Jose Ferreira, Knewton (2)

Education technology startup Knewton just clinched a partnership with publishing giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) that it claims will impact 5 million students by the end of the year.

The company develops online learning tools that can be adapted to each learner’s individual needs, whether it’s in K12, higher education, or professional development. The technology works by dividing lessons into building blocks and then measuring students’ performance as they learn.

From today, HMH’s educational materials will be enhanced by Knewton’s personalized learning technology and used in K-12 classrooms across America. Knewton’s COO David Liu said the new offering will be a digital companion to the traditional textbook, and the company is still determining pricing.

“We feel that we have the best education technology — our algorithms can determine student’s proficiency on any given concept,” said Liu in a phone interview.

The first offering will be a “personal math trainer,” part of HMH’s flagship Go Math! program. With thousands of students using the Knewton offering, HMH will gain a better understanding about how students in each age group learn best.

As schools shift to new models of blended and online learning, startups like Knewton claim they will form the “foundation” for a new way of teaching. By teaming up with HMH and Pearson, Knewton can augment core curriculum materials that are widely used in schools.

Knewton claims that the lack of laptops, iPads, and other digital resources at schools shouldn’t be a problem. According to Liu, HMH already has an understanding of which school districts have sufficient technology to be able to support its products. “They have an established base of school districts and schools [where] they are already distributing their product,” he explained.

Knewton has more ambitious goals in mind than most of its education partners realize. 

The larger goal for Knewton, according CEO Jose Ferreira (pictured above), is to create the world’s most valuable repository on how people learn. Ferreira is a former executive at education firm Kaplan and an ex-venture investor; he started the company in 2008.

This data will likely prove to be highly valuable, particularly with governments attempting to solve the crisis in education (high costs of tuition, overstretched school districts, out of control dropout rates, and so on) through technology

Knewton recently raised $35 million in funding — significant for an ed-tech company — in a round led by Peter Thiel’s venture firm Founders Fund. To date, it has secured $54 million.

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