learning experiences for students is a major focus of HP, and print is a critical component of students’ education,” said Juan Ignacio Calderon, a vice president of strategy at the company, in a statement. “Students learn differently and have different needs, areas of strength, and preferences, which why educational materials should not be one-size-fits-all.”

Knewton, based in New York City, is known for its ambitious efforts to create digital learner profiles of students—detailed portraits of students’ academic progress that can be used to provide them with specially tailored academic content.

David Liu, Knewton’s chief operating officer, said the new strategy—dubbed “Personalized Print Learning Solutions"—is a way for the company to bring adaptive content to a potentially vast audience, across both print and digital platforms.

“It’s always been our strategy to provide as much personalized learning as we can to any student around the world,” Liu said in an interview, adding: “For us, strategically, it just makes sense to reach as many students as we can.”

By way of background, HP, based in Palo Alto, Calif., last year announced plans to split into two separate, publicly traded companies. The first is Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, focused on technology infrastructure, software and services. The second is HP Inc., which will focus on “personal systems and printing markets” with new and evolving technologies, including 3-D printing.

Here’s how the new HP/Knewton venture will work:

The companies will use HP technology to tag and code print materials, such as textbooks. Once students finish their assignments, they or their teachers would scan it with a smartphone app, one developed based on HP’s mobile scanning technology.

Knewton then uses its analytical tools to crunch students’ past work, and new information, and to suggest academic strategies based on data collected from students with similar profiles, recommending content that students can work on next.

Knewton then puts together new, customized content in a “content packet” or textbook chapter, immediately, for the student. Students can then have a chapter or content printed and delivered to their school or home via HP Inkjet Web Press and HP Indigo, a digital printing technology. The companies also say that HP Web-connected printers make it possible to print personalized worksheets in the classroom, or at home.

HP’s technology and mobile app allows teachers and students to create printed content on the spot, a Knewton official said. Each printed worksheet is tagged so teachers can hover a smartphone over a student’s worksheet; HP then collects that information and sends it back to Knewton to analyze.

The companies will be pitching their idea to educational publishers in the coming months, Liu said.

Publishers Knewton isn’t working with yet will need to integrate with their systems through application programming interface, or API, he noted.

Districts’ printing costs would be less than those that K-12 systems incur now, because instead of having to buy full textbooks, they could print smaller, modular sets of materials, as needed, the Knewton official argued.

Knewton and HP will be talking up Personalized Print Learning Solutions next week at the ASU/GSV conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., a mecca for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and companies across the school space. We’ll see if their vision for print-adaptive materials finds a receptive audience in the publishing industry, and in schools. (Education Week will be covering the conference, so check back regularly on the Marketplace K-12 blog.)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.