Adaptive learning startup Knewton takes its biggest step yet in K-12 education

You might not be familiar with the Knewton name but, if you have school-age children, they may soon be getting to know Knewton technology.  That’s because the company just announced a major partnership with education publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) that will bring its adaptive learning technology to millions of K-12 students in the U.S.

Through the alliance, the companies will pair HMH’s content across math, reading and other core subjects with Knewton’s technology to provide concept-level analysis of each students’ progress, determining their strengths and weaknesses and personalizing content delivery to their needs. With each student interaction, the company’s products get smarter about that individual student, and they learn how to better match concepts with students across the entire system. The companies will start with HMH math products and then expand to other subjects in its portfolio.

The HMH deal isn’t Knewton’s first K-12 partnership – it previously announced a partnership with HMH to serve at-risk K-12 students and earlier this year it said it would team up with Triumph Learning for K-12 focused products. But given that HMH has a 40 percent market share in the U.S., this partnership will significantly expand Knewton’s K-12 footprint.

“Over the next five years, nearly every kid in America will touch an HMH product and, chances are, they’ll have a personal learning experience through Knewton technology,” said David Liu, Knewton’s COO.

Plenty of products in education technology, including Dreambox Learning and McGraw-Hill’s LearnSmart, currently aim to customize digital learning experiences for K-12 and college students and lifelong learners through “adaptive learning.” But Knewton describes its technology as Google-like (s GOOG) in that it uses mathematical models to build algorithms that can determine a student’s proficiency in any given concept at any given time and then recommend the next best piece of learning content. And it’s clearly impressing some of the industry’s biggest publishers: in the last year or so, it’s announced partnerships with Pearson, Macmillan, HMH and others.

In the next year, Liu said, the company plans to release a direct-to-consumer product that will enable students of all ages (as well as teachers and parents) to use Knewton technology with all kinds of community-submitted content.