DR. ROD: Not usable data?
JOSE: Yes, and really the most important data is student proficiency data. It’s the hardest to get and it’s the most important because that’s what drives outcomes.
DR. ROD: Let’s look at long-term implications of the work that you’re doing. Let’s take a 10,000 foot view. For a student that doesn’t know any better, they just know a Knewton world, they have recommendations, they understand at a very granular level from the word go, these are the experiences they have in education. If kids are so used to being addressed at such a granular and microscopic level, in such a powerful way, will they expect that from other things in their environment?
JOSE: Big data, data science, is at the very beginning. In 30 years, the human race will be totally dominated by data science. There will be pluses and minuses of that. One of the minuses, especially in ad supported models, not Knewton’s model because we don’t use ads, will be an invasion of privacy. By definition an ad supported model has to invade your privacy. It’s selling your data to an advertiser or someone who’s trying to sell you a product. That’ll be one of the trade-offs. It’s similar to when Tom Cruise is walking around in “Minority Report” and the ads are being directed at him.
In terms of education and healthcare, I don’t think there will be an invasion of privacy because there’s not going to be any marketing of it. It’s just going to make better recommendations for learning and for treatment. It’ll seem so ridiculous to our kids that you had to plod your way through the exact same thing as everybody else regardless of your skill or interest, and that’s a good thing. I look forward to people taking Knewton, and things like Knewton, for granted.
DR. ROD: What are students saying about Knewton ? I’m very curious as to their experience. Are they blown away like the adults are or is it just another “cool” technology?
JOSE: Most of them are totally blown away, but a few of them will occasionally say things like “It seems harder,” and part of the reason it seems harder is because we keep moving them off of stuff that they’re good at and onto stuff that they need help with. Some people like the moments of just coasting on stuff that they’re good at.
DR. ROD: What about teacher preparation programs? I would imagine there might be a value at some point to bring your technology and your approach to those who are training to be the next crop of teachers.
JOSE: I haven’t given a lot of thought to how we could be used for teacher professional development. I’ve given a lot of thought to how teachers can use it to add value but not so much how we can use it to train teachers.
DR. ROD: Now I know you’re obviously in higher education, talk to me about K-12 and what the vision is for that.
JOSE: Ultimately the vision for Knewton is that everyone should have their own learning profile that’s free, secure, hosted in the cloud, and just follows them around forever.We work with large learning companies and publishers, we power their content. So in higher ed we work with Pearson, we power their Mylabs and Mastering. In K-12 we’re working with Houghton Mifflin and internationally we’re working with McMillon.
DR. ROD: Are you envisioning a social component to this?
JOSE: Yes. One of the things we’re really looking forward to is something we call Adaptive Tutoring. We launch this late this year, early next year. Adaptive tutoring allows anybody in the system, any kid, to ask a question. The system willgo find everybody whose online right that second, who positively knows the answer to your question, because they’re top 2% in all the world at concepts in your question. After a year or two we can even do one better than that and say, “of the people who learned those concepts through Knewton , who learned them the fastest and retained them the longest at the deepest level of proficiency?”
DR. ROD: So eHarmony for learners.
JOSE: But much more powerful. It’s the wisdom of crowds, harnessed with Knewton’s atomic concept level A.I., to find the perfect 10 people in the world, right now, to put your question in front of to get the best possible answer. So it’s social, it’s engaging, it’s totally scalable, and it’s free for everybody. Look for that first quarter next year.
DR. ROD: That’s very exciting news for a lot of people. Let’s talk about you in general. Why education? What drew you to education?
JOSE: I started teaching for Stanley Kaplan back in 1991. I’ve been in education ever since. I always believed that education was the most important industry along with food, shelter and healthcare. Look at the U.N. numbers on any problem you like. Racial justice, social justice, aids in Africa, poverty, whatever the problem. If you start looking at the most educated, that problem disappears entirely. Education is the ultimate gateway. The human race could fix so many of its problems if it could just fix education. With online education, with the new technologies, we can make a lot of progress, within one generation.