Desire2Learn continues its shopping spree, snaps up startup Knowillage

Desire2Learn is at it again. On Monday, the Canadian ed tech company said that it had made its third acquisition of the year with the purchase of Knowillage, a young Vancouver-area adaptive learning startup.

Since launching in 1999, Desire2Learn has offered K-12 schools, colleges and universities an online learning platform that competes with learning management systems like BlackBoard and Moodle. In the past year, the company has been building its profile – first with an $80 million venture capital raise last September (its first since its launch) and, more recently, with a series of acquisitions.

Earlier this year, it purchased Degree Compass, a “virtual guidance counselor” startup backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Wiggio, an online collaboration service for students.

Desire2Learn says it reaches about 750 schools with its software that lets teachers and students digitally share course material, collaborate, complete assignments and communicate in other ways. But the addition of Knowillage (pronounced “knowledge”) will enable it to provide a more personalized learning experience for students, the company said.  The companies declined to share financial details but said Knowillage’s team of six would be joining Desire2Learn as part of the acquisition.

Using a semantic search engine, Jeff McDowell, Desire2Learn’s vice president of marketing and business development, said the system is able to analyze any piece of content – from textbooks to Wikipedia to professor-created case studies – and then map it against instructors’ grading rubrics and data reflecting students’ learning needs.

“The system will pick up early warning signs of where the learner is having trouble and then find pieces of content that can be assigned to the learner to help them master that competency on a continually-assessed basis,” McDowell told me ahead of the announcement.

As we’ve reported, “adaptive learning” has become a big buzz word in ed tech, with several companies touting the benefits of their “personalized learning” systems. New York-based Knewton, which partners with several leading K-12 and higher education publishers like Pearson and Macmillan Education, takes an algorithmic approach to delivering the content to students that matches their learning needs. Publishing giants like McGraw-Hill, which purchased its own adaptive learning startup ALEKS earlier this summer, as well as startups like Boundless Learning also offer digital learning products that claim to adapt to students’ mastery levels and deficits.

McDowell said Knowillage can be used with any kind of content a school may be using and can be integrated with any learning management system (LMS), even those from competitors. The startup, which was launched last year by several former employees of publishing giant Pearson, had not raised any outside funding.