Big data continues to change the face of higher education.

In an extension of a partnership launched in 2011, starting this fall Pearson and Knewton will provide adaptive learning tools to college students studying biology, anatomy and physiology, chemistry, physics, finance and accounting.

The two companies specialize in interactive education materials and adaptive learning technology. Together they will offer 400,000 college undergraduates online tools for student practice and assessment, including online access to homework assignments and tutorials. For each of the new subjects, the focus is on the introductory college courses geared toward potential majors in that subject.

Pearson’s digital education materials, enhanced by Knewton’s continuously adaptive learning technology, combine instructor-created assignments with personalized follow-up assignments that address any lingering gaps in concept-level proficiency. Recommendations about what students should study next update in real time based on individual student work, instructor guidelines and the activity of all other students.

Pearson’s rollout of adaptive learning products for science and business subjects expands advanced personalization to these areas of study for the first time, the company said. While other higher education products rely on rules engines and question drilling, Pearson’s Knewton-enhanced learning materials use continuously updating models to take student proficiency, engagement, forgetfulness and other factors into account when delivering real-time learning recommendations.

Knewton uses a big data analytics model to detect patterns of student success and failure, plugging into the tutoring and assessment applications provided by Pearson. By the end of the year, between 1.5 million and 2 million higher education students will have used Knewton-powered products, according to the company, with the majority accessing them through the Pearson partnership.

Last fall, Pearson and Knewton introduced their joint offering for math, economics, reading and writing. But the curricula involved in this year’s push into core science and business courses are broader and more complex.

The numbers of students and breadth of the subject matter are important because the more, and the more varied, student data Knewton has to analyze, the more accurate and individually tailored are the recommendations provided by the automated coaching service. “Students using these digital products will benefit from the massive network of students on the Knewton platform” and Pearson’s push into new, more complex subject areas, said Jose Ferreira, Knewton Founder and CEO.

Pilot testing with hundreds of students has provided strong evidence of the effectiveness of the two companies’ adaptive learning approach, added Paul Corey, president of Pearson Higher Education's science, business and technology group.

Headquartered in London, Pearson offers educational materials, technologies, assessments and related services to teachers and students of all ages. The company provides electronic learning programs, test development, processing and scoring services to educational institutions, corporations and professional bodies in more than 70 countries.

Based in New York, Knewton’s personalized learning platform provides real-time proficiency estimation, activity recommendations and analytics to educational programs worldwide.

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