Knewton teams up with Macmillan to bring adaptive learning beyond K-12 and higher ed

Education technology startup Knewton just inked another deal with a major education publisher. But, for the first time, the initial audience for its partnership with Macmillan isn’t high school or college students — it’s for adults around the world learning English.

Since launching in 2008, the adaptive learning company, which takes a data-driven approach to personalizing learning, has partnered with less than a handful of other publishers, including Pearson (s PSO), Wiley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Its latest partnership shows that its not only making headway in the domestic K-12 and higher education markets, but that it’s extending its reach overseas and among markets that have been slower to go digital.

“Today, ELT [English Language Teaching] is all offline,” said David Liu, Knewton’s COO. “[Macmillian is] creating content for the digital experience from scratch — not only the educational content, but the assessment content.”

Over time, Liu said, the partnership will extend to other Macmillan content, not just that for ELT. But, to start, Macmillan will build on Knewton’s adaptive learning platform to provide personalized grammar and vocabulary lessons, exam reviews and other kinds of content to ELT classrooms, as well as individuals, across 120 countries.

In the increasingly hot adaptive learning space, Knewton isn’t the only game in town. Dreambox Learning, McGraw-Hill and Cerego are a few other companies pitching various approaches to customized digital learning experiences for K-12 students, colleges and individual learners.

While Knewton offers some evidence of its success – in a 2011 program of 2,000 remedial math students at Arizona State University, the company said, withdrawal rates dropped by 56 percent and pass rates climbed 11 percent – it’s still early days for adaptive learning and some learning experts say more proof is still needed.  Still, Knewton is growing steadily. By the end of last year, the company, which has raised $54 million, reached about 500,000 and it expects to reach 5 million students by the end of this year.